Some good news for the southern residents

The arrival of a new calf is the first successful birth for the orcas in three years.

Some positive news last week for the endangered southern resident killer whales came in the form of a new baby, first spotted by local TV news helicopters filming the beloved mammals on a visit to south Puget Sound waters.

The young orca (L124) was estimated to be about 3 weeks old, according to the Center for Whale Research, born to a 31- year-old member of L pod, Matia (L77). This is the first successful birth for the southern residents in three years, coming on the heels of last year’s heart-wrenching demonstration of grief by Tahlequah (J35), who carried her dead calf — who is believed to have died within hours of its birth — with her for 17 days.

As always, officials at the Center for Whale research caution that while the news of a living calf is good, the odds of its survival beyond the first few years are only about 50 percent. There are two other southern females known to be pregnant currently.

The sex of the new baby is not yet known.

The visit by K and L pods, as well as several transients to the waters of the south sound last week, was remarkable for a couple of reasons, according to Vashon’s resident orca expert Ann (Orca Annie) Stateler. Not only is it unusual for L pod to come visit at all, but the southern residents in such close proximity both location and time-wise to the transients is also “a big deal.”

Stateler said there were at least 52 southern residents in total and between eight and 14 transients in the area — the only pod not here was J pod, but a report from the Center for Whale Research noted that the Js joined K and L pods in the Straight of Juan de Fuca on Friday.

— Sarah Low