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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Orcas in November - Including A New Calf!

I haven't seen the orcas since October 9th, and I just felt like surely I had to see them one more time before calling the season truly over. I had to wait a little longer than expected, but today was that day!

Thanks to a report of the whales being heard on the hydrophones, I called a few friends and then headed out to the westside to see if I could find them. Before long the word had spread and I was joined by about a dozen other "orca-holics" as we watched J and K Pods head south past Lime Kiln.

It was exciting to see the whales, but even more exciting was the fact that we saw what is almost certainly a brand new calf! It was traveling with J28 Polaris, who at the age of 16 would be a first-time mom.

At first we noticed what some of us refer to as a "nursery group", in this case one female with several youngsters that seemed to be a couple of years old at most. Often one mom will babysit other little ones and the calves will play together. When we saw that the adult female was Polaris, we assumed she was probably babysitting her younger brother J44 that was born earlier this year, which she has been seen doing before. There have been four calves born this year (two in J-Pod, including J44, and two in L-Pod), but all of a sudden one popped up next to her that just looked too small to be 10 or so months old, as the J-Pod babies are. Here's J28 and the new calf next to another youngster that's a little bit older (and bigger):

Several of us that keep close tabs on the whales have earmarked Polaris as a likely future mom since she is about the age most females have their first calf. After a few years of anticipation its exciting to finally see her with a little one of her own. There has to be a few more sightings before the calf's mom is confirmed, so it's not 100% yet, but it sure looked that way! The calf being new has been confirmed, and the Center for Whale Research has designated it J46.

Right away some people were spectulating the calf's father might be L57 Faith, an adult male that passed away last year that had a known affinity for J-Pod females. He traveled with J-Pod for all of the summer season in 2008 before he was last seen last November. He was often seen following J28 around, hence the speculation he's the father. With a 17 month gestation period, its certainly possible.

These next two shots are a little blurry, but I'm posting them anyway because they show what look to me like fetal folds on the back of the calf. Notice how the head and back don't look perfectly smooth. You may want to click to see the larger version. This is something you commonly see in newborns before their skin smooths out after being in the womb.

The orcas weren't the only wildlife out in Haro Strait, either! In addition to lots of seabirds and hordes of rooster-tailing Dall's porpoise, this Steller sea lion came by and took a look at us:


Heather said...

Awww, baby orca! How sweet!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Looks like congratulations are in order - and there was me getting all gooey about my first grand-daughter! What happened to 'pa'?

Warren Baker said...

you just can't resist orca watching can you Monika! I can see the attraction though!!

Monika said...

Heather - There's nothing better!

Dave - There were a lot of toasts to little J46 that night!

Warren - Nope, I want all the orcas I can get! They're kind of addicitive.