Second orca calf born to endangered J-Pod

Another baby orca has emerged in J-Pod, the second addition in a month.

The first baby was born Sept. 5 to Tahlequah, also known as J35, who attracted international attention in 2018 when she carried her dead calf for 17 days.

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The mother of the newest calf is Eclipse, or J41, who gave birth Thursday afternoon a few kilometres from Victoria.

Naturalists Talia Goodyear and Leah Vanderwiel were on an Orca Spirit Adventures vessel headed to Race Rocks when the birth happened. Goodyear said Eclipse was spotted southwest of Race Rocks.

“She appeared to be alone at the time and stayed very close to the surface for a few minutes,” Goodyear said. “After going under for several minutes, she reappeared and this time it looked like she was pushing something with her rostrum. She surfaced like three or four times.”

At first, there was speculation that the whale was entangled with a buoy — or worse, that it was a repeat of Tahlequah and the dead calf. But then it became clear Eclipse was with a live calf.

Vanderwiel said it appeared to be “a rambunctious little bundle of baby” and very playful.

“It was an emotional time as we processed what was happening in front of us,” she said. “It took a few minutes to realize what was actually happening, but then it was pure excitement realizing it was a birth and the baby was alive and very boisterous.”

Ken Balcomb, executive director of Friday Harbor-based Center for Whale Research, said it is too soon to determine whether the calf is healthy, since further observations are needed.

Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, spokesman for the Pacific Whale Watch Association, called this week’s birth“very cool.”

“There’s a whole other round of good news for a change.”

He said researchers knew Eclipse was pregnant, but did not know when the birth would happen.

Balcomb-Bartok said it takes one to two years to determine whether a calf will survive.

Tahlequah’s calf was identified this week as a male, and Balcomb-Bartok said the hope is that the new one will be a female.

“These are matrilineal societies,” he said. “Females are going to produce four, five, six calves over the decades.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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