New Orca Calf Spotted Among Puget Sound’s Critically Endangered Orcas

First photo of the newborn orca. Via Center for Whale Research

A new orca calf has been born in the critically endangered Puget Sound’s souther killer whale pod.

The new addition has been dubbed L124, according to Red Balcomb, director of the  Center for Whale Research.

In a text to the Seattle Times, Balcomb estimated the calf is only several weeks old and was born to L77. The orca’s sex has not yet been confirmed.

The find is even more important as experts on Puget Sound’s demographics of the critically endangered southern residents says two more orcas are ailing and probably will be dead by summer.

Also reported first by The Seattle Times, Ken Balcomb says photos taken of J17 on New Year’s Eve showed the 42-year-old female has so-called peanut head, a misshapen head and neck caused by starvation and will likely die by summer.

In addition a 27-year-old male known as K25 is dying as well, also from lack of sufficient food. He lost his mother, K13, in 2017 and has not been successful on his own

The southern residents are struggling to survive amid waters influenced by more than 6 million people, between Vancouver and Seattle, with pollution, habitat degradation and fishery declines.

The decline of the whales is a warning as climate change and coastal development continue to reshape Puget Sound and the rest of the planet.

There is a path though to try and help save the whales. Currently, mother orcas and their babies are struggling because they don’t have enough food, a primary factor in the population’s decline.

Researchers and conservationists are calling on the government for four dams on the Lower Snake River to be breached to open up habitat for salmon. They said the best opportunity to save the orcas is to restore runs of salmon eaten by the killer whales.

There are those who are opposed to the breaching as they believe the Lower Snake dams provide low-cost hydroelectric power and play a role in the region’s economy.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has asked for $1.1 billion to help save a critically endangered population of killer whales. The $1.1 billion is included in Inslee’s budget proposal. To pay for it, Inslee has called for a new capital gains tax and an increase in business taxes.

Much of the money would go toward reviving the chinook population by removing culverts that prevent salmon migration, allowing more water to spill over Columbia and Snake river dams, and boosting hatchery production, according to the Seattle Times. Funds would also be used to create plans to move or kill seals and sea lions that feed on Columbia River salmon.

Inslee, a Democrat, also proposes that a task force study the effects of breaching federal dams on the Lower Snake River. 

U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, both Republicans, oppose the task-force proposal.

“The governor does not have the authority to breach our federal dams on the Lower Snake River, and allocating state taxpayers’ funds to consider breaching them would be wasteful,” they said in a joint statement. “Congress has the sole authority to authorize breaching our federal dams, and as representatives of Eastern Washington communities that depend on the many benefits they provide, breaching them is out of the question. We commit to do everything in our power to save our dams.”

While republican representatives continue to oppose even funding a task-force evaluate the viability of breaching the dams, it will be up to the citizens of Washington to push, requests and demand the dams be breached.

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