Amazing aerial images showing wild killer whales and their newborn calves have been captured by a drone flying around the San Juan Islands north of Seattle. These orcas, called Southern Resident killer whales, are very rare and endangered – so much so, there are just 81 left in the wild.

The images and video show the calves swimming and nursing alongside their mothers. The images, released by the NOAA Fisheries and the Vancouver Aquarium, will provide a greater understanding of the family lives of these animals. The drone was kept at least 90ft above the whales at all times to avoid disturbing them.

Researchers from the NOAA note that there has been something of a baby boom among the Southern Resident killer whales, with five new calves born this year, increasing the populations size from 76.

The species has a lifespan of between 50 and 100 years, with females living longer than males. They are highly social animals in matriarchal societies. They communicate using whistles and pulsed calls, which builds group cohesion.

killer whale calves
A calf swims close to her motherNOAA Fisheries/The Vancouver Aquarium
killer whales
A calf swims back to the safety of her motherNOAA Fisheries/The Vancouver Aquarium
killer whales
An orca calf bends to feed from her motherNOAA Fisheries/The Vancouver Aquarium
killer whales
Four orca families swim in formation together showing their close-knit communityNOAA Fisheries/The Vancouver Aquarium
killer whales
Two orca calves do not stray far from their motherNOAA Fisheries/The Vancouver Aquarium
killer whales
The distinctive killer whale markings seen on the mother are starting to emerge on her calfNOAA Fisheries/The Vancouver Aquarium