Jan 31, 2024 - News

Endangered baby orca now presumed dead

A small orca peeks its head out of the water next to a larger orca whose fin protrudes from the water.

Photo: Maya Sears/National Marine Fisheries Service Permit 27052

A newborn orca spotted near Seattle last month is missing and presumed dead.

Why it matters: Last month's birth of the male orca known as J60 had bolstered researchers' hopes that the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population might be starting to recover.

Yes, but: The Center for Whale Research said the baby was nowhere to be found during observations of the Southern Resident J Pod on Saturday.

  • "Given his young age, it is extremely unlikely that J60 was off on his own for the entire duration of the encounter," the whale center wrote on its website.
  • The researchers "now believe that J60 is likely deceased."

Background: There were only 75 Southern Resident orcas left as of last July, per the whale research center.

  • That's up from 73 in 2022, but down from 98 in 1995, according to the governor's salmon recovery office.

The bottom line: Newborn Southern Resident orcas have a high mortality rate, which is tied them not getting enough of their preferred food, Chinook salmon, the whale center wrote on its website.

  • "The southern residents need abundant, large Chinook salmon if they are going to be able to raise their calves to maturity, and keep the population going," the whale research center wrote.

Of note: Local Chinook salmon populations have declined significantly since the mid-1980s, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration.

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