Orcas travel up and down the coast; NOAA lists ‘priority actions’

For the past month, K-33, a Southern Resident orca bearing a satellite transmitter, has been moving up and down the West Coast, presumably with the rest of his pod. I’ll tell you more about those travels in a moment.

Report

NOAA Fisheries today released a list of “priority actions” for eight endangered “species in the spotlight,” including the Southern Resident killer whales of Puget Sound. These species are highly recognized by the public and considered among those at greatest risk of extinction.

“Priority Actions: 2016-2020” (PDF 2 mb) for the Southern Residents includes these ideas:

  • Protect killer whales from harmful vessel impacts through enforcement, education and evaluation: This includes direct interference by boats and ships as well as noise and other problems to be identified.
  • Target recovery of critical prey: Because chinook salmon are known to be the primary food supply for the whales, efforts must be taken to restore the salmon species to healthy populations throughout the orcas’ habitat.
  • Protect important habitat areas from anthropogenic threats: Since the orcas spend more than half their time in the ocean, it is important to identify and protect the places that are important to them.
  • Improve our knowledge of Southern Resident killer whale health to advance recovery: Identifying why some whales are dying at a young age and why some females are unable to reproduce are among the research efforts taking place.

And that brings us back to K-33, a 15-year-old male orca named Tika who has been carrying a satellite transmitter on his dorsal fin since New Year’s Eve. Researchers, including Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, say that it is likely that all of K pod and possibly part of L pod are traveling with him.

Bell M. Shimada NOAA photo
Bell M. Shimada // NOAA photo

The tracking project is designed to see how far the whales go in winter, where they linger and what they are eating, as well as any behavioral observations. The satellite can tell us where they go and how long they stay, but food and behavioral issues must be assessed on the water.

Brad and his research team are scheduled to meet up with the whales during a cruise that begins 10 days from now, on Feb. 20. NOAA’s research ship, Bell M. Shimada, will leave from Newport, Ore., and use the satellite data to locate and follow the whales, assuming the satellite tag stays on that long. Fecal samples and fish scales could be collected if the weather cooperates.

Brad told me he is eager to get as much information as he can, as his agency is beginning to put together a plan to protect coastal areas that are important to the whales. A possible expansion of the Southern Residents’ critical habitat is scheduled for next year.

Travels of orca K-33, Jan. 24-27 NOAA map
Travels of orca K-33, Jan. 24-27
NOAA map

“We’re trying to build up our sample size,” Brad said. “A big part of critical habitat is not just range. Where are they spending time, and why are they spending time in those areas?”

The researchers are trying to account for differences among the pods and smaller groups of whales and how they react under various conditions. With this being a strong El Niño year, the researchers would like to see whether the whales are going to different places or acting differently.

Besides the satellite tags and direct observations, the researchers are using a network of hydrophones along the coast to record the sounds of the whales as they swim by. Those recordings are collected at the end of the season.

In terms of the health assessment — called out as one of the key actions — fecal samples can be used to identify individual whales and provide information about hormone levels and other indications of general health.

Travels of orca K-33, Jan 27-31 NOAA map
Travels of orca K-33, Jan 27-31
NOAA map

Now, let me bring you up to date on the travels of K-33 and his companions. In my last report on Jan. 19, the whales had reversed their southerly course after going all the way to Cape Mendocino, Calif., on Jan. 17. Coming back north, they reached Washington’s Willapa Bay on Jan. 20, when they turned south again. This time, they went as far as Alsea Bay in Central Oregon, arriving on Jan. 22.

Continuing the north-south pattern, the whales traveled north from Alsea Bay all the way up the Olympic Peninsula, turning into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On Jan. 25, they reached Point Renfrew on the southern shore of Vancouver Island, from where they turned back west and headed out to the open ocean. The next day, they were over Juan de Fuca Canyon, a nutrient-rich area fed by strong currents rising up from the underwater chasm.

The whales followed the canyon awhile, then made a beeline for the Hoh River, about halfway down the Washington Coast, reaching Hoh Head north of the river on Jan. 27. The whales didn’t stay long but continued south and arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on Jan. 29.

From the Columbia River, they turned north and went halfway up the Long Beach Peninsula before turning south and arriving back off the Columbia River on Jan. 30. They made another round trip, going as far as Willapa Bay this time, returning to the Columbia on Jan. 31.

Travels of orca K-33, Jan. 31 - Feb. 9 NOAA map
Travels of orca K-33, Jan. 31-Feb. 9
NOAA map

Their back-and-forth travels continued for the next five days, mostly between Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, sometimes approaching the edge of the continental shelf.

On Saturday, Feb. 6, the whales took off at a good pace, going all the way up the coast, turning into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and passing the town of Sekiu. They remained in that area for about a day, before turning back toward the ocean and heading down the coast. As of this morning, they were in the vicinity of Westport (not yet depicted on the map).

If you’d like to follow their travels a little more closely and read the notes posted by Brad and his team, visit NOAA’s website, “2016 Southern Resident killer whale satellite tagging.”

Amusing Monday: Opinions diverge on Super Bowl commercials

Did you enjoy this year’s Super Bowl commercials? Maybe it is just my personal taste, but I don’t believe they were as good, overall, as they have been most years.

Still, these are some of the most creative commercials we will see all year. For this blog, I found enough water-related commercials and funny bits for me to revisit a few. Later, I will share some opinions from actual television reviewers, who have ranked the best and the worst of this year’s flock of Super Bowl ads.

The most dramatic water-related commercial was a spot for Death Wish Coffee, sponsored by Intuit. In a fierce, dark storm, Viking rowers are battling the waves and preparing to die when the surprise comes for the viewer.

Have you ever watched a commercial and wondered at the end, “What the heck are they trying to sell?” That was not the case with Death Wish Coffee.

In my advertising classes in college, I learned that you need to make the viewer remember the product. But I don’t believe that is the top priority for Super Bowl commercials, in which the producers’ goal may be to get people to remember the commercial, irrespective of the product.

I guess all the rules go out the window when advertisers are paying close to $5 million for a 30-second spot, a price reported by “Business Insider” magazine.

The next water-related commercial wasn’t about a product at all. It was about the use of water, yet the name Colgate nevertheless was prominent.

Jay Busbee and Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo Sports rated the Colgate commercial highly for its social marketing effort. Here’s what they said:

“The toothpaste titan used its 30 seconds to remind those of us with access to clean water to turn off the faucet while we brush. We admire their effort to spread a message of conservation and for resisting the urge to shame us for also forgetting to floss.”

I’ve chosen to recall three non-water commercials that I enjoyed. The first is Butterfinger’s “Bolder than Bold” that uses camera angles to take us deep into the adventure of sky diving with one surprise following another in short order.

The next one, an ad for Avocados from Mexico, shows space beings from the future visiting a museum, where familiar objects from the 2000s — including Scott Baio —are seen in a whole new light.

I also laughed at the Steven Tyler commercial for Skittles, which features a singing portrait of the musician, a portrait that ultimately explodes all over the floor. Not everyone thinks this commercial is funny, as you may see from at least one of the professional writers.

If you’d like to see more commercials with commentary check out the story by Busbee and Kaduk, who offered grades for the ads, and another story by Robert Chan of Yahoo TV, who listed “The good, the bad and WTF?”

I don’t know if so-called experts know any more than the rest of us when it comes to which commercials are good or bad. Even though the writers mentioned above are all from Yahoo, their opinions on individual commercials are quite distinct. Even more divergent is the top 10 as offered by Sport Illustrated.

Which one was your favorite? Post a comment, and I’ll track down the video and post it, assuming it is available.

Understanding disease as a major ecological force

Working as an environmental reporter for more than 30 years, I’ve covered hundreds of topics — from sewage-treatment plants to killer whales. I’ve learned a great deal through the years, but I’m always striving to learn more about the environment, and I enjoy sharing new information with others.

Mist from the breath of killer whales is collected at the end of a long pole then tested for dozens of different types of bacteria. Photo: Pete Schroeder
Mist from the breath of killer whales is collected at the end of a long pole then tested for dozens of different types of bacteria. // Photo: Pete Schroeder

Recently, I found myself immersed in a fascinating subject that I knew almost nothing about, at least from a scientific perspective. What I learned in my reporting was enough to alter my thinking about the ecological forces that shape our world.

I’m talking about the role of disease, a force that can decimate populations, affect predator-prey relationships and disrupt social communities. So many animal diseases overlap with human diseases that we can no longer consider ourselves separate.

As Joe Gaydos of SeaDoc Society told me, “The crazy thing about disease is that it isn’t really on people’s radar. It is a smoldering factor in our environment, but one that can break out at any time.”

My recent stories featured potential diseases in killer whales, herring and salmon, animals that are related to each other through the food web. I wrote the stories for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, which is managed by the Puget Sound Institute, where I work part-time. The stories were reprinted in the Kitsap Sun, where I spent most of my career as an environmental reporter.

I owe a debt to Joe Gaydos and the other folks mentioned in my stories for helping me grasp the significance of disease in all animals, including humans. Scientists who understand the complexities of disease are now coordinating with the Puget Sound Partnership to increase awareness among other scientists and among people who live in the region.

It was only a couple years ago that sea star wasting disease burst into the news with unappealing pictures of melting sea stars that were losing their limbs and turning to mush. Review entries in Water Ways, Jan. 20, 2015, Nov. 22, 2014, and June 17, 2014. It is amazing how quickly the disease decimated the sea star population and altered tidal and subtidal ecosystems in many areas along the West Coast.

Disease does not need to cause death directly to affect individual animals. In my stories, I showed how diseases in herring and steelhead might make them more susceptible to predation, which can have the same end result.

Pollution may be affecting the immune systems of many marine animals and making them more susceptible to disease. Changing water temperatures, influenced by climate change, can have a similar effect.

The field of disease ecology is far from new, but I believe we will be hearing more about it, as growing evidence suggests that disease could be playing a major role in shaping populations. It is a fascinating subject when you learn about how disease organisms spread from one animal to another or cross over into other species.

For example, disease pathogens can be divided into two modes of transmission. “Density-dependent” pathogens tend to spread when the host population gets too crowded. If a threshold density is not reached, the disease tends to die out. “Frequency-dependent” pathogens tend to spread when the percentage of infected animals is high, regardless of density.

When germs are spread by coughing or sneezing, disease will spread more quickly when the individuals are close together (density-dependent). Sexually transmitted diseases are more likely to spread when more individuals are infected (frequency-dependent). Many diseases are a combination of the two, depending on conditions.

Interestingly, pathogens that are the most dangerous to a population are mostly the ones with intermediate virulence. That’s because highly virulent pathogens are likely to kill the host before the disease can spread to others. Low virulence will result in almost 100 percent survival.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recognizes that the health of humans is connected to the health of animals and the environment. The CDC program is called One Health. Research is rapidly expanding into zoonotic diseases, which are those than can pass from animals to humans.

By thinking of connections between humans and animals, new diseases can sometimes be identified before they create a major outbreak in humans. In other cases, protection of humans can involve treatment in animals.

One example is Rift Valley fever in East Africa, as reported by the CDC. The viral disease, spread by mosquitoes, can kill livestock — including sheep, goats and cattle. It can also cause serious problems in humans, including blindness and brain swelling.

While there is no vaccine against RVF for humans, researchers were able to develop a vaccine for livestock. Treating livestock prevented transmission to mosquitoes and thus reduced disease in humans.

Amusing Monday: Fighting climate change with a silly school play

A school play about climate change, featuring a worried mother polar bear and evil villains named “Mr. Carbon” and “Mr. Methane,” have captured the imaginations of elementary and junior-high-school students across the country.

The program, called “Cool the Earth,” includes follow-up activities that encourage the young students to bring climate-saving ideas home with them.

The first video on this page shows a play performed by teachers at Spring Valley Science School in San Francisco. I love the laughter of the children in the background. The second video shows an NBC News story from 2011.

The “Cool the Earth” program was developed in 2007 by Carleen and Jeff Cullen, parents in Marin County, Calif., who became inspired to take action on climate change after viewing Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” Showing the film to others failed to gain the action they desired, so they expanded their horizons by developing an easy-to-understand message that could be shared with kids and their parents.

The program was launched at Bacich Elementary School in Kentfield, Calif., and has grown to involve more than 200 schools across the country, though most are in California. See the list at “Participating Schools and Troops.”

An article on the Green Schools Initiative website quotes Heather Dobbs, a parent coordinator at Alexander Hamilton School in Morristown, N.J., who says “Cool the Earth” explains climate change in a meaningful way:

“The kids love the play because the teachers playing the parts are big hams. It tugs at the kids’ heart strings when they hear about polar bears in danger. Kids can take in that story more easily than just hearing about carbon emissions.”

Students then take home coupon books offering 20 ideas for no- or low-cost actions that they can do on their own or with their parents to earn points and sometimes prizes, such as earth-friendly trading cards.

Carleen Cullen explains the program in the video below.

Rains in North Kitsap falling at record levels, but a shift is coming

Rainfall in much of North Kitsap has been falling at record rates since the beginning of the so-called water year, which begins in October. If you live in Kingston, January’s rainfall is running well above records kept since 1993 by the Kitsap Public Utility District.

Kingston

For the month of January, 9.4 inches has fallen in Kingston so far. That is more rainfall this January than during any January in the 23-year record. The previous high in Kingston for the month of January was 8.3 inches in 2006.

As you can see from the chart, this year’s rainfall in Kingston (blue line) was tracking slightly above the record until early December, when it took off at a higher rate. January burst forth at an even higher rate.

Hansville

The pattern was similar for Hansville to the north, where rains have been falling hard. Extremely high rainfall in November of 2010 established a record for that year that will be difficult to beat in our northernmost community.

So far this year, Poulsbo (KPUD office) has been tracking the maximum water year fairly closely since October. January 2016 is the wettest recorded at this site. So far in January, it has recorded 11.6 inches. The previous high, 11.2 inches, was recorded in 1998. Thanks to Mark Morgan at the PUD for this analysis.

Poulsbo

Central Kitsap near Bremerton caught up with the maximum water year this past week. And Holly lags behind the maximum water year of 1999 but well above the 26-year average.

If you haven’t noticed, the Kitsap Peninsula is a rather strange place for measuring the rain. Historically the northern tip gets about half the annual rainfall as the southwest part.

Central Kitsap

For the Pacific region as a whole. the well-publicized El Niño effect has grown stronger, becoming one of the strongest El Niño years since at least the 1950s. But that is about to change. Based on sea surface temperatures, we have just passed the peak of the El Niño, and most models suggest that ocean conditions will transition to a neutral pattern by summer. See El Niño forecast graph and the narrative by the Climate Prediction Center (PDF 707 kb).

Holly

According to the CPC report, “El Niño has already produced significant global impacts and is expected to affect temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States during the upcoming months.”

According to predictions, temperatures should remain above average for at least the next three months. Meanwhile, precipitation is expected to continue above average for the next week or so, decline to average in about a month, then remain below average until at least the first part of May. For a quick look at this graphically, check out the interactive display.

Meanwhile, as the Northwest and Great Lakes regions experience drier than average conditions over the next few months, California and the Southwest states, along with Florida and the Gulf states, will see above-average rainfall.

As observed by the Climate Prediction Center:

“Since we are now past the peak of the El Niño event in terms of SST anomalies, the relevant questions relate to how quickly the event decays and whether we see a transition to La Niña, which frequently follows on the heels of El Niño event, the CPC SST consolidation forecasts a return to neutral conditions by May-June-July and a 79 percent chance of La Niña by next winter.”

The following video describes the current El Niño conditions.

How to help crabs survive when you
lose a crab pot

A simple alteration to recreational crab pots could save thousands of crabs from going to waste each year, all because crabs are unable to escape from lost crab pots that keep on working, according to a new study.

Paul Rudell of Natural Resources Consultants, left, and Jason Morgan of Northwest Straits Foundation place crabs into a trap to test the escape system. Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation
Paul Rudell of Natural Resources Consultants, left, and Jason Morgan of Northwest Straits Foundation place crabs into a trap to test the escape system.
Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation

The Crab Pot Escapement Study, commissioned by the Northwest Straits Foundation, is the first to measure how well crabs use the escape routes provided in the design of every crab pot sold in Washington state.

The findings were somewhat of a surprise, according to Jason Morgan of the Northwest Straits Foundation. Jason told me that he is eager to get the information out to recreational crabbers, who could voluntarily take steps to reduce crab mortality. The findings might even lead to revised regulations for crab pots.

Of course, the best thing that crabbers can do is to avoid losing their pots in the first place. For tips, check out the brochure from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (PDF 2.9 mb) or the Northwest Straits website. About 12,000 crab pots are lost each year in Puget Sound, representing the wasteful deaths of nearly 200,000 crabs, according to a revised estimate derived from the new study.

The study, in partnership with Natural Resources Consultants, placed live Dungeness crabs into six common types of crab pots, using 13 various configurations. After the seventh day, the biodegradable escape cord (“rot cord”) was severed to provide an opening through which the crabs could escape — at least in theory. The researchers then measured the time it took for the crabs to get out, if they could.

An escape ring tied with escape cord allows crabs a way out. Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation
An escape ring tied with escape cord allows crabs a safe exit.
Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation

One thing the researchers learned was that crab pots with hinged doors tended to keep the crabs trapped, especially when the door was located away from the edge of the pot. The doors simply stayed closed after the escape cord broke free.

A modification of the doors with a bungee cord significantly increased the number of crabs that could escape. The doors were modified to spring open when the escape cord broke.

The best configuration of all involved the use of escape rings — a circular opening at least 4.25 inches across. These rings are required by law in all crab pots to allow females and under-sized males to get away before the pot is brought to the surface or in the event that it becomes derelict.

Many crab pots sold today tie the rings into the crab pot with escape cord. When the cord breaks, the ring falls away to provide a larger opening for the crabs to get out.

“It’s still a small opening for the crab to crawl out,” Jason said. “We did not expect it to be effective at all, but it works very well.”

In some crab pots, the required rings are welded into place on the iron cage. It would be easy enough for people to cut the rings out with a strong pair of wire cutters and then tie them back in with escape cord, Jason said.

Manufacturers of crab pots have become interested in the study, Jason told me, and he expects some will quickly convert to tying the rings in place rather than welding them. The difference in cost, if any, should be small, he said, and drawbacks seem minimal.

Requiring this method of escape for future crab pots sold in Washington could be another result of the study, but nothing is proposed at this time, Jason said. The next round of studies is likely to look at commercial crab pots, which are generally larger but still require an escape route in case they become lost.

A related issue that needs attention is the escape cord, which is made of cotton and designed to deteriorate in a reasonable period of time when left in saltwater. Cords that last longer are likely to cause more crabs to die. Studies have shown that approved escape cord takes between 30 and 148 days to disintegrate, with most people selecting larger cord that can last toward the longer end of that range.

“That is certainly something that we are not happy with,” Jason said. “We would like to see regulations that would require escape cord to be smaller.”

A smaller cord would break sooner and allow more crabs to survive when a crab pot is lost, though it would require crabbers to change the cord more often. That would seem to be a small inconvenience to avoid the kind of waste often seen in photos of derelict crab pots filled with dead and dying crabs. Even longtime experienced crabbers can lose a pot now and then, Jason said.

Northwest Straits Foundation is working on one or more videos to help people see the benefits of providing escape for crabs and to demonstrate how to modify their crab pots.

According to the study, the right modifications to crab pots could allow 99 percent of the crabs to get free when a crab pot is lost in the depths of Puget Sound.

Amusing Monday: Music in tune with salmon and orcas of the Salish Sea

Dana Lyons, known for his songs of humor and environmental inspiration, performed his tune “The Great Salish Sea” during Saturday’s Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island.

The lyrics are told from the perspective of “Granny,” an orca estimated to be 104 years old and the oldest whale among the Southern Residents. The song tells about how underwater sounds, as heard by the whales, have changed over time — from the Native American canoes and the sailing ships of yesteryear to the noisy tankers of today.

Dana performed the song solo, with only his guitar, on Saturday at the Ways of Whales Workshop, sponsored by Orca Network. The sound was wonderful, and Dana’s voice rang out clear, but the recorded version sounds richer with additional instrumentation, as you can hear in the first video on this page.

“The Great Salish Sea” is the title song is from Dana’s latest album, which includes the popular “Salmon Come Home.” I’ve posted the music video of the salmon song in the second video player on this page. Other songs on the album include “I Need the Water,” which speaks of the competition for this limited resource. To hear the songs on the album, go to “The Great Salish Sea” on Dana’s website., which also includes his full list of albums.

Dana has toured throughout North America and in many countries during his 30-year career. His current schedule includes upcoming appearances in Langley, Vancouver, B.C., and Port Townsend.

Dana was born in Kingston, New York, and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He now lives in Bellingham.

Humor has long been a key part of Dana’s music, so I think we should revisit one of his most popular songs, “Cows with Guns,” viewed in the third video player (below).

Orca Network plans to ‘Livestream’ Ways of Whales Workshop

Tomorrow is the annual Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island, a chance to enjoy the company of top-level whale experts, careful observers of marine mammals and people inspired by nature.

Ways

Tickets will be available at the door. Go to “Ways of Whales Workshop” for the schedule and details, such as lunch and the post-workshop gathering at Captain Whidbey Inn.

For those who cannot attend, Orca Network is planning to stream the event live on the Internet. Connect with the Livestream network to join the event via computer.

In addition to speakers providing the latest information about orcas, humpbacks and other species, Howard Garrett of Orca Network will discuss progress in the long-running effort to return Lolita, or Tokitae, from the Miami Seaquarium to her original home in the Salish Sea.

For this blog post at least, I will go with Howie’s suggestion that we call the whale “Toki.” “Tokitae” was the first name she was given, and Howie says her trainers and staff in Miami shortened that to “Toki.”

“She is accustomed to being called ‘Toki,’ so now with indications that a combination of changing public attitudes, questionable revenue prospects and legal developments may actually bring her home some day soon, ‘Toki’ sounds fitting and proper,” Howie wrote in a recent email to supporters.

"Toki's retirement home," as Howard Garret calls it. Photo: Orca Network
“Toki’s retirement home” in the San Juan Islands, as Howard Garrett calls it.
Photo: Orca Network

A lawsuit involving Toki is scheduled for trial in May, although the date could change. The lawsuit claims that keeping her in captivity is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. If you recall, she was listed as a member of the endangered Southern Resident pods following a legal dispute with the federal government — but so far that determination has been of little consequence.

The latest lawsuit will consider, at least in part, the plan to return Toki to the San Juan Islands, where she would be kept in an open net pen until she can be reunited with her family. If a reunion does not work out, she would be cared for under better conditions than in a confined tank for the rest of her life, or so the plan goes.

It came as a surprise when Howie told me that attorneys for the Miami Seaquarium plan to visit the exact site in the San Juan Islands where Toki would be taken. One argument will consider which location — a tank in Miami or natural waters of the San Juans — would be more suitable for her health and well-being. Of course, attorneys for the Seaquarium will argue that she has done well enough for the past 40 years, so leave her alone.

Howie said he is hopeful that efforts by the investment firm Arle Capital to sell off the company that owns Miami Seaquarium (Spain’s Parques Reunidos) will help with the cause to return Toki to Puget Sound. (See Reuters report.) Perhaps the whale’s value has diminished as an investment, encouraging corporate owners to try something new?

Mixed emotions accompany latest births among killer whales

UPDATE, 9 p.m.
After a long day, orca researcher Brad Hanson got back to me, saying he spent about two hours with the whales yesterday as they moved from Edmonds past the Kitsap Peninsula during heavy weather. The whales were not surfacing normally, which raised concerns, he said. J-31 stayed with her dead calf a long time, and he cannot say if and when she finally let go.

“This shows the value of getting out there in the winter,” Brad said. “She will be an animal in the focus of any health assessment. On the flip side, we have a new calf that looked really good. It kept popping its head out to take a breath.”
—–

With both delight and sadness, two new baby orcas have been reported in Puget Sound. One newborn calf appeared to be alive and doing well, researchers said. Unfortunately, one calf was dead, still being attended by its mother.

New calf J-55 with adult females J-14 and J-37. Photo: NOAA Fisheries
New calf J-55 with adult females J-14 and J-37.
Photo: NOAA Fisheries

“We’re excited to announce that NOAA Fisheries killer whale researchers documented a new calf during a research survey with J pod yesterday…,” states the Facebook message from the researchers. “The good news comes with some sad news, however. On the same trip, we observed J-31, a 20-year-old female who has never successfully calved, pushing around a deceased neonate calf.”

At age 20, this female named Tsuchi could have already had one or two calves that did not survive. It has long been speculated that up to half of all newborn orca calves don’t survive their first year.

I was not able to reach NOAA’s Brad Hanson, who was on the research outing, but Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research told me that he has confirmed the successful birth and designated the calf as J-55. Ken is in charge of the ongoing orca census.

The note from NOAA says the calf in “good condition” was swimming in close proximity to J-14, a 42-year-old female named Samish, and her daughter, J-37, a 15-year-old female named Hy’Shqu (pronounced “high-shka”). “So we don’t know who the mother is just yet, and it may take a few encounters before we know.” Hy’Shqu, by the way, had her first offspring in August 2012.

The new discoveries were made as the research boat followed the whales around the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula near Hansville, according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who was observing the encounters from shore on Whidbey Island.

Amazingly, this is the ninth birth among the three orca pods since December 2014. There were no surviving calves born during the two previous years, and things had been looking truly bleak for the endangered killer whales of Puget Sound.

Now, six of the new babies are from J pod, and three are from L pod, bringing this population of wild orcas to 85.

“My prediction was that J pod would be the saviors if any could do it,” Ken Balcomb noted. “But they are coming on stronger than I would have imagined.”

Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said the “baby boom” of orcas we have been reporting “is starting to sound like a long, sustained rumble — and it certainly is music to our ears.”

But news of the mother pushing around her dead offspring was heart-wrenching, he said in a written statement.

“It’s almost as if she wanted so much to be a part of this baby boom — to become a mother like so many in her pod — that she simply couldn’t bring herself to the bitter reality of losing her calf,” he said.

“And I guess we all have to be aware of reality,” he added. “This population has turned a corner, no question, but in no way is it out of the woods. We’ve got some tough salmon years ahead of us, and that means extra pressure on the whales. Let’s celebrate this baby J-55 and this resilient village of orcas, but let’s keep working to make sure we get fish in the water and whales forever.”

Chinook salmon, listed as a threatened species in Puget Sound, is the primary prey of the three Southern Resident pods.

For those of you following the killer whale tagging study, K-33 and likely the rest of K pod continued south along the West Coast until they nearly reached Cape Mendocino near Arcata, Calif., on Sunday. From there, they turned around and retraced their route back north, passing Heceta Head on the Central Oregon Coast this morning. For their full travels since tagging on New Year’s Eve, check out NOAA’s website of “Southern Resident killer whale satellite tagging.”

Since Friday, K-33 has traveled down the Oregon Coast to Cape Mendocino, Calif., before heading back north. NOAA map
Since Friday, K-33 has traveled down the Oregon Coast to Cape Mendocino, Calif., before heading back north. // NOAA map

Amusing Monday: What a man says while riding a rather large whale

Old Spice has gone crazy again, this time with a new character called “Legendary Man.”

This off-the-wall rival to the “most interesting man in the world” plays tennis while riding on the back of a whale. If that weren’t enough, he never gives a thought to his own safety (or abilities) while attempting to break the land speed record.

The campaign is designed to bring attention to the new Hardest Working Collection product line, including antiperspirant/deodorant and body wash. Scents include Lasting Legend, Pure Sport Plus and Stronger Swagger.

Ad agency Wieden + Kennedy of Portland, Ore., has created a “self-deprecating twist on the absurd bravado” that characterized previous Old Spice commercials, according to an analysis by Patrick Kulp in AdWeek magazine.

So what does “Legendary Man” think about life? Listen to what he says in the whale commercial, and see if you can make any sense of it:

Where does regular end and the extreme begin?
Mmm. Good question.
A wise man once said, “Sweat and body odor is your body’s way of saying, ‘Hey. Slow down. You need a break.’”
But thanks to new Dirt Destroyer, the most powerful Old Spice body wash ever made, my body will finally shut up and let me live.
Is there a limit to how much living I can live with my life?
How will I know if I’ve gone too far?
And why did I spend my life saving some sunglasses for a whale?
I shall find the answers to these questions.

If you are impressed, listen closely to what “Legendary Man” says in the second commercial on this page, called “Rocket Car.” Don’t forget to make these fullscreen by clicking on the box in the lower right had corner of the video player.

These newest Old Spice commercials, launched just this month, are included in a set of four commercials called “Smellegendary.”

Old Spice turns out new ad concepts more quickly than the change of the seasons.

In November, a series called ESPN Takeover includes a piece called “Bathroom Break.” See the third video on this page.

In August, the commercials were called “Make a Smellmitment,” including the commercial called “And so it begins,” which is the final video on this page.