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Newborn orca calf reported in Puget Sound

BREMERTON, Wash. — A newborn orca calf has been reported off the west side of San Juan Island in the Puget Sound.

The Center for Whale Research reports the new calf was first spotted midday Monday among the adults of J pod, one of three killer whale pods that frequent Puget Sound.

The Kitsap Sun reports the calf was swimming with its mother, an 11-year-old female. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research says the calf is breathing regularly and looks healthy.

Capt. Jim Maya, who runs whale watching cruises, said he saw the little whale Monday evening at 6:45.

"It's very young and very very small. It has lots of coloration, pinkish orange," Maya said from one of his boats out on the Sound this afternoon. He added that the baby was so young its dorsal fin was folded over.

The calf is believed to be the great-granddaughter of the oldest orca in the local pods, a whale believed to be 100 years old.

Here's how the Center for Whale Research reported its encounter:

"We headed out in “Shachi” to update our photo-identification of young whales, and next observed J37 at 2:35pm in Haro Strait off Spieden Channel (48 39’ 42.7”, 123 13’ 50.6”) with a very new born calf! "The calf’s dorsal fin was flopped over to the left and there were very visible creases in the blubber of its side due to fetal folding. The head and neck region was lumpy looking, like that of a very newborn human baby, and the calf surfaced with exaggerated head lunges, indicating it had healthy energy and was breathing properly – no maternal lifting required.
"We followed J37 and her calf at a distance until 3:52pm when they were in Boundary Pass north of Stuart Island; and, all of this time she was not accompanied by any other whales. At that time, part of J pod was ahead of the pair by approximately 2 miles and the other part of J pod was off Lime Kiln Park, having split off from the leaders and gone back south along San Juan Island.
"By the time the new mother and her calf were nearing Blunden Island, British Columbia, they reportedly joined in the rather loose northern formation of J pod whales still heading northeasterly toward Georgia Strait, and it was reported that the other whales were “supporting” the calf on their backs. Perhaps this support behavior was some kind of greeting ritual for the new baby addition to the population.
"On previous occasions, we have seen very new calves being supported by and pushed around by other whales in the community, perhaps in some sort of “new whale baby” welcoming and bonding ritual."

The Puget Sound's three pods, also known as Southern Residents, are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The latest birth brings the number of orcas in all three pods to 86.

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