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

Chilliwack Chiefs take out shorthanded Trail Smoke Eaters in Sunday BCHL battle

Tommy Lyons and Kyle Penney scored two goals apiece as the Chiefs won their third straight game.

Cowboy Christmas brings classic Dickens tale with a cowboy twist to Chilliwack Cultural Centre

Ebenezer Scrooge meets the Wild West in a Christmas Carol story like no other on Dec. 19 in Chilliwack

VIDEO: Rotary Christmas Parade rolls through downtown Chilliwack

Thousands of kids and adults gathered Saturday night for Chilliwack’s annual Christmas Parade

VIDEO: Christmas Gifts Expo on now at Chilliwack Heritage Park

The annual festive expo features 260 local artisans and small mom-and-pop businesses

SUV on fire on Highway 1 between Abbotsford and Chilliwack

Emergency crews on scene and blocking the right lane

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

Conservatives urge Morneau to deliver ‘urgent’ fall economic update

Morneau says the first thing the Liberals plan to do is bring in their promised tax cut for the middle class

B.C. creates $8.5M organization to improve safety for health care workers

Group will bring together unions, province, health care organizations

Four men in hospital after early morning Vancouver stabbing

A large group of men was seen fighting in Yaletwon

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Brain injury from domestic abuse a ‘public health crisis,’ says B.C. researcher

Nearly 80% of the domestic violence victims who reported to police last year were women

Campbell River mom’s iPhone containing priceless photos stolen from Victoria hospital parkade

The phone contained photos, heartbeat recordings of her late son

Most Read