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Celebrating the youngest Southern Resident orcas

Video: Southern Residents at sunset, 2021 ©Cindy Hansen.

Throughout this month we have been celebrating the Lasting Legacies of the Southern Resident orcas and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA is a landmark piece of legislation that has been credited with preventing the extinction of 99% of the species under its protection, including some we are fortunate enough to see in the Salish Sea. Gray whales and the Hawaii breeding population of humpback whales have been delisted from the Endangered Species Act after recovering from the impacts of whaling, and bald eagles were delisted after recovering from population decimation by the insecticide DDT, just to name a few.

By comparison, Southern Resident orcas are still struggling, and their threats are numerous and complex. Shipping traffic is increasing in their critical habitat, new contaminants are emerging in the food web, small population size is leading to inbreeding, and salmon decline is responsible for increased mortality, decreased presence in their core summer habitat, elevated stress hormones, and a 69% miscarriage rate. But their story is far from over. Recovery efforts are increasing throughout the region from Northern California to British Columbia. While not everyone agrees on the best path forward, what we all have in common is a love and admiration for the Southern Residents and a desire to see them thrive. And that is a great place to start.

There is some good news! Seven calves born since 2019 are still alive, active and playful - an indication that their mothers were able to find sufficient salmon through pregnancy and nursing. And there was recent news of a likely new L Pod calf, which we hope will be confirmed soon by the Center for Whale Research.The Southern Resident pods continue to forage, socialize, and care for one another. Our human pod must work together and do our part to fight for their future. We dedicate this Orca Month to all the legendary orcas we have lost, and to the youngest Southern Residents - J56 Tofino, J57 Phoenix, J58 Crescent, J59 Sxwyeqόlh, K45 Uhura/Prosper, L124 Whistle, L125 Element, and the newest L Pod calf. We hope they will all live long, healthy lives, so that someday our future generations will be able to tell the stories of their Lasting Legacies.

Read the story below to learn more about the youngest Southern Resident orcas, written by Orca Network’s Education and Advocacy Coordinator, Cindy Hansen.

J56 Tofino:

  • Birth: female, born 2019.

  • Family: J11 Matriline - J11 Blossom (grandmother - deceased), J27 Blackberry (uncle), J31 Tsuchi (mother), J39 Mako (uncle).

  • Interesting Facts: J56 is a playful little calf who has a very strong bond with her mother and uncles. There had previously been concern about her health and body condition but she seems to have improved in recent months. She is small for her age, but she never lets that slow her down! She is a very active little whale who likes to breach, goof off, and play with the other calves in the pod.

Photo: Monika Wieland Shields.

J57 Phoenix:

  • Birth: male, born 2020.

  • Family: J17 Matriline - J17 (grandmother - deceased), J28 (aunt - deceased), J35 Tahlequah (mother), J44 Moby (uncle), J46 Star (cousin), J47 Notch (brother), J53 Kiki (aunt).

  • Interesting Facts: J57 Phoenix was born on September 4, 2020 in the Salish Sea. His birth was celebrated around the world as a sign of hope following his mother’s heartbreaking tour of grief a few years earlier. Phoenix appears to be a happy, healthy little calf and we look forward to watching him grow up.

Photo: Monika Wieland Shields.

J58 Crescent:

  • Birth: female, born 2020.

  • Family: J19 Matriline - J19 Shachi (grandmother), J41 Eclipse (mother), J51 Nova (brother).

  • Interesting Facts: J58 Crescent was born on September 24, 2020 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. While it’s rare to know exact birth dates of orca calves, J58 was seen by passengers onboard a vessel just moments after she was born. There was even more celebration 6 months later when it was determined that Crescent is a much-needed female. We hope she will live a long healthy life and someday add more calves to this endangered population.

Photo: Sara Hysong-Shimazu.

J59 Sxwyeqόlh:

  • Birth: female, born 2022.

  • Family: J2 Matriline - J2 Granny (great-grandmother - deceased), J14 Samish (grandmother - deceased), J37 Hy’shqa (mother), J40 Suttles (aunt), J45 Se-Yi-Chn (uncle), J49 T’ilem I’nges (brother).

  • Interesting Facts: J59 is a very active, playful calf who loves to breach. On June 24th, she received a name from the Samish Nation in a traditional potlatch ceremony. She was given the name Sxwyeqόlh (pronounced Swee-a-kosh) which means “reason for hope child.” Since the birth of J59’s mother J37 Hy’shqa in 2001, the Samish Nation has been honoring descendents of J14 Samish with Coast Salish names.

Photo: Cindy Hansen.

K45 Uhura

  • Birth: female, born 2022.

  • Family: K13 Matriline - K20 Spock (mother), K27 Deadhead (aunt), K34 Cali (uncle), K38 Comet (brother).

  • Interesting Facts: K45 is the first surviving calf in K Pod since 2011. She was first seen off the coast of Oregon in the spring of 2022 but it wasn’t until July 9th when K Pod entered the Salish Sea that scientists from the Center for Whale Research were able to confirm K20 Spock as her mother. Unfortunately, K Pod is not seen in inland waters as often as in the past, so it might be a little longer before we are able to see this pair again, but by all accounts they seem to be doing well.

Photo: Monika Wieland Shields.

L124 Whistle

  • Birth: sex unknown, born 2018.

  • Family: L11 Matriline - L11 Squirty (grandmother - deceased), L41 Mega (uncle - deceased), L77 Matia (mother), L94 Calypso (aunt), L113 Cousteau (cousin), L119 Joy (sister), L121 Windsong (cousin).

  • Interesting Facts: L124 Whistle was first seen on January 10, 2019 when Seattle TV stations aired live footage of the orcas in Puget Sound. Many viewers were able to see a tiny calf in with some L Pod whales, and the next day Center for Whale Research was able to confirm the new little one with mother L77 Matia. The sex of L124, which can be determined by the shape of the white patch on the underside, is not yet known.

Photo: Sara Hysong-Shimazu.

L125 Element:

  • Birth: female, 2021.

  • Family: L4 Matriline - L55 Nugget (aunt), L82 Kasatka (cousin), L86 Surprise! (mother), L103 Lapis (cousin), L106 Pooka (sibling), L109 Takoda (cousin), L116 Finn (cousin), L118 Jade (cousin), L123 Lazuli (cousin).

  • Interesting Facts: On February 17, 2021, L86 Surprise! surprised everyone by showing up with a new calf, L125 Element. The calf’s only living sibling is her brother L106 Pooka who is 18 years old. Two additional siblings sadly are deceased. L112 Sooke died of blunt force trauma in 2012, and L120 was born in 2014 but only survived a few months. So, L125’s birth was a very welcome surprise, and we hope she will live a long, happy life with her large extended family.

Photo: Sara Hysong-Shimazu.


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