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Pre-teen whale mother may be the youngest yet

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What's on The Zone @ 91-3 ::


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Adam & Antonia @ Darcys @ Darcy's Pub

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Pre-teen whale mother may be the youngest yet

Aug 08 2012

She's not yet reached her teens, but she's a proud new mother who may have set a record for youthful impregnation.

The youngest known mom from the endangered southern resident killer whale pods displayed a new calf off Spieden Channel in Haro Strait Monday.

The baby was seen within hours of its birth with mother J-37, also known as Hy'Shqa, who is 11 1 old. /2 years

"As far as I know, it's a new record," said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbour.

"With a gestation of approximately 17 months, she must have been impregnated around January 2011, when she was about 10 years old."

The new baby has been given the number J-49, bringing the number of whales in the three pods to 86. However, because of high mortality, calves are not officially added to the Canadian list until they are a year old. It's the second calf born to the southern residents this year.

The mother was photographed shortly before noon Monday, with no sign of a calf, and was then seen at 2: 30 p.m. with the calf, which was still displaying fetal folds in its blubber.

The calf appears healthy and was breathing without any problem, Balcomb said

Hy'Shqa was initially on her own, with the rest of the pod spread out. But heading toward the Strait of Georgia, they were joined by other whales, which started supporting the baby on their backs and jostling it, Balcomb said.

"On previous occasions, we have seen very new calves being supported, or pushed around, by other whales in the community, perhaps in some sort of new-whale-baby welcoming and bonding ritual," Balcomb said.

It seems similar to get-togethers in human families, when everyone wants to hold the new baby, he said. "There are amazing parallels."

One element working in the new mother's favour is that the calf's grandmother, J-14, is extremely productive, with three living offspring. It's believed the great-grandmother is J2, known as Granny, who, at 100 years old, is the oldest orca in the southern resident community.

Matings usually appear to be instigated by the matriarch and often by the mother of the male, Balcomb said.

However, in this case, it's possible the father is L-87, who has been hanging around J-Pod, he said.

"There are some interesting dynamics," he said.

Meanwhile, today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Penn Cove capture, when at least five southern resident whales were killed and another seven were taken to aquariums during an ambush off Whidbey Island.

The only survivor is Lolita, who lives at Miami Seaquarium. Animal activist groups have made repeated efforts to have Lolita released to a seapen in the Washington/Vancouver Island area, but Seaquarium spokesmen say she could not survive out of her tank.

In Victoria, whale activist Diane McNally will distribute information sheets on Government Street from noon to 2 p.m. today.