April 18th was an incredible day, with several groups of killer whales in one general area. Meet the new CA51 calves! We are thrilled to confirm that both CA51 Star (head matriarch of "The Friendly Pod") and her eldest daughter, CA51A Aurora, both had calves since last season; they are just a few to several months old!
It is important to wait for at least three encounters before confirming who the mom is - because others frequently babysit calves.
After combing through our many photos, we have identified 29 different whales on that day! It might have been a social gathering for mating opportunities, or just a meeting of old friends; it was beautiful to see so many families together with their new calves. Two groups hunted some seabirds: common murres and rhino auklets. Amazing behavioral displays included breaching, tail slapping, rolling, and spyhopping! The CA51As were encountered several times that day and had made a kill by the afternoon—probably an elephant seal, judging by the size of the intestines we found floating in the water.
We also watched the CA51s, the CA140Bs, CA23A2, CA50B, CA20, CA177, CA54, CA35, CA35A, CA49C, CA49C1, CA26, CA36, CA39, CA39D, CA39C, CA39C1. CA51's new calf, CA51F, seems to be larger and has lighter orange coloration and exceptionally large eyepatches. CA51F has multiple large scars (some may be persistent fetal folds) and healed tooth rakes on its body. CA51 is an older mom; she may have had a difficult labor and delivery, and perhaps was assisted by other whales who helped pull her calf out! CA51 is one of our most prolific matriarchs; she was first photographed in 1991 as an adult, and is likely in her early 40s. She travels with her sons CA51B Orion (about 23-years-old) and CA51C Bumper (about 18-years-old), and her daughter CA51E* Comet (10-years-old).
*NOTE - Catalog ID number update: CKWP lead research biologist Alisa Schulman-Janiger had suspected that CA51 likely lost a calf during her long calving interval after having CA51C. Alisa reviewed available images, and confirmed that CA51 did have a calf (CA51D) that lived for a short time; Comet's updated catalog number is CA51E.
CA51A Aurora's new calf, CA51A4, may be our youngest known California Bigg's transient calf. Its eyepatches and other typically white areas are deep orange, usually seen only in very young calves. It was likely born just a few months ago. CA51A Aurora is about 29-years-old.
She travels with two other offspring: CA51A2 Andi (10-years-old), and CA51A3 (7-years-old). Both calves are very robust and active. They stayed close to the sustained gray whale calf predation event on Friday (first documented this season); both experienced moms were very persistent participants.
Big welcome to our newest members of the CA51s: most boat-friendly orcas off California!
Background history, IDs by California Killer Whale Project (CKWP)
Photos by Alisa Schulman-Janiger (23-24 April)There were orcas in every direction: it was truly remarkable. More pics to come!
Video by Mike Kauffmann
IDs by California Killer Whale Project