A new transient orca, also known as Bigg’s killer whale, calf has been spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island.
The Pacific Whale Watch Association says the calf, which is estimated to be a few weeks old, was seen travelling with the T046B family earlier this month, and stuck close to the 15-year-old “Akela,” or T046B2.
An image from Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours in Victoria shows the orca calf covered in an orange hue.
The PWWA says it’s common for orca calves to have this colouration, though the exact reason is unclear.
Several explanations for the orange colour include jaundice, staining from amniotic fluid after birth, or an intentional thin layer of blubber over young calves to make it easier to see blood vessels.
It’s been a banner year for Bigg’s killer whales in the province.
In November, the PWWA and Orca Behavior Institute (OBI) said there had been 1,270 unique sightings of Bigg’s killer whales in B.C., setting a new yearly record in just 10 months.
Those sightings haven’t stopped either.
On Monday, the OBI said there had been unique transient orca sightings every day for the month of November, continuing a streak of daily sightings in the Salish Sea that spanned back to March 12.
“The five-year average from 2018-2022 had them present 20 days in November, but this year they hit all 30,” said the OBI in a social media post Monday.
“This is in part due to increased sightings effort and reporting, but also reflects an increase in the proportion of the growing Bigg’s population that utilizes the Salish Sea and the longer time many family groups are spending here.”
The Orca Behaviour Institute says there have been more than 260 consecutive days of unique Bigg’s killer whale sightings in the Salish Sea this year.
“We suspect at least a small number of them are here 365 days a year, but it would be fun to start being able to confirm that in the winter months,” said the OBI.
While Bigg’s killer whales have seen a strong turnout this year, the critically endangered southern resident killer whales have been less visible.
The OBI sas there were 15 days in November where SRKWs were confirmed to be seen in the Salish Sea, down slightly from the average of 21 days during this month.
However, it says there are several “speculated days” when SRKWs were believed to be in the area, bringing the number of confirmed and suspected sightings up to the average of 21 days for the month.
Southern resident killer whales feed primarily on salmon, unlike Bigg’s killer whales which generally hunt on marine mammals like seals and porpoises.
In November, there had only been 112 confirmed sightings of SRKWs in the Salish Sea, down from 193 spotted in 2022, and 121 seen in 2021.
However, there were still two months left to go in the year when that total was tallied in early November.
As of September 2022, there were an estimated 73 southern resident killer whales in B.C., according to the Center for Whale Research.
As of January 2023, there were an estimated 370 Bigg’s killer whales in the province.