Follow us:

The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

October 21, 2014 at 7:12 AM

7-week-old baby orca missing, presumed dead

L-120

In this Sept. 2014 file photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, the baby orca known as L120 swims between two adults in the waters of Puget Sound. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Dave Ellifrit.)

Associated Press and Seattle Times staff

FRIDAY HARBOR — A killer whale born to much hope in early September apparently died while its pod was in the open ocean off Washington or British Columbia, the Center for Whale Research said.

The baby was the first known calf born since 2012 to a population of endangered orcas that frequent Puget Sound in Washington.

It has not been seen since its pod returned in recent days to inland waters of western Washington, said center’s Ken Balcomb.

“The baby is gone,” he said Tuesday.

The pod was offshore for a week to 10 days, and the orca designated L-120 might have been lost in a storm in the middle of last week, Balcomb said.

“A baby would not be without its mother for that long of a period. They generally stick right with its mother,” said Shari Tarantino, president of the board of directors at Orca Conservancy, a Seattle-based non-profit.

The baby’s body has not been found, she said, but it would be hard to find unless it washes ashore.

The baby was a member of “L pod,” one of three closely tracked families within the dwindling Puget Sound population.

Researchers observed the pod, but not the baby, on Friday in Puget Sound, on Saturday in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, and on Monday in Haro Strait, between San Juan Island and Victoria, British Columbia.

The mother is there, aunt’s there, big brother,” Balcomb said. “The baby didn’t make it.”

That leaves 78 killer whales in the Puget Sound population.  In 2005, the group was protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The newborn was spotted in the first week of September off San Juan Island. Two other whales are presumed dead after disappearing earlier this year, so the birth was hailed.

“We were being guardedly optimistic that a turning point had been reached, but that is not the case,” Balcomb said.

The unique population numbered more than 140 animals decades ago but declined to a low of 71 in the 1970s, when dozens were captured for marine parks and aquariums. Then orcas were listed as endangered in 2005.

The striking black and white whales have come to symbolize the Pacific Northwest. Individual whales are identified by slight variations in the shape of their dorsal fins and distinctive whitish-gray patch of pigment behind the dorsal fin, called a saddle patch.

The Puget Sound killer whales primarily eat fish, rather than other marine mammals. Offspring tend to stay with their mothers for life.

 

 

Comments

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►