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Missing orca calf resurfaces "alive and well"
Seattle Times staff reporter
A baby orca that vanished from sight last week was found Sunday, ending fears that the calf, believed to be just 8 days old, had died.
"We're absolutely certain that the calf is alive and well," said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, a researcher at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, after the calf was seen swimming with its pod Sunday in Boundary Pass, north of Stuart Island. The calf was first seen Aug. 13 in Haro Strait between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island, perhaps a day after it was born.
Researchers were delighted to see the baby swimming with K pod, as its birth increased the size of the southern resident orca group to 90 from fewer than 80 in 2001. The animals were listed in February as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
But a day later researchers spent 90 minutes with the mother and didn't see the calf. The day after that, no pod members were seen.
Researchers now believe the pod swam from the Straight of Juan de Fuca to the open ocean. The pod returned later in the week and was seen Friday by commercial tour groups. The next day, members of the pod were seen off the west side of San Juan Island on their way to the Fraser River in British Columbia, where they feed on salmon. But the baby, known as K-41, was still missing.
On Sunday, tour groups saw the baby and called the center, whose researchers went out and confirmed the calf was back with its mother.
Researchers said they may never know why the baby, about 8 feet long and 400 pounds, disappeared. Young orcas nurse for their first year and usually don't stray far from their mothers, although one K-pod baby spent time with another mother several years ago.
Maybe K-41 was just being a kid.
"It seems to be very precocious and moving around a lot," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the center. "It doesn't surface with the pod. It's often totally out of sync."
Alwyn Scott: 206-464-3329 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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