-- by Dave
For anyone who's interested in these sorts of things, there was good news mixed with the unsettling this week when researchers announced there was a new calf born this winter among the Puget Sound's resident killer whales. On the other hand, the orcas were spotted clear down in Monterey, Calif., fergawdsake:
- The new arrival -- scientists don't know yet if it's male or female -- brings the number of orcas up to 86. The population was declared endangered in 2005 by the federal government.
The baby was seen with other Puget Sound orcas over the weekend in Monterey Bay, Calif.
Scientists with San Juan Island's Center for Whale Research recognized the orcas as coming from local waters. Orcas have distinctly shaped dorsal fins and whitish-gray markings on their backs that help identify them.
During the winter and spring, it's common for the killer whales to venture down the coast in search of salmon.
"I'm delighted that they'll go where food is available," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research. "They're not going to sit here and starve and wash up on our shores."
... The local population is composed of three family groups or pods. The new baby belongs to the L-pod. The K-pod is also in California now, while the J-pod recently was seen in Haro Strait between Vancouver, B.C., and the San Juan Islands.
Experts said the baby is the offspring of one of two orcas, which happen to be a mother and daughter. If it's the daughter's baby, it would be her first, giving it only a 50-50 chance of making it through its first year. If it's the mother's baby, it would be her third, which means its chances of survival are better.
Balcomb's center has more here. As the piece notes, the whales have been seen in northern California waters the past several winters, though as far as researchers know, this is unusual, and almost certainly reflects the paucity of chinook salmon -- their preferred food -- being produced by the Columbia River system, which provided food in their more traditional northern coastal winter range.
Monterey Bay Whale Watch has the stats. As you can see, it's gray-whale season down there as well, though these orcas do not molest grays (as contrasted with the transient orcas that also sometimes ply these waters). Here's a shot from a local gallery.