It’s the year of the T’s — transient orcas

UPDATE, FRIDAY, MAY 28, 8:25 a.m.

On Thursday, it appears the transient killer whales started the day in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay, passed by Illahee and went out Rich Passage about 10 a.m. I heard from researcher Mark Sears that they had spent the day traveling around Vashon Island, ending up at 8 p.m. at the south end of Bainbridge Island. Check out my story in today’s Kitsap Sun for a few more details.
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I’ve been hearing about transient killer whales in Puget Sound all year. Dozens of these seal-eating orcas have been sighted in small groups here and there throughout the region. Check out Orca Network’s Archives for reports made to that organization.

Transients have come and gone quickly from Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton a few times this year. But, as far as I know, yesterday was the first time since 2004 that they made it all the way into Dyes Inlet.

It was a good chance for me to talk a little about transients with the help of Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of Orca Network, as you can see in a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun.

By the way, the last report we had last night was at 7:30 in Ostrich Bay, but an observer reported them at 9:20 p.m. on the west side of Dyes Inlet and posted a comment on the story. (Appreciation goes to “rgdimages#217099.”)

Howie informed me this morning that a group of four transients was seen coming out of Liberty Bay near Poulsbo at 6:45 a.m. We’ll try to report whether those are the same animals as the ones in Dyes Inlet and where they go next. To report to Orca Network, one can send an e-mail, info@orcanetwork.org, or call (866) ORCANET.

It seems to be a big year for the transients. Why this is happening is open to speculation, which is always risky, but I appreciate Ken’s willingness to think out loud sometimes and kick a few ideas around. I mean, if scientists are unable to come up with hypotheses, there is nothing to test for.

So one possible explanation is that transients are here because residents are somewhere else. Residents may be somewhere else because there aren’t many salmon here right now. On the other hand, maybe seals and/or sea lions are finding enough to eat, and transients are finding success in hunting the smaller marine mammals.

This whole notion raises all kinds of questions for me, and I’ll try to explore these ideas in future stories. For example, if there are fish for seals and sea lions, why aren’t the resident killer whales eating them? Maybe the smaller marine mammals are concentrating on smaller fish? If fish are in short supply, will the population of seals and sea lions crash, or will these animals go somewhere else, too? And, given the cyclic nature of salmon populations, what is happening to the entire food chain — from the forage fish that salmon and seals eat up to the largest predators, the killer whales?

One thought on “It’s the year of the T’s — transient orcas

  1. UPDATE, FRIDAY, MAY 28, 8:25 a.m.

    On Thursday, it appears the transient killer whales started the day in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay, passed by Illahee and went out Rich Passage about 10 a.m. I heard from researcher Mark Sears that they had spent the day traveling around Vashon Island, ending up at 8 p.m. at the south end of Bainbridge Island. Check out my story in today’s Kitsap Sun for a few more details.

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