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VANCOUVER—Scientists were fairly certain that a matron killer whale from an endangered pod off British Columbia’s coast had given birth to the newest calf — then new evidence made them change that opinion.
“We suspect what happens sometimes in these troubled deliveries, is that another whale sort of gently bites the little baby and pulls it out, and leaves teeth marks,” he said. “We can definitely see the teeth marks and we surmise that it’s an assisted delivery.”
Researchers now believe J-16 is instead the offspring’s grandmother.
He said experts are working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to determine whether J-16 is really the calf’s mother, or if she has just been “babysitting” for her daughter, a whale called J-36.
Killer whales exhibit caring for one another and babysitting is not unusual, especially with grandmothers, said a statement from the Center for Whale Research.
In December, a pregnant whale from the same pod was found dead in the waters off Vancouver Island. Necropsy results show that she died of infection, which likely originated with her nearly full-term female calf and then spread to its mother.
The new calf was first spotted with J-16 near Pender Island, a Southern Gulf Island, and the pod has been making its way north toward Nanaimo, on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
He said scientists were thrilled to later discover that the calf is a female.
“This baby is one of the last little hopes we have for this population to survive,” he said.
“There just aren’t many reproductive females left in the population and that’s a tragedy that we’ve allowed to happen.”
There are only 78 southern resident orcas left, including the new addition.
“We have to have abundant food supplies in order for them to meet the nutritional needs of reproduction and they just haven’t done it. You’ve got to have fish, got to have salmon, got to have chinook salmon and you’ve got to have lots of it.”