J pod, one of the three groups of killer whales that frequent Puget Sound, returned to the San Juan Islands yesterday after an unusually long absence.
J pod typically passes through the area throughout the winter months. It is K and L pods that spend more time in the open ocean along the West Coast. Until yesterday, J pod had been gone for more than 70 days, according to Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters.
Orca Network received reports that J pod was off Victoria around noon. The pod moved east and then north along San Juan Island, shuffling along the west side between Lime Kiln State Park and Henry Island all afternoon. They were last seen heading north up Haro Strait.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research reported that all the members of J pod were accounted for and no animals had died through the winter, which is cause for celebration. (See Orca Network’s Facebook page.) It appeared no babies had been born either. The last J pod calf was J-49, first spotted in August of last year.
K and L pods should begin to make their appearances in the inland waters in the near future. Whether they stick around probably depends on how many salmon they encounter. Typically, these Southern Resident orcas begin to roam around the San Juans and lower Strait of Georgia in early to mid-June, as chinook salmon return to rivers in the region.