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Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Newborn orca joins Pacific Northwest's J Pod family

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

The birth of a baby to a young mother can sometimes cause consternation among human animals, but not so when it's in our local pods of orcas.

The report on Monday of a calf born to the J Pod, considered one of the area's most stable and successful families, is being hailed far and wide, according to Howard Garrett, director and co-founder of Orca Network, an organization that raises awareness of the whales of the Pacific Northwest.

A picture of the newborn, wedged between its mother and grandmother, was posted on the Network's Facebook page Monday night and had collected more than 14,000 "likes" and 1,000 comments in less than 24 hours.

"There's a lot of excitement," said Garrett. "We're celebrating."

Research into the endangered Orcinus orca species shows that the mammals are highly intelligent and live in complex and ancient matrilineal cultures, Garrett said. Male and female offspring typically stay with their mothers their entire lives, he said.

Even during adolescence, the mothers seem to "just enjoy their children all the time. They don't worry about house cleaning."

The calf, J49, is believed to have been born Monday, Garrett said, and the first picture of him or her was taken by Capt. James Maya in the south end of the Georgia Strait, between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia.

The baby, who will be given another name at about age 1, is the first offspring of 11-year-old J37, who is named Hy'Shqa, and the grandchild of Samish, or J14. Samish has four living offspring. The mother of Samish is deceased, but Samish's grandmother, the baby's great-great-grandmother, J2, is more than 100 years old and still swimming with the pod, Garrett said.

He said that while female orcas are biologically able to reproduce when they are 7, they often don't until they are about 14.

According to Garrett, the father of J37's baby is from another pod and the pairing would have been approved by her family, he said.

"The prevailing theory is that the mother or grandmother provides the matchmaking," Garrett said.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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