A friend recently e-mailed photos of her newborn son. The young mother’s parents (the baby’s grandparents) sent pictures, too. Many mutual friends were included on the mailings, as there was a large circle of us awaiting news of this birth. And what a thrill it was to see a healthy mom and a healthy baby.
My feelings of intense joy for this young family are personal and built on decades of friendship with the mom and her parents. Surprisingly, my responses to the recent births of three Southern Resident Killer Whales bear some resemblance to this week’s news of a human birth.
All four newborns—human and whale—spark happiness and hope for me.
Those emotions began on September 5, 2020, with the notice that thirty-two-year-old J35 (Tahlequah) had given birth to a son, J57 (Phoenix). He was also welcomed by an older brother, J47, or Notch.
Tahlequah had caught the world’s attention two years earlier when her previous calf died shortly after birth, and she carried her newborn as she swam hundreds of miles over seventeen days. Now, nearly six months after Phoenix’s birth, he continues to look healthy and robust according to the Center for Whale Research.
A few weeks after Phoenix’s arrival, J41 (Eclipse) gave birth to J58 (Crescent). Eclipse is fifteen-years-old and also has a son, J51 (Nova). The sex of Eclipse’s calf hasn’t been determined yet, but hopes are high it’s a girl. More females (cows) are needed to increase the possibility of births of this endangered species.
A little over a week ago, thirty-year-old L86 lived up to her name—Surprise!—when whale researchers discovered she’d given birth. Not much is known yet about this baby, L125, but she (or he) is a welcome addition to L pod, which hasn’t had a birth since January 2019. Dave Elllifrit, a photo identification expert at the Center for Whale Research (CWR), described the calf as “nicely filled out… perfectly normal.” Given its size, the baby is estimated to be a month to a month-and-a-half old.
All three Southern Resident pods (J, K, and L) were in Haro Strait the day L125 was spotted. Researchers reported the J-pod babies, J57 and J58, “looked to be doing well.”
In case you’re wondering, female orcas reach sexual maturity between ten and thirteen years of age. As with humans, there’s no distinct calving season, so birth can take place in any month (though there’s been a rise in human births during the COVID pandemic). In some whale populations, the birth rate is estimated at every five years for an average span of twenty-five years. Killer whales (and about half a dozen other types of whales) and humans are the only known species that go through menopause.
My friend with the new baby likely is happy that human gestation periods are shorter than the fifteen- to eighteen-month pregnancies of orca whales. I’m sure she’s also relieved that her newborn’s birthweight was nearly eight pounds and length around twenty-one inches, rather than the four hundred pounds and eight-foot length typical for baby orcas.
Congratulations to all of these new parents and their babies. I’m eager for more news and pictures of all of them.