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Baby Orca is Missing, Presumed Dead

October 21, 2014

L-120, the baby orca born in early September to Puget Sound’s resident killer whales, is missing and presumed dead. L pod, the 35-member family to which the calf belonged, was spotted recently in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in Haro Strait, but baby L-120 was not with its 23-year-old mother L-86. Young orcas stay in very close proximity to their mother, nursing for up to a year.

"The mother is there, aunt's there, big brother," Balcomb said. "The baby didn't make it.”

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said “L86 was seen and photographed on Friday, Saturday, and Monday, all without L120.” Balcomb believes the calf was likely lost in open ocean off the Washington or British Columbia coast, where the whales go in search of fish after summer feeding on Chinook in inland waters near the San Juan Islands. 

L-120 was the first calf in two years in the closely watched J, K and L pods. There was much hope among scientists that the birth signaled a reversal of a downward spiraling population trend, especially if it turned out that L-120 was a female. At 78 members, the whale numbers are at their lowest since 2001.  L-86 lost another calf two years ago, perhaps to severe acoustic trauma caused by high-powered sonar. 

"We were being guardedly optimistic that a turning point had been reached, but that is not the case," Balcomb said.

Featured Photo Courtesy Melisa Pinnow, San Juan Excursions.



Made possible in part by

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming.  His credits include PIE, Something in the Water  (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase.  Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.

More stories by Stephen Hegg

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