Orcas are nicknamed “killer whales” because they have a reputation for being ferocious predators, but these highly intelligent, deeply social, and enormously powerful animals are actually not whales at all. They’re the largest member of the dolphin family.
Orcas in the wild face many threats including ocean plastic, high toxicity, entanglement in marine debris, noise pollution, commercial hunting, decreased prey, and climate change.
The Southern Resident orcas of the Pacific Northwest are a microcosm that shows us the impact of these threats and just how dire the need for action really is. Experts say that approximately 75% of newborns have not survived since the Southern Resident orca population was listed as endangered.
The heartbreaking story of J35 (Tahlequah), a mother whose “tour of grief” struck an emotional chord in everyone who followed the story, brought the plight of Southern Resident orcas into stark relief in 2018. J35 swam with the body of her dead calf for 17 days and 1,000 miles before she was able to let go. Her deep maternal bond and obvious emotional distress remind us just how much we have in common with these animals and how important it is to take action to protect them.
But there is hope. On January 14, 2019, a new baby was born into L-Pod with the designation of L-124. So far, this baby is doing well, but time will tell if it will be able to thrive amongst the overwhelming challenges that the rest of the population faces.
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