The J, K and L pods have not had a successful pregnancy in three years. Scientists caution the new calf might not survive, meeting the same fate as other recent calves.

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A new calf has been born to the critically endangered southern resident killer whales, researchers confirmed.

The calf was born to L77, said Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research. He confirmed the birth in a text to The Seattle Times on Friday. He estimated the calf is several weeks old. The calf, which Balcomb named Lucky, is designated L124. The whale’s sex is not yet confirmed.

Center staff first saw the calf Friday morning at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“It’s great news,” Balcomb said, adding the calf looks healthy.

Hostile Waters: Orcas in Peril


ABOUT THIS SERIES In the weeks and months ahead, The Seattle Times’ “Hostile Waters” series will continue to explore and expose the plight of the southern resident killer whales, among the most-enduring symbols of our region and most-endangered animals. We’ll examine the role humans have played in their decline, what can be done about it and why it matters.

It is the first known birth to the southern residents since Tahlequah, or J35, gave birth to a calf in July that lived only a half-hour.

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Tahlequah drew worldwide attention when she carried the dead infant for 17 days and more than 1,000 miles, refusing to let it go.

Any birth in the southern resident population is big news because the orcas that frequent Puget Sound in the J, K and L pods are critically endangered. There are only 74 left, with three whales lost last year.

The center on Friday also was observing K25, a southern resident whale known to be in poor body condition. If conditions allow, the center is attempting to get an update on that whale’s status.

K25 is doing poorly after the death of his mother K13 in 2017. Mother orcas preferentially feed their sons and K25 has been getting thinner and thinner — so thin that Balcomb has said he is concerned he may not last the summer.

J17, Tahlequah’s mother, is also so thin as to cause similar concern.

Balcomb cautioned about getting too attached to the baby whale, as survival rates are about 50 percent. The southern residents have not successfully reproduced in three years.