The endangered killer whale population that can be found off the coast of British Columbia and spend time in waters of Washington is currently in the midst of a baby boom, with a fourth newborn orca already spotted for the ongoing winter season.
The baby killer whale was spotted by a group of whale watchers and a naturalist on Monday in British Columbia waters, as reported by the Pacific Whale Watch Association.
The association is composed of 29 whale watch groups in British Columbia and Washington.
The baby orca was found to be swimming with other killer whales in the J-pod, which is just one of the three families of killer whales that are being protected in Washington and Canada.
Center for Whale Research senior scientist Ken Balcomb confirmed that there was a birth of a baby orca to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The agency is tasked with keeping the official census of the endangered killer whale population of the area for the United States government.
The fourth baby for winter increases the orca population to a total of 81, which is still an extremely low number. The killer whales have been tagged as endangered since 2005, with the orcas struggling to recover their population due to a variety of factors that include lack of food and pollution.
According to Balcomb, the baby orca looked "plump and healthy," when he viewed some pictures taken of the newborn.
While the fourth newborn orca since December is a reason to celebrate, Balcomb cautioned that the survival rate for baby killer whales is only around 50 percent.
Still, the recent spike in the birth rate for the killer whales is something that "we're hoping for," said NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center wildlife biologist Brad Hanson.
"It's still far too early to think we're out of the woods yet," added Hanson.
Pacific Whale Watch Association executive director Michael Harris likewise showed optimism due to the fourth newborn orca, but he added that the group will need to carefully monitor the babies and hope for the best for them to survive.
The first newborn spotted was back in December, with the second one seen early in February. Both of these baby killer whales are in the J-pod. The third baby orca was seen later in February from the L-pod.
According to Balcomb, the mother of the fourth baby orca could be J-16, which is the adult killer whale that was spotted to be swimming with the newborn on Monday. However, it may take a bit of time before all the relationships are clarified.
Photo: Mike Charest | Flickr