A New baby orca in the J-Pod of the southern resident killer whales was spotted off of the shores of Tofino by the Tofino Whale Centre (Photo credit: John Forde and Jennifer Steven)

Southern resident killer whales spotted in Salish Sea over the weekend

J-Pod only stayed for a couple of days before heading out again

Whale researchers spotted the southern resident killer whales in the Salish sea over the weekend, more than six weeks later than expected.

Traditionally the JPod, consisting of 74 known members, visits the waters of the Salish Sea and the Juan de Fuca straight starting in mid-May, but researchers grew concerned when they hadn’t been spotted by the end of June.

“The east coast of Vancouver Island is a place they’ve frequented as long as we’ve studied them,” said Michael Weiss, a biologist with the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island in Washington state. “This year was unusual.” 

However, on Saturday the JPod was finally spotted in local waters, captivating Victoria residents and tourists alike.

The pod didn’t stay long, however, heading back out after a couple of days and has been consistently spotted on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, frequenting spots outside of Tofino and Ucluelet.

“The West Coast has had a good run of chinook this year, especially in the spring,” Weiss said. “This has led them to shifting the usage of different areas.”

At the end of May, the Tofino Whale Centre spotted a new addition to the pod, a tiny baby girl who was still soft and slightly orange, as is usual for newborn orcas. She’s is J31’s first baby, and is estimated to be about one month old.

READ MORE: Sick orca J50 declared dead by 1 group while scientists remain hopeful

READ MORE: U.S., Canadian researchers consider capturing ailing orca J50

While most of the time one or two calves a year isn’t a big surprise, in recent years the JPod has had trouble producing viable calves. The last successful birth of a baby was in 2016 with the birth of J53.

In 2018, orca J35 gave birth to a baby who died shortly after birth and mourned by carrying the baby around for at least 16 days, capturing attention from around the world.

Another young orca from the JPod, J50, died in 2018 at three years old after scientists tried several interventions to help treat the ailing and starving youth.

So far, however, J31’s baby is looking good.

ALSO READ: Newborn southern resident killer whale spotted in B.C. waters

“In the first year of life there’s a 50 per cent mortality rate,” Weiss said. “However, she looks about right … she was kind of floppy and saggy as is normal, and since then she’s started to stiffen, and still has some of her orange colouration.”

Weiss said a couple of sick members of the JPod are still unaccounted for, but that this doesn’t mean that they have died.

As of June 1, this is the first year whale watching companies will not be permitted to watch the southern resident killer whales close up, with a mandated distance of 400 metres.

Ben Duthie, general manager at the Prince of Whales company said this won’t affect their business much, since they only saw the southern residents 15 per cent of the time in previous years.

“We’ve seen them less and less every year,” Duthie said. “Ten years ago they were reliably seen off of the San Juan Islands, and that just doesn’t happen any more.”

ALSO READ: Scientists concerned about endangered orca still pushing body of her calf

Whale watching companies have been banned from advertising about the southern residents, and are trying to teach visitors that there are actually two separate species, focusing instead on the transient killer whales which eat seals and sea lions.

Weiss said, however, that this likely won’t make a difference and may even harm the whales since private boaters might not see them or know how to act around them.

“When there’s whale watching boats around it either acts as a signal to slow down, or the whale watchers can alert the private boats to slow down,” Weiss said. “Openly, I don’t think the new distance will make much of an effect, the whales will still hear a lot of noise.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


Send a Tweet: @NicoleCrescenzi

Like us on Facebook  

Just Posted

Two Campbell River First Nations advance to final stage of treaty negotiation

The Campbell River-based Wei Wai Kum and Kwiakah First Nations have signed… Continue reading

City of Campbell River to replace pumper truck at No. 2 Hall

Old truck to be moved into reserve roll for five years before decision is made on disposal options

Vehicles collide on Highway 19 in North Campbell River

Emergency crews tend to the occupant of a vehicle involved in a… Continue reading

Campbell River Art Gallery receives major funding from the Canada Council for the Arts

The Campbell River Art Gallery (CRAG) received a funding increase of $124,000… Continue reading

VIDEO: Langley Ribfest met with protesters

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission

It’s snow joke: Up to 30 cm of snow expected to fall in northeastern B.C.

Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson to be hit with August snowstorm, according to Environment Canada

‘I’m just absolutely disgusted’: Husband furious after B.C. Mountie’s killer gets day parole

Kenneth Fenton was sentenced to prison after he fatally struck Const. Sarah Beckett’s cruiser

Sea-to-Sky Gondola in B.C. likely out of commission until 2020

Sea to Sky Gondola carries between 1,500 and 3,000 people every day during the summer season

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

PHOTOS: Weapons seized at Portland right-wing rally, counterprotests

Not all who gathered Saturday were with right-wing groups or antifa

Ferries employees participating in Denman Island cleanup for plastic-shedding ferry

The cleanup comes a few weeks after one organized by residents of the Island

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Most Read