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  

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Organic waste pick-up expected by 2022 in RDCK

But there are many unanswered questions in Nelson about cost and details

Nelson and RDCK both eyeing waste wood to produce energy

Nelson’s five-year-old business plan will resurface at council table this summer

First presumptive case of coronavirus identified in the Interior Health region

The woman, in her 30s, travelled from Shanghai and lives in the interior

Construction on Castlegar cannabis facility to start soon

Craft cannabis park will be first of its kind in Canada.

RCMP respond to 65 calls over past week

By Lorne Eckersley Creston RCMP responded to 65 calls for assistance from… Continue reading

VIDEO: 7 things you need to know about the 2020 B.C. budget

Surplus of $227 million with big spending on infrastructure and capital projects

Via Rail lays off 1,000 employees temporarily as anti-pipeline blockades drag on

The Crown corporation has suspended passenger trains on its Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto

VIDEO: Knife-wielding man arrested after barricading himself in Lower Mainland Walmart

A man had barricaded himself in the freezer section of the fish area at a Walmart in Richmond

Budget 2020: Weaver ‘delighted,’ minority B.C. NDP stable

Project spending soars along with B.C.’s capital debt

Stroke survivors lean on each other in Nelson

‘I’ve learned more about strokes from being in the group than I did from anyone else’

B.C. widow ‘crushed’ over stolen T-shirts meant for memorial blanket

Lori Roberts lost her fiancé one month ago Tuesday now she’s lost almost all she had left of him

Higher costs should kill Trans Mountain pipeline, federal opposition says

Most recent total was $12.6 billion, much higher than a previous $7.4-billion estimate

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say they’ll meet with ministers if RCMP get out

Federal minister in charge of Indigenous relations has proposed a meeting to diffuse blockades

Fairmont home destroyed in fire

Firefighters are on scene today to investigate the cause of the fire.

Most Read