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Puget Sound's Baby Orcas Are Mostly Boys. That Has Scientists Freaked Out.

Scientists were ecstatic. After years of worrying about the killer whale population in Puget Sound, eight baby orcas were born and thriving.

Then came photos of their bellies. Most of the babies are boys, they realized.

At least five – but probably six – of the new orcas are male. One remains a mystery. And just one is a girl. They call her Scarlet and say she’s spunky and growing like a weed.

But if she’s the only female, that means she’s the only whale in this age group that could conceive.

Given that female orcas start having babies around age 10 – and have babies every three years at best – that signals slow population growth.

“We need some females out there,” said Michael Harris, executive director of Pacific Northwest Whale Watch.

So why so many boys? That hasn’t been fully explored, but there are at least two possibilities.

One theory is toxic pollution.

“PCBs, flame retardants, mercury – junk people put in the oceans – some people have speculated that this might have some determining factor in having so many males born in this last year,” Harris said.

The transient whales are doing fine despite the noisy containerships, she said. “The only difference is that the transients have enough food, and the residents don’t.”

Despite the bleak outlook, Harris with Pacific Northwest Whale Watch hopes that baby births are celebrated.

“You can never look at a baby boom and not have a big smile on your face,” he said.

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<p>The orca known as L91 and her new calf, L122, are seen in a photo taken from a drone by NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium for health assessment. The drone was more than 100 feet from the orcas.<br /><br /></p>

NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium

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The orca known as L91 and her new calf, L122, are seen in a photo taken from a drone by NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Vancouver Aquarium for health assessment. The drone was more than 100 feet from the orcas.

Isolde Raftery