Birth of Female Baby Orca Increases the Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale Population to 76

An orca whale family has added a new female calf to their pod — a very welcome addition because the population of the mammal animals is so low.

The new Southern Resident killer whale was born in May, but thanks to new photographs taken during the first sighting of the whales in more than two months, scientists at the Center for Whale Research were able to confirm the sex of the baby whale. Researchers estimate the exact date of the whale’s birth as May 24. The population is now 76 whales.

The photos were taken near Pile Point in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State near Vancouver, Canada, as the baby briefly breached the water’s surface to reveal its underside. As the new mother swam around with the calf and other young female whales, “it looked for very much like they were showing off this new addition to the population,” according to the CWR.

“This is a very welcome addition to this endangered population of whales that has experienced so much bad news recently with whales appearing skinny and passing away,” the organization said.

Before the birth of the new calf, which has been designated J56, there were only 75 remaining Southern Resident killer whales. Because the majority of the remaining whales are male, having another female gives hope for more population.

J56’s mother, the 24-year-old J31, had an “unsuccessful” birthing in January 2016 and has not been pregnant as far as researchers can tell any other time within the past 10 years.

Female orcas give birth every three to 10 years, according to National Geographic, and their gestation period is 15-18 months. The animals are also one of only five mammal species to experience menopause, though female orcas can live for decades after they can no longer reproduce.

The remaining whales make up three different pods, which researchers have dubbed J, K and L. Within each pod, “families form into sub-pods centered around older females, usually grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Both male and female offspring remain in close association with their mothers for life,” CWR’s website says.

Puget Sound orcas, like J56, have been listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 2005. Some of the biggest threats to the animals include climate change, pollution, and a decrease in Chinook salmon population, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

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