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September 7, 2014 at 1:42 PM

New orca calf born, first since 2012

baby orca

An orca calf, the first born in the Salish Sea since 2012, can be seen behind three adult whales. It is believed to have been born within the past week or so. (Photo by Dave Ellifrit / Center for Whale Research )

An orca gave birth, perhaps within the past week, to a calf, the first killer-whale birth in the Salish Sea since 2012, according to the Center for Whale Research.

Researchers on Saturday first saw the calf, tucked between two adult females. The calf  had creases on its side, so-called “fetal folds,” which indicate that it was probably less than a week old. And because its dorsal fin was upright, not folded, it was probably more than a day old.

Infant mortality is high among orcas, and the group of so-called southern resident killer whales, which this calf is part of, has struggled recently from a lack  of prey, primarily wild Chinook salmon. According to researchers, the presumed mother has given birth to two known offspring – a male, born in 2005, which is still alive, and a female that was born in 2009 and died for unknown reasons in 2012.

“Let us toast to the new baby, and ponder the human role in its future,” the Center for Whale Research said in its news release.

Jim Maya, who runs a whale-watch charter operation from Friday Harbor, saw the orca at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, a mile off the southwest side of San Juan Island.

“It was thrilling,” he said.

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