Baby killer whale born to endangered population in Washington state

Mon Sep 8, 2014 4:50pm EDT
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By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - An infant killer whale was spotted over the weekend in Washington state's Puget Sound, the first orca born to the region's endangered population of marine mammals in two years, experts said on Monday.

It was not yet known whether the baby whale is a male or female, but the calf appeared to be about a week old when it was first seen by researchers on Sunday, said Ken Balcomb, the executive director of the Center for Whale Research.

"The baby's dorsal fin was upright, not folded over, indicating it was probably more than one day old, so we are estimating its birthday was in early September, 2014," he said.

The calf was swimming between two adult females, one presumed to be the mother, the other its aunt, Balcomb said.

The appearance of the baby orca, spotted near the San Juan Islands, about 70 miles (113 km) northwest of Seattle, delighted researchers but also prompted concern about the calf's future.

The baby has a 50 percent chance of survival, down from an estimated survival rate of 60 percent about two decades ago, Balcomb said.

"If we took the historical average of having a calf every 5.2 years, we should have three to four babies every year. We haven't seen that in a while," he said.

Strain on the resident population in the Pacific Northwest has been linked to commercial over fishing for salmon, a diet staple for orcas, as well as sewage disposal and pollution of their habitat, experts said.   Continued...