Though yet to come of age, a killer whale that often visits Victoria may have just become one of the world’s newest and youngest whale moms.
Spotted by researchers near Spieden Channel Monday, the mother swam the waters with her new calf J49, who was later playfully jostled by the rest of their endangered pod as if christening him.
Only 11 and a half years old, pre-teen J37 — also known as Hy’Shqa — gave birth earlier than most whales, whose average pregnancy age is 13–16 years old.
“From this part of the world, this is a new record,” said Center for Whale Research executive director Ken Balcomb.
He added, however, that J37’s premature pregnancy might prevent her from properly lactating for her child.
Despite the circumstance, Balcomb has high hopes for both whales.
“So far they both seem healthy and in good shape … especially since they come from a strong maternal line,” he said, describing calf J49’s proper breathing as a sign of good health.
South of the border there are records of younger whale mothers, especially among those held in captivity. For example, a calf was born to a seven and a half year old female at Sea World Texas in 1993.
But according to Balcomb, these births, which mostly happen through breeding programs, are forced.
“Unlike those whales, J37 was voluntarily impregnated,” he said. “These whales have more social control.”
The calf’s father is yet to be determined but the Center of Whale Research believes it might be L87, an orca that separated from his group to travel with the mother and child’s pod.
The Center will officially name J49 after a full year. They are waiting to see if he displays any special characteristic that garners a name. If not, he might be called Notoma after the sailboat Notoma Bay, which was beside the calf on his first sighting.
As for his mother’s name — Hy’Shqa — Balcomb said he would rename her to Lolita if he can.
“For a young precocious female,” he said.