Baby Orca Learns How to Breach and Can't Stop Leaping for Joy

A young orca whale named J50 executes a gravity-defying breach in the waters between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island. (Photo: Clint "Showtime" Rivers/Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours)

This past winter, orca whale enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest were overjoyed to learn that the region's beloved J Pod had welcomed two new calves to the fold — J50 and J51.

Given the endangered status of this particular orca population, scientists and whale watchers have been carefully monitoring these new bundles of joy ever since. Earlier this month, J50 put on a particularly showstopping breach performance while traveling with her pod in the waters between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island.

You’ve never seen a young whale as happy as one that’s just learned how to propel its whole body out of the water! Luckily, wildlife photographer and frequent whale watcher Clint Rivers was nearby with a telephoto lens to capture all the action.

"J50 stole the show, and hearts, with more than 60 breaches as she and her family moved south in Haro Strait," Rivers tells MNN. "It’s like she just figured out how this breaching thing works and couldn’t stop."

Although Rivers took numerous photos of J50 leaping out of the water, the one that really stood out is the shot above.

The photo is a symbol of hope for the Pacific Ocean's endangered southern resident killer whale population. A portion of the proceeds from print sales will be donated to the Center for Whale Research, which has spent the last 40 years conducting annual photo identification studies to determine the demography, social structure and life histories of this distinguished orca population.