PORT GAMBLE, Wash. -- A new southern resident killer whale was spotted alongside its mother Friday, becoming the first calf born to the critically endangered species and seen alive since 2015.
Scientists with the Center for Whale Research confirmed to Q13 News an orca calf was spotted alongside L77, its mother. The calf appeared healthy, said Center for Whale Research Founder Ken Balcomb.
Balcomb guessed the calf was a few weeks old. The calf and mother were spotted with the L pod traveling north outside of Admiralty Inlet.
L77 is a 31-year-old female with two previous calves. The new calf will be designated L124. It's sex was not immediately known.
About 40 percent of newborn calves do not survive their first few years, Balcomb said. But they hope this one makes it to maturity.
Southern resident killer whales' numbers are the lowest they've been in more than three decades. Lead researchers say there are only about five years left until the current southern residents lose their reproductive abilities. The resident orcas have struggled as salmon numbers drop, and the Puget Sound becomes increasingly crowded with vessels.
The newborn calf is good news for a species that lost three members over the summer.
In June, researchers said L92, known as Crewser, was missing and presumed dead.
In July, J35, or Tahlequah, lost her calf 30 minutes after giving birth. That first day, she was spotted swimming with her dead calf balancing on her head. She continued her so-called 'tour of grief' for 17 days.
In August, while the world mourned with Tahlequah, attention turned to a sick and starving 3-year-old calf known as J50, or Scarlet. Teams in the U.S. and Canada took unprecedented action to medicate her in the wild, but in September, she was pronounced dead.
This story is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.