SEATTLE, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A group of endangered killer whales in the Pacific Northwest called the J-pod are back in the calmer waters of the Salish Sea, allowing onlookers to get closer enough to confirm the presence of another newborn calf, J-51 -- the second baby whale to join the pod in the last three months.
The new calf, estimated to be just a week old, makes for an astronomical increase in the pod's reproductive rate -- a rate that had been stagnant for a worryingly lengthy amount of time. Before the first newborn calf, J-50, was spotted in December, the shrinking pod of orcas hadn't successfully birthed a new member in more than two years. Now, the group boasts 26 whales.
Scientists with the Center for Whale Research confirmed the presence of J-51 this week after spotting the baby orca swimming alongside pod member J-19 and J-41. Baby whales are rather helpless in their first few months in the water and must use the supportive wake of their family members to swim. Researchers believe J-51 was birthed by the 36-year-old female J19.
Prior to their return to the Salish Sea, the pod spent two weeks in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where waters are rougher and observing the pod's activities is much more difficult for local biologists.
J-pod is one of several groups that make up the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. Another group called K-pod boasts 19 members, while the L-pod features 34 whales. Researchers believe the population of killer whales has struggled in recent decades as salmon populations remain low.