Welcome to the Family: A Young Orca is Named Cousteau

Welcome to the L-pod family, “little” Cousteau, L113

We just received the exciting news of a very welcome baby Orca, L113, who has now survived her first winter, making her chances of survival much greater and so she can now be officially named.

She is one of four young orcas or killer whales who have been honored with this naming celebration by The Whale Museum, on San Juan Island. The new name for L113 is Cousteau!

Welcome to the L-pod family, “little” Cousteau.

The L pod is one of three pods of endangered killer whales that make up the southern resident population in the Pacific Northwest. Living in matriarchal societies, pods of killer whales are all related through a female ancestor. We now know, through decades of photo-identification and field studies by a handful of dedicated biologists over the past 40 years, that individual killer whales stay with their mother or grandmother for their entire lives. These pods have developed separate dialects and show complex behaviors and personalities as rich as our own. The three Southern resident pods, J, K, L, were listed as endangered in 2005 because of their slow recovery rate after the capture of dozens of killer whales during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s for marine parks. This was the wild west of the coastal marine environment in the Pacific Northwest where there was no regard for the long-term ramifications of removing just one animal from the entire family. We had no idea we were breaking up life-long family bonds. But now we know that these three pods have forever been changed by the removal of individual family members. This is why, for the biologists studying the 87 individuals of these three pods, every individual counts, every birth is a celebration.

Welcome to the L-pod family, “little” Cousteau, L113In our two-hour PBS special, Call of Killer Whale, we looked at the complex societies of killer whales all around the world. Known as a cosmopolitan species, living in separate populations in all oceans of the world, killer whale societies are formed around the food they depend on, and it can be very specific--king salmon for the resident populations of the Pacific Northwest, or the highly specialized feeding techniques of killer whales targeting sting rays in New Zealand, sharks in Papua New Guinea, sea lions in Patagonia, or the hunting expertise of transient killer whales that feed on other whales, including the large baleen whales. In all these feeding strategies, the pods of orcas work as a team, usually with the mothers showing her young the proper techniques to secure their next meal.

As scientists learn more about the complexities of the individual communities in different regions of the world; the scientific community has started accepting the word culture when describing pods of killer whales. There is general global consensus from scientists that killer whales are socially complex, intelligent, express emotions, and exhibit different personalities. We now know that they are our counterparts in the sea. We also realize that some of the threats to killer whales--prey depletion, pollution, coastal development, climate change--now intersect our own lives, too. The same contaminated salmon that killer whales are eating in Puget Sound are some of the same fish we enjoy in local restaurants and at home.

Welcome to the L-pod family, “little” Cousteau, L113The Cousteau name represents a legacy of ocean conservation and commitment to best protect our water planet for future generations. This means understanding the fragility of the web of life and appreciating that we are all a part of this web. We must do everything we can to maintain the richness and diversity of our water planet. It is the ocean that sustains all life on this planet. And it is charismatic creatures such as killer whales, that remind us of the importance of family and communities and that everything is connected.

We can do better to ensure that our new killer whale, Cousteau, has a long, healthy and productive life! It is my wish that we not only celebrate the naming of these four young killer whales but that we also embrace what these four individuals represent in our diverse fabric of life. Every individual matters, every species counts. Biological diversity is social security.

Welcome to the L-pod family, “little” Cousteau, L113Join OFS in supporting the conservation and protection of the orcas in the Southern Resident communities by learning more about the Orca Adoption Program.

Warm regards,

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Photos of "little" Cousteau L-113 and mom, Calypso, L-94: Jeanne Hyde