Two of our local killer whale pods, J and K, have been hanging around Central and South Puget Sound the past few days — something quite unusual for the month of February.
As I write this late Sunday afternoon, a large group of orcas has been reported in Seattle’s Elliott Bay. On Friday, the whales came into Bremerton’s Sinclair Inlet as far as Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
J pod is known to travel in and out of Puget Sound in the winter, but the total amount of time spent in Central and South Sound the past few days — along with the presence of K pod — points toward a pattern I cannot remember seeing before.
Are they finding an abundance of fish, perhaps blackmouth (immature resident chinook) or herring? We’re in the midst of herring-spawning season for much of Puget Sound. Or could the orcas be here to help a newborn calf get off to a good start? There are no confirmed photos of a new calf, but Orca Network is getting some significant reports of a very small orca.
Brad Hanson and Candi Emmons of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center observed foraging during the current visit and collected some fish scales, which should provide information about what they are eating. (UPDATE, 2-7: Brad told me that fecal or scale samples have never been taken from killer whales in Puget Sound during February, at least not until now. So it will be interesting to see what this one fish turns out to be. Brad said he didn’t get a good look at it, but it was a salmonid of some kind.)
The whales were pretty active in and out of the San Juan Islands
the second half of January, before being spotted Wednesday near the
Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry route. Here’s a summary of their activities
since then via reports to Orca
Wednesday, Feb. 2: The whales headed down to the south end of Vashon Island, then turned back and headed up through Colvos Passage between Vashon and the Kitsap mainland. Brad and Candi, who were with the whales in the afternoon, reported all of K pod and much of J pod were present. They also collected a sample of fish where J-28 (“Polaris”) had been foraging.
Thursday, Feb. 3: The first reports of the day
had the whales off Maury Island at the south end of Vashon Island
about 10 a.m. This is a known herring-spawning area. Sometime
around noon, they split into two groups, with one headed south
toward Point Defiance and Commencement Bay and the other headed
north. As darkness fell, one group of orcas was seen off West
Friday, Feb. 4: About 9 a.m., a group of orcas was seen off the south end of Bainbridge Island headed toward Bremerton and Sinclair Inlet. (I was off work Thursday and Friday to cover weekends in February, so I didn’t hear all the reports until later.) The whales made it into Sinclair Inlet, coming as far as the entrance to Port Washington Narrows. Within an hour, at least some were headed back out of the inlet. Observers spotted them off Enetai near Manette and just north of Illahee as they moved up Port Orchard Passage toward Poulsbo. By late afternoon, one group of whales was seen in Agate Passage north of Bainbridge Island. Another group was farther north in Saratoga Passage on the east side of Whidbey Island.
Saturday, Feb. 5: In the morning, a group of whales was seen milling around Possession Sound near the south end of Whidbey Island. By afternoon, they had headed farther north, where a ferry captain said they had surrounded a ferry moored at the Mukilteo dock. The whales stayed in the area throughout the day, coming as far south as mid-channel between South Whidbey and Point No Point on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Sunday, Feb. 6: At least half the group was back in South Puget Sound in the morning, heading from South Maury Island toward Commencement Bay at 8:15 a.m. Before noon, the orcas were heading up through Colvos Passage. In the late afternoon, they entered Elliott Bay.
UPDATE, Tuesday, Feb. 8:
Monday, Feb. 7: Whales were sighted in Saratoga Passage near Whidbey Island in the morning.
Tuesday, Feb, 8:
Orca network is reporting whales
heading north between Blake Island and Seattle at 2:30 p.m. with
another group farther north One group heading north In
Admiralty Inlet at 2:55 p.m., then off Point No Point between 4 and
4:30 p.m., heading south.
UPDATE, Saturday, Feb. 12:
It looks like the recent visit by J and K pods is winding down. although you may be interested to know that L pod has been sighted in Monterey Bay at a time when Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research happened to be in the area looking for them.
Wednesday, Feb. 9: Killer whales were spotted in North Seattle (West Point) in the morning and off Vashon in the afternoon. By 5:30 p.m., they were spotted off West Seattle and Alki Point. Two reports said there were about six of them.
Thursday, Feb. 10: In the morning, Orca Network received reports of killer whales in the Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry lanes as well as off Whidbey Island, first the east side and then the west side. By afternoon, the whales had crossed Admiralty Inlet from Whidbey and were reported off Hansville at the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula by mid-afternoon. At 4:15 p.m., one observer spotted them off Foulweather Bluff on the Hood Canal side as they were headed south toward the Hood Canal bridge. Within the hour, they had reversed course and were headed back out of Hood Canal, apparently never reaching the bridge.
Unless I’m missing some reports from the past two days, I’m going to close out this entry. (Susan and Howie of Orca Network are in Hawaii, so reports are a little sketchy.) Still, it’s worth repeating that it is quite unusual to have J pod along with K pod stay around in Puget Sound this long in February.
As always, if you see the whales you are encouraged to contact Orca Network.