J Pod orca calf born in December believed to be dead

Photo courtesy of Center for Whale Research | Maya Sears NMFS Permit 27052

The Center for Whale Research (CWR) announced that a calf born into the J Pod in December 2023 has likely died.

J60 was the youngest member of the J Pod, which is one of three pods that make up the southern resident orcas. 

The calf was spotted on Dec. 26 and was believed to be a few days old at the time of that sighting. As of Jan. 27, J60 was not spotted with the pod, according to CWR. 

"CWR researchers conducted a photo ID survey of J pod in San Juan Channel (Encounter 8). During the encounter, photos were obtained of all other members of the pod, including all potential mothers for J60, but J60 himself was not seen. Given his young age, it is extremely unlikely that J60 was off on his own for the entire duration of the encounter. While our protocols require at least three full censuses of the group to confirm mortality, we now believe that J60 is likely deceased," CWR wrote. 

It's likely that J42 was the calf's mother, but CWR was unable to officially confirm. 

The mortality rate for young calves, especially those born to first-time mothers, is very high in the southern resident orcas, according to CWR. The organization says this is due to both the generally poor nutritional status of the whales and the transfer of toxins from mother to calf during pregnancy. 

It's believed there are 25 whales in the J Pod, with approximately 75 making up the total southern resident population, which includes the K Pod and the L Pod. 

Learn more about the orcs here.