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Orca Awareness Month marks whales’ return

June 5th, 2013 by cdunagan

UPDATE, June 7, 2013
Orca Network reported last night:
The L12s, who had been with J pod for a two days, departed late in the afternoon June 2, then returned June 5 with most, if not all, of the rest of L pod. These 60+ orcas traveled up and down their familiar route from south of San Juan Island well into Georgia Strait for the past two days, passing Lime Kiln Lighthouse this evening, heading south.
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June is Orca Awareness Month, as proclaimed by Gov. Jay Inslee, and whale observers are now waiting for all three pods to get back together for their annual salmon feast in the Salish Sea.

In previous years, the three Southern Resident pods might have shown up by now, but it would not be surprising to see them as late as the end of this month or even early July.

Killer whales off the south end of Stuart Island last night. Photo by Capt. Jim Maya

Killer whales off the south end of Stuart Island last night.
Photo by Capt. Jim Maya

J pod has been around our local waterways following an unusual absence, as I reported in Water Ways last month (May 16). As of last night, J pod was near Stuart Island, which is just south of the Canadian border, according to a report from Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters. Jim, who sent the photos shown on this page, called it “one of my best evenings ever on the waters of the San Juan Islands.”

Earlier this week, J pod was seen several times with 10 members of L pod, known as the L-12 subpod, which includes a year-old calf, L-119.

The rest of L pod and K pod have not been back for awhile, although K pod was spotted along the west side of Vancouver Island on May 20. K pod is the one tracked for three months this past winter by researchers with the National Marine Fisheries Service. See Water Ways, April 5.

J-27, or Blackberry, breaches with the Olympic Mountains looming behind. Photo by Capt. Jim Maya

J-27, or Blackberry, breaches in the San Juan Islands.
Photo by Capt. Jim Maya

When these pods of orcas do get back together after a long absence, they are likely to perform what has become known as a “greeting ceremony.” The ceremony begins when the different pods form a side-by-side line facing each other. The two lines of whales then approach one another until they meet, when the whales break into an uproar of activity that can last for hours. Eventually, the whales settle down and move on, often as a single group.

I’ve never seen a greeting ceremony myself, but several biologists and observers have told me about their first-hand encounters.

As for Orca Awareness Month, Orca Network has taken a leading role in getting the governor to recognize the observance in a proclamation and to help educate folks about orcas. Howard Garrett and Susan Berta have put together a page of orca-related events and daily educational “tidbits” to help people understand these animals. See the page: Orca Network Celebrates Orca Month.

Among the events this month:

  • Friday, June 7: “Orca and Oreos,” a slide show and lecture by Orca Network. The event begins at 2 p.m. at HomePlace in Oak Harbor. Reservations requested, 360-279-2555 or HPOakHarbormktg@frontiermgmt.com.
  • Saturday, June 8: Lecture by Eric Hoyt, author of “The Whale Called Killer,” part of a series sponsored by The Whale Trail. The event is scheduled at 7 p.m. at The Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle. For a description and tickets, go to The Whale Trail website or to Brown Paper Tickets.
  • Saturday, June 22: OrcaSing, an acoustic musical performance at Lime Kiln Point State Park, where the orcas frequently visit. Admission is free to the event, which begins at 5 p.m., but a Discovery Pass is needed for parking. For information, call the sponsor, The Whale Museum, (360) 378-4710.

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One Response to “Orca Awareness Month marks whales’ return”

  1. cdunagan Says:

    UPDATE, June 7, 2013
    Orca Network reported last night:
    The L12s, who had been with J pod for a two days, departed late in the afternoon June 2, then returned June 5 with most, if not all, of the rest of L pod. These 60+ orcas traveled up and down their familiar route from south of San Juan Island well into Georgia Strait for the past two days, passing Lime Kiln Lighthouse this evening, heading south.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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