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Another baby orca spotted in waters off Whidbey

The baby orca named “Star” makes an appearance off Possession Point. - John Durban photo
The baby orca named “Star” makes an appearance off Possession Point.
— image credit: John Durban photo

There’s a new baby in the family of orca whales frequently seen off Whidbey Island.

The new arrival, in all its black and peach-colored splendor, was spotted in the main channel of Possession Sound on Thursday, Nov. 12, said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the whale-monitoring group based in Greenbank.

“That’s five new babies this year,” Garrett said, “and three of them are in J pod, the one we’re most likely to see around here.”

The baby orca, officially labeled J46, but unofficially named “Star,” was first seen with its mother off the San Juan Islands on Nov. 11.

The next day Star and the pod were in the Seattle area, then seen headed back north past Whidbey in their continual pursuit of chum salmon.

The whales were first spotted here off Bush Point, then Garrett saw them from Scatchet Head, from where he said he directed researchers in their boats by phone.

Garrett said the arrival of Star puts J pod’s population at 27, with 12 of them four years old or younger. Altogether, there are now 87 orcas in the three pods most frequently seen in this area, he said.

Garrett said newborn orcas are typically about seven feet long and weigh from 400 to 500 pounds. The white part of their bodies tend to have an orangish tinge.

He said Star’s mother, J17, is a 16-year-old that gave birth for the first time, which lowers her baby’s percentage of survival in the first year, because of toxins present in the mother’s milk.

Garrett said 40 percent of baby orcas tend to die in their first year.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he said.

As for the big picture, Garrett said whale watchers are optimistic that a general resurgence of the orca population may be occurring.

“We haven’t had any losses this year,” he said. “In the short term, it’s looking good.”

To report a whale sighting or other marine mammal activity, call the Orca Network at 866-672-2638 or e-mail susan@orcanetwork.org.

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