All photos: Center for Whale Research
If you're a fan of killer whales, then you'll be delighted to learn that there are now two newborn wild orca whales roaming the chilly waters of the Salish Sea — an expansive network of coastal waterways comprised of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia.
The first baby, labeled by researchers as J50 (above), was born in late 2014 and was eventually identified as a female when a lucky observer snapped a photo of her performing an underside-exposing breach (right).
J51 arrived onto the scene in early February, and can be seen all wrinkly and newborn-looking in the photo below.
Researchers haven't yet determined the sex of J51, but one thing we do know is that these two bundles of joy are harbingers of hope for the endangered population of orcas that live in this region.
Killer whales are found all throughout the Earth's oceans, but each regional population has its own distinct quirks — vocalizations, hunting techniques, diet and threats — that set them apart. The specific community of whales that lives off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are known as southern resident killer whales (SRKW), or simply the "orcas of Salish Sea."
With the birth of the new calves, the orca clan is currently comprised of 79 individual whales, which are split up among three separate pods: J, K and L.
While the arrival of J50 and J51 is certainly encouraging (and adorable), orca researchers continue to cross their fingers and hope for their continued survival. In the past two years, the only other two calves known to be born to the SRKW population ended up dying soon after birth. Their cause of death was likely linked to malnutrition, which is one of the major threats that this small community of whales is currently facing.
Killer whales are technically capable of eating all kinds of prey, but the orcas of Salish Sea are notoriously picky — they prefer to exclusively eat fatty, nutrient-rich Chinook salmon and not much else. Even other kinds of salmon, such as sockeye, are off the table for them. This presents quite a quandary when you take into account the decline of Chinook salmon. This growing threat to the orcas' primary food source is what placed them on the U.S. Endangered Species list in 2005.
Check out this video to see J50 swimming along with her pod, and continue further down for more shots of both calves!
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