UBC marine mammal researcher hopeful after new killer whale calf sighted

UBC marine mammal researcher hopeful after new killer whale calf sighted
The University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit director Andrew Trites is over the moon at reports that a new calf has been sighted swimming with the Southern Resident killer whales.

Trites said over the next few years, he wants to hear lots of similar stories — instead of the doom and gloom headlines we’ve heard recently.

“We haven’t seen a new calf in three years. We hear increasingly of animals that are in poor condition, and likely going to die, we’ve been losing animals,” said Trites.

“The only way this population is going to pull out of this tailspin it’s been in is to start having new babies. To hear that there’s a new calf is the best piece of news I could imagine hearing at this point.”

The newborn calf has a long, tough year ahead of it — Trites said about half of killer whale calves born never make it to their first birthday.

“While I feel excited by the news I’m also very aware that the population is not out of the woods yet,” said Trites.

“We’re only in January — it can be stormy out there, rough. It’s not the easiest time for a mother to have a new baby.”

Last year, the Southern Residents made world news when the whale known as J-35 carried the carcass of her dead calf for more than two weeks.

And according to Trites, the population won’t start growing until the whales start giving birth to female calves.

“They need little girls. Without that there’s really no future,” said Trites.

“The population has had a problem of giving birth primarily to males, and in such a small population having more males is not helpful whatsoever.”

Along with a shortage of female births, the Southern Residents must deal with an apparent food shortage that Trites said has left them thinner and more unhealthy than their Northern Resident neighbours.
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