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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Newborn orca has disappeared

Seattle Times staff reporter

An orca calf born into one of Puget Sound's endangered killer-whale pods has gone missing.

Researchers at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island were elated Sunday to see a newborn orca calf swimming with K pod in Haro Strait, between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island.

If it survives, the calf would push the total southern resident population to 90, up from fewer than 80 orcas in 2001. That's good news for the animals, listed in February as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

But Monday, researchers observed the K pod for hours and did not see the baby. Then Tuesday, none of the members of the pod were seen.

It is possible the calf is dead. About 40 percent of all orca calves do not survive their first year.

The baby could also be alive, but stranded by its family. "Then what do we do?" said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Center for Whale Research.

Researchers at the center will continue to search for the calf.

— Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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