The close of 2023 brought hope to the beleaguered and endangered Washington Southern Resident Killer Whales. Whale researcher, Maya Sears, photographed a new male calf, J-60, in Puget Sound, Washington on December 26th.
“J60’s birth and the magic of it happening around the holiday time just brought energy and a much-needed light to the whale community,” said Lucy Larkin, a member of the Endangered Species Coalition’s Snake River Savers.
“We look forward to seeing more of J60 and wish him a long and healthy life. “
J-60 is likely the grandson of a southern resident killer whale known as J14 or Samish, and the Samish Indian Nation, whose traditional territory includes the San Juan Islands, will get to choose a name for it in the new year.
The birth of J-60 brings the population of the three Southern Resident Killer whale pods, J, K & L, to 75 animals. This year also saw two other new calves join L pod while unfortunately K pod lost Cali or K-34, a twenty – three-year-old male.
The Southern Resident Killer Whales have struggled to survive ever since their population of approximately 140 animals was decimated from 1964 to 1976 when 47 animals were captured for aquariums and marine parks with perhaps another two-dozen dying in the process.
The population rebounded from 71 animals to 98 animals in 1995 but has been on a downward trend since then. The Southern Resident Killer Killer whales were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005.
Since then the southern resident killer whales have seen their primary food source Chinook Salmon, from the Fraser River, Puget Sound and the Columbia and Snake River become threatened and endangered.
Vessel noise pollution and higher level of persistent organic contaminants such as (PCBs and DDT) and newer pollutants like those found in flame retardants (PBDEs) , have also contributed to their decline.
The Endangered Species Coalition and the Snake River Savers are supporting increased funding for salmon restoration on this year’s Washington State Legislature. We continue to advocate and work towards removing the four Lower Snake River dams which are the main cause of historic Spring/Summer runs becoming endangered.