Written by Simon Pidcock
A New Bigg’s Killer Whale Calf In the Salish Sea
There is no better feeling than being the first captain to identify a new killer whale in the Salish Sea. I had this pleasure a few weeks ago just outside Porlier Pass at the north end of Galiano Island. We came across a group over 20 Transient Orcas or Bigg’s Killer Whales traveling south from Nanaimo. I was really excited when I saw a very small calf that was still a very pinky/orange colour travelling along side the female Transient T065A. When Killer Whale calves are born their liver isn’t functioning properly and all the white on their body is a real pinky/orange colour, it almost like a form of jaundice that clears up around a year of age.
I had seen this Transient Orca family a few weeks prior and there was no new calf traveling with them, so this was a brand new calf, T065A5. The mother is T065A who was born in 1986 and now has four offspring. We also got to see another new calf T049A4 who was first documented earlier this March. It’s so great to see the Bigg’s Killer Whales thriving this spring! Our transient orca (mammal eaters) population is very strong due to the abundance of marine mammals in our area. The population has been growing by 10% for the past 2 years, a population boom. Typically their population is increasing by 5% a year.
When a killer whale calf is born, it is born tail first and two other females act as midwives and push the newborn calf to the surface. The calf cannot swim until it takes its first breath. Once the calf takes it’s first breath it is able to swim freely. Typically Orcas in our area travel 100 miles in a 24-hour period and these small calves do this as soon as they are born. Their dorsal fin is flopped over for the first few hours, after which it stands up. Their chance of survival for the first year is 50/50; once they pass the year mark it is a good sign that they are going to make it. When the calf is born it is welcomed by the rest of its family and stays with them for life! Welcome to the Salish Sea T065A5.