Whale watchers are ecstatic at the birth of a seventh Orca calf to the endangered Southern Resident population this year.
L-123 was originally spotted last month, but it took scientists several months to confirm it was a new calf because of rough sea conditions.
Michael Harris, with the Pacific Whale Watching Association says the boom is due largely to an exceptional run of Chinook salmon.
But he says there’s a worry the calves could be in trouble, with upcoming fish runs forecast to be much leaner.
“We’re expecting three or four very bad years in a row coming up, because of the drought. This population is no way out of the woods yet.”
Harris says that’s on top of the traditionally high mortality rate for young cetaceans.
“You know it’s a 50% chance of making it through that first year, so we are very concerned, you at the same time elated.”
That’s a concern echoed by the Center for Whale Research, who originally confirmed the birth.
The group took to Facebook, calling for fish habitat restoration to protect the Orca population.
“It is now more important than ever to remember that the more whales we have the more salmon they will need. With all these new mouths to feed it is crucial to focus on Chinook salmon habitat restoration
The Southern Resident Orca population is the only grouping of the species listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But the births mark a nearly 10% jump in population for the three Southern Resident pods, which had just 77 animals between this time last year.
The last birth was less than two months ago, baby J-53, born to one of the region’s more experienced matriarchs, nicknamed “Princess Angeline.”
The Southern resident Orcas habitat ranges from mid-California to Southeast Alaska, but tend to spend most of their time in Puget Sound and the Georgia Straight.