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Whale-watching crews say Salish Sea’s orca calves are doing well

Orca calf J51 leaps into the air in Haro Strait, west of San Juan Island, on Saturday, July 4, 2015, in thisa photo by naturalist Clint Rivers of Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, BC.
Orca calf J51 leaps into the air in Haro Strait, west of San Juan Island, on Saturday, July 4, 2015, in thisa photo by naturalist Clint Rivers of Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, BC. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Crews with the Pacific Whale Watching Association say four orca calves born since Dec. 30 have been spotted almost daily from the San Juan Islands to Vancouver Island this month and appear to be happy and healthy.

The trade group represents 33 tour operators in Washington and British Columbia.

Naturalist and photographer Clint Rivers and a crew from Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, B.C. had a memorable day watching one of the four orca calves, J50, on July 4 in waters between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island.

“J50 stole the show, and hearts, with more than 60 breaches as she and her family moved south in Haro Strait,” Rivers said in a press release. “It’s like she just figured out how this breaching thing works and couldn’t stop.”

“I’ve never seen a baby whale breach like J50’s been doing,” said Michael Harris, executive director of PWWA. “She’s constantly leaping into the air, and often curling up and doing belly flops. ... It’s definitely a joy to watch.”

The birth of J50 in December was a dramatic one. J-Pod already had lost a female member while she was giving birth last year, dropping the population to 77 individuals, its lowest count in a decade, according to PWWA. Two weeks later, researchers believe, two members of the pod helped the birth of J50, pulling the baby out of its mother. Teeth marks can still be seen on J50’s back.

The survival of the four Southern Resident orca calves comes after almost three years after the group’s last successful birth. Orcas are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and in Canada under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Their numbers are back up to 81, with an 82nd member, the L-Pod whale Lolita, now in Miami Seaquarium.

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