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It's a calf! New baby orca seen in endangered pod

caption: A new J Pod orca calf spotted off Vancouver Island in May 2019
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A new J Pod orca calf spotted off Vancouver Island in May 2019
John Forde and Jennifer Steven

Whale watchers spotted a new orca calf in the J pod of the endangered southern resident killer whale population Thursday.

It is the second orca calf born since January in a population that many scientists fear is at risk of extinction. The new orca calf raises the population to 76 whales.

The calf was spotted by John Forde and Jennifer Steven of the Tofino Whale Centre, a whale watching company in Canada.

The birth of the orca calf is good news for a population of orcas that is at its lowest numbers in decades.

Deborah Giles is a research biologist at the University of Washington who studies orcas.

“Of course my first reaction is oh my gosh there’s a new baby, there’s literally nothing cuter on the planet," she said.

But she also cautioned that moments like these are also bittersweet, because the struggle for orcas to carry a calf to term is significant, and once they’re born, it doesn’t get easier.

“We are talking about a lifetime of struggle for these whales until we humans change the way we’re doing business," she added.

This population has struggled due to shortages of Chinook salmon, pollution and noise in the Salish Sea.

The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that the calf is a "new addition," likely born within the last 1-3 weeks, but they have not yet identified the mother.

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