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Southern resident killer whale pod welcomes new baby

It’s not clear yet who the mother is.

The critically endangered southern resident killer whales appear to have a new baby.

The new calf was filmed with L Pod off Tofino on Monday.

Howie Tom got the photographs as the calf was swimming with members of the L77 matriline, but it isn’t immediately clear which whale is the mother.

The Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbour, Washington, said the calf appears to be more than three weeks old.

The centre said researchers will need to have on-the-water encounters with the group to determine the mother, assess the baby’s health and assign it an alpha-numeric identification.

Monika Wieland-Shields at the Orca Behavior Institute alerted the centre about the photos from Howie Tom’s Facebook post.

It would be the first new calf in L pod since 2021, when L125 was born.

According to the Center for Whale Research, which conducts an annual census of the southern residents, the population consisted of 73 individuals as of July 2022. Researchers found there were three deaths and two births in 2022.

Last year’s census marked the lowest number of L pod members — 32 — since the study began in 1976. With only 16 members, K pod has its fewest members in the last two decades. J pod has 25 members.

The combination of a precarious food supply — mainly chinook salmon — and threats from pollution, vessel traffic and noise continues to jeopardize their survival, experts say. The southern residents are listed on both sides of the border as endangered.

dkloster@timescolonist.com