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Ten Babies

The Dorsal Spin

I readily admit that I am not a graceful griever. The one-year anniversary of my beloved Mother’s death is imminent, and I have been in a funk for weeks, all cranky and isolated for fear of snapping at someone unintentionally. Moreover, I have a bone to pick with The Management for robbing humanity of artists vital to the cultural landscape, at least here at Chez VHP: “ I, I wish I could swim/Like dolphins/Like dolphins can swim  . . .”*

Where is the exuberant dolphin or cute baby when the need arises? Mark Sears to the rescue, sort of. Our J Pod orca gals must be getting into the Damiana, a liqueur with rumored aphrodisiac properties. Mark was with other NOAA researchers on January 18 when they discovered a sixth J Pod baby, itty bitty days-old J55, traveling between 42-year-old Samish (J14) and her daughter, 15-year-old Hy’Shqa (J37). Confirmation of the Baby Mama requires more encounters. Hy’Shqa had a calf in 2012, T’ilem I’nges (J49), so if she is the mother, that would be a bit surprising. Perhaps Samish, like Slick (J16), age 44, and Princess Angeline (J17), age 39, is another remarkable older mother in the Southern Resident baby boomlet.

 Tragically, the researchers noticed 20-year-old Tsuchi (J31) off by herself carrying something pink, presumably a fish. Upon closer inspection, the tiny form proved to be a dead neonate, her first known calf. Tsuchi held on to the baby for hours, for the duration of the research encounter– a humble reminder that orcas grieve just as we do. From a non-intrusive distance, the researchers got video. J31 still had the lifeless body with her when they had to leave for the day. We rarely witness this tender behavior, but it undoubtedly occurs more often than we know. Tsuchi’s mother Blossom (J11) died in 2008. Would Blossom’s wisdom and experience have made a difference for Tsuchi?
Eerily, in 1988, Canadian orca researcher Graeme Ellis snapped a photo of Blossom with a dead baby – J25, her first known calf – draped on her rostrum. Yes, first-born calves are less likely to survive. However, after 24 years of studying these killer whales, my hunch is that reproductive difficulties run in matrilines.

J31’s baby was the tenth J Pod or L Pod calf documented since December 2014. K Pod has yet to contribute to the current baby boomlet. The Southern Resident population inched up to 85 with the addition of J55. Baby Scarlet (J50), born to Slick (J16) in late 2014, has survived one year. Will the other babies be around in spring of 2016?  
Thanks to everyone who called about the dead California Sea Lion at Cross Landing. To our frustration, we were unable to retrieve it. Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated three decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at and check for updates at *The song lyrics quoted above are, of course, from David Bowie’s “Heroes.”