The young killer whale born into J pod three weeks ago still
appears to be doing well, according to Dave Ellifrit of the Center
for Whale Research, who observed the calf when her pod came through
the San Juan Islands on Monday.
In his written notes, Dave said the calf, designated J-50, was
staying close to J-16, a 43-year-old female named “Slick.”
Meanwhile, Slick’s daughter, 16-year-old J-36 or Alki, remained
some distance away.
Uncertainty has surrounded the question of whether J-16 is the
mother or the grandmother of the new calf. If she’s the mother, it
will be the first time that an orca over 40 has been known to give
birth, at least among the three pods that frequent Puget Sound.
“While all the J16’s traveled together, J36 was consistently the
farthest of the group from J50, so whatever doubts remained about
J16 being the mother are about gone.”
Ken Balcomb, who founded the Center for Whale Research, was not
with Dave during the encounter. Ken agrees that current evidence
points to J-16 being the mom, but he is still not totally
“I’m staying open,” he told me. “J-16 is certainly the primary
There remains a little matter of the “rake marks” on the back of
the baby orca — most likely caused when an adult whale used its
teeth to pull the newborn from the birth canal. A 16-year-old
female might need some help during delivery, Ken explained, and the
grandmother was the likely one to assist. Such help probably would
not be needed for an older mom, he said.
I thought that the proof of motherhood would come when we knew
who was nursing the baby. While nobody has directly observed any
nursing behavior over the past three weeks, the baby is fattening
up and staying near enough to J-16 to allow such things to
But Ken says it is possible that J-16 could be lactating — even
if she is the grandmother. It’s happened in older pilot whales, he
“It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a grandmother
could play the nurse-maid role,” he said.
There will be no certainty about the lineage, he said, until
genetic testing is performed, and that could take years — assuming
the calf survives. Such tests could come as the result of fecal
sampling or a skin biopsy performed by approved researchers
following the whales, he said.
Meanwhile, since the calf was born, J pod has been moving around
the inland waterways and well up into the Strait of Georgia in
Canada, as revealed by a satellite transmitter carried by J-27, a
24-year-old named Blackberry.
A couple times in the past two weeks, the whales went through
the Strait of Juan de Fuca and into the Pacific Ocean. But each
time they quickly turned around and came back,
Last night, Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales, a whale-watching
company, observed J pod along with K pod spread out in the Strait
of Juan de Fuca near Sheringham Point near the south tip of
Vancouver Island, according to his report posted on Orca Network’s Facebook
So far today, I have not heard any more reports, and the next
satellite data won’t be available until later.
The succession of maps on this page shows the travels of J pod
since they touched the outer coast 10 days ago. (Click on the
images to enlarge.)
While funding for Washington’s “basic education” remains a
potential budget-buster, some legislators are beginning to worry
about a $2.4-billion financial pitfall involving culverts and
In 2013, a federal judge ordered Washington state to replace
nearly 1,000 culverts that block or impede fish passage along
Western Washington streams. The $2.4-billion cost, as estimated by
the Washington State Department of Transportation, amounts to about
$310 million per biennium until the deadline of 2030.
Nobody has even begun to figure out how to come up with that
much money, although the WSDOT has pretty well spelled out the
problem for lawmakers.
In the current two-year budget, the state is spending about $36
million to replace fish-passage barriers, according to Paul Wagner,
manager of the department’s Biology Branch. That’s not including
work on major highway projects.
WSDOT is asking to shift priorities around in its budget to
provide $80 million per biennium for fixing culverts.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee’s 12-year transportation plan calls
for increasing revenues to provide money for various improvements
throughout the state, including $360 million for culverts spread
over the 12-year period.
Even if all that funding comes to pass, the state would only
make it about halfway to the goal set by the court when the 2030
Although funding is a serious matter, the effect of fixing the
culverts sooner rather than later could boost salmon habitat and
help with salmon recovery, transportation officials
As of 2013, the agency had completed 282 fish-passage projects,
improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of upstream habitat. Another
10 projects were added in 2014.
Because the lawsuit was brought by 21 Western Washington tribes,
the court order applies to 989 Western Washington culverts, of
which 825 involve significant habitat. The case is related to the
Boldt decision (U.S. v Washington), which determined that tribes
have a right to take fish, as defined by the treaties, and that the
state must not undermine the resource.
The court adopted a design standard for culverts known as the
“stream simulation” model, which requires that the culvert or
bridge be wider than the stream under most conditions and be sloped
like the natural channel.
In an effort to gear up for culvert work, the Department of
Transportation established four design teams to prepare plans for
34 fish-passage projects for the next biennium and scope out
another 75 projects. State officials hope that by having teams to
focus on culverts and bridges, design work will become more
efficient. Agencies also are working together to streamline the
In Kitsap County, the Highway 3 culvert over Chico Creek
presents a real challenge for the department, Paul Wagner told me.
Everyone recognizes the importance of Chico Creek, the most
productive salmon stream on the Kitsap Peninsula. But replacing the
undersized culvert with a new bridge would cost more than $40
million — more than the entire budget for culverts in the current
“There are a lot of culverts,” Wagner said, “and our challenge
is that those on the state highway system are more complicated and
Not only are the state highways the largest, he said, but they
usually cannot be shut down during construction. State highways
typically have more complicated utilities and drainage systems, and
work may require buying new right of way.
Those are all issues for Chico Creek, which was rerouted when
the highway was built in the 1960s. The stream was directed into a
new channel parallel to the highway, crossing under the roadway at
a 90-degree angle.
The new design would restore the original channel, crossing
under the road at a steep angle that makes for a longer bridge. The
new route also could involve changing the interchange at Chico
“That project is definitely one we need to get at,” Wagner said,
“but it eats up a lot of the money we need for other projects.”
Removal of a county culvert under Kittyhawk Drive has increased
interest in removal of the state highway culvert, which lies
immediately upstream of the newly opened channel where the county
culvert was removed. See
Kitsap Sun (subscription), Aug. 26, 2014.
The Legislature will determine how much money will be allocated
to culverts and to some extent which ones get replaced first. New
taxes could be part of the equation for the entire transportation
budget, a major subject of debate this session.
It was a dark and stormy night — but that didn’t deter the Three
Starfish Musketeers from going out at low tide on Saturday to check
on the condition of sea stars clinging to the Lofall pier.
If you recall, I introduced these three retired-age ladies in a
story last summer, when they first reported a scene of devastation
on the North Kitsap pier and nearby beach, where a multitude of sea
stars lay sick and dying. Many sea stars were afflicted with a
mysterious disease called sea star wasting disease, which had
already affected hundreds of locations from Alaska to Mexico.
The three women — Barb Erickson, Linda Martin and Peg Tillery —
have been serving as amateur researchers, monitoring the Lofall
beach, like hundreds of other volunteers at various locations along
the West Coast. When they started monitoring the beach in February
2014, they observed dozens of healthy sea stars — but conditions
changed dramatically by June.
Barb tells the story with photographs in her blog,
Ladybug’s Lair, and I’ve included a summary of her observations
at the bottom of this page.
I was not sure what to expect when I accompanied the three women
to the Lofall pier on Saturday, the night before the Seahawks NFC
championship game. Joining us on this dark, rainy night were
researcher Melissa Miner of the University of California at Santa
Cruz, who has been working with volunteers up and down the coast.
Also with us was Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant, who has been
coordinating local efforts.
What we saw Saturday was a great many more young sea stars than
last year, along with adults that seemed to be healthy. None of the
starfish showed signs of disease.
“That’s good news, and there are some big ones in here,” Melissa
commented, as she examined the pilings where the monitoring is
“It feels better this time when we’re out here,” Jeff said,
adding that last fall he saw far more sea stars turning to mush and
disintegrating. “All we saw were body parts strewn all over.”
Melissa said researchers are seeing much greater numbers of
juveniles at many of the sites along the coast and inner waterways.
That could mean that the population is rebounding, but there is
still great uncertainty, she said. Some evidence points to
temperature as playing a role in the disease.
“It seems like around here temperature is a pretty big factor,”
she said. “When summer comes around, we’ll be able to see how
In November, a group of scientists identified a virus, known as
that is clearly associated with diseased sea stars. Further work is
needed to determine how the virus affects the animals and what
other factors are in play. See
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and my Nov. 22
blog post in
If we are indeed in a period of recovery at Lofall — and
hopefully many other sites — it will be interesting to see how the
ecosystem rebounds and how long it takes for the sea star
population to return.
Jeff Adams told me in November that he hopes to maintain the
volunteer monitoring program for years to come — not just to track
the sea star disease but to understand more about the cycles of
Barb Erickson summarized the findings of the group before
“For our data collection, all of our observations take place in
a specific area centered on three concrete piers under a dock at
Lofall. In the beginning, a great number of ochre/purple sea stars
and a few mottled stars congregated on each of the piers. That
number has steadily declined over the past year and, although we
are aware that these animals come and go with the tides, we feel
their decline is directly related to the disease.
“We began our observations in February 2014, when we counted 56
sea stars, adults and juveniles. Many small juveniles were tucked
away in corners and under cables on the piers. Of those 56, only 4
appeared to be in the early stages of disease. In April we counted
100, all of which appeared healthy. In May, of the 53 we found, 33
were in various stages of illness. By June, the majority of the sea
stars were dead or dying. Of the 12 living stars we found, 11 were
in the early stages of disease.
“Throughout the rest of the summer and early Fall, the area was
littered with dead stars and the number of living ones, including
juveniles, continued to decrease. By October, we found a total of
only 7 living adult stars and no juveniles; 5 were diseased. In
January 2015, we found 56 (20 adults and 36 juveniles); all
The count from Saturday’s outing was 48 sea stars (21 adults and
27 juveniles), and all appeared healthy.
I can always count on the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest
to provide some amazing water-related photos — and the 2014 contest
was no exception.
This is the 44th year for the contest, sponsored by National
Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation. This year’s
contest attracted more than 29,000 entries, according to a
statement accompanying the winning photographs.
The winner of the Grand Prize, Hungarian photographer Bence
Mate, spent 74 nights in a blind over a period of several years to
figure out how to capture this remarkable image of gray herons in
Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park.
By experimenting with his camera gear, he was able to capture a
clear image of the birds and water in dim light, while also showing
us the stars, which were not in the same depth of field. His
home-made equipment was able to achieve good exposure throughout
“I made the photo with a fish-eye lens that was less than a
meter away from the closest bird and had to be careful not to scare
the herons with noise or light,” he was quoted as saying.
The birds kept moving during the 32 seconds that the shutter was
open, “and they created interesting forms in front of the starry
sky,” he noted.
I like the whimsical appearance of this bullfrog, captured by
Cheryl Rose of Hopkinton, Mass., as she explored Waseeka Wildlife
Sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. The water seems to wrap around
the log, becoming part of the sky with clouds in the distance.
“There were so many frogs in this pond,” she said, “but this one
gave me the perfect pose.”
The photo won second place in the Other Wildlife category — a
category for something other than birds, mammals, baby animals and
First place in the Baby Animals category went to Nathan
Goshgarian of Woburn, Mass., who watching as this mallard duckling
leaped at flies swarming over Horn Pond in his city.
“It had the incredible ability to select a single fly from the
seemingly random movements of the swarm and launch itself out of
the water,” he said.
Animal Planet, the cable network, will follow enforcement
officers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in a
new six-part series beginning tomorrow.
“Rugged Justice,” which will premier at 5 p.m., will feature
patrols by officers to protect natural resources in the mountains,
along the coasts and on city streets, according to a news release by WDFW.
Deputy Chief Mike Hobbs said WDFW’s participation will help
promote the department and its dedicated professionals.
“Policing the outdoors presents unique challenges, and this show
helps to inform the public about our critical role in preserving,
protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems in
Washington,” he said in the news release.
Added Chief Steve Crown, “’Rugged Justice’ provides a window
into the vital, varied and sometimes harrowing work of officers as
they protect nature and people in Washington.”
The series, filmed from September to November, used three film
crews, each with five members, according to a story written by Rob
Owen for the
The WDFW enforcement program includes 144 officers deployed
across the state. None of the officers nor the department received
any compensation from Animal Planet, according to the news
If you miss the 5 p.m. showing tomorrow, Episode 1 will be
repeated at 10 p.m. and midnight. It will also be shown at 6 and 9
p.m. Tuesday and 1 a.m. Wednesday.
J pod crossed the Canadian border and came into Puget Sound over
this past weekend, allowing Brad Hanson and his fellow researchers
to meet up with whales.
Brad, of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, was able to
locate the killer whales from a satellite transmitter attached to
J-27, a 24-year-old male named Blackberry.
As you can see from the chart, the whales swam south, then
turned back north near Vashon and Maury islands. The researchers
met up with them Saturday morning on their return trip past
Seattle’s Elliott Bay, according to an update on the
The newest baby in J pod, designated J-50, was spotted with
J-16, according to the report from Hanson and crew. Other reports
have indicated that J-36 was also nearby, so it appears that the
new calf’s mother still is not certain. Researchers agree that the
mom is either J-36, a 15-year-old orca named Alki, or else Alki’s
mother — 42-year-old J-16, named Slick.
The researchers collected scraps of fish left behind by the
orcas’ hunting activities. Fecal samples also were collected. Those
various samples will help determine what the whales were
Orca Network published photos taken by whale observers near
Edmonds north of Seattle as well as from Point No Point in North
Yesterday, J pod headed out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The
map shows them at the entrance to the strait going toward the ocean
at 6:15 this morning.
Orca Network reports that K and L pods apparently headed into
Canada’s Strait of Georgia on Friday, as J pod moved into Puget
Sound. It sounds like the two pods missed each other. We’ll see if
they meet up in the next few days.
Meanwhile, at least one group of transient killer whales has
been exploring South Puget Sound for more than 50 days, according
to the Orca Network report. That’s a rare occurrence indeed. A
second group of transients has been around for much of that time as
The title of the book “War of the Whales” comes from the
“cultural war” between the Navy, which is primarily interested in
national security, and environmental advocates trying to protect
whales, according to author Joshua Horwitz.
“You have these two groups that care about the whales but for
different reasons,” Josh told me in a telephone interview. “One
group is trying to save the whales; the other is trying to get a
leg up on the Cold War.”
As I described yesterday in
Water Ways, “War of the Whales” is really several stories woven
into an exquisitely detailed narrative. I found the biography of
Ken Balcomb, who served in the Navy, especially compelling within
the full context of the Navy’s involvement with marine mammals.
Horwitz was successful in interviewing retired Navy officers,
who explained anti-submarine warfare and put the Navy’s viewpoint
“I have a lot of respect for the Navy,” he said. “None of these
guys are villains. This is a totally different story from
‘Blackfish.’ The Navy is a lot more complicated.”
While SeaWorld, the subject of Blackfish, and other aquariums
exploit marine mammals for commercial purposes, the Navy has our
national interest at heart, Josh said, adding that some Navy
officials failed to understand the full implications of the harm
they were doing.
“They hate to see their reputation sullied as good stewards of
the environment,” he noted. “They do care, and it almost tears them
up that they have gotten a black eye.”
Through a series of lawsuits, the Navy was forced to confront
the effects of its testing and training exercises with sonar, Josh
“I think the Navy has come a long way on what they do on ranges
on our coasts,” he said. “They are taking the process much more
seriously now. But they still aren’t doing that on the foreign
New lawsuits have been filed by NRDC based on potential impacts
to marine mammals, as revealed in a series of environmental impact
statements dealing with the effects of Navy training.
“I really do feel that it is important to keep the pressure on
the Navy and the government on all fronts,” Josh said. “There is a
limit to what the courts can do. And there are enough good actors
inside the Navy.”
One lawsuit, which Horwitz followed closely in “War of the
Whales,” focused on violations of environmental and administrative
law — until the Navy pulled out its “national security card.” The
U.S. Supreme Court seemed reluctant to put a hard edge on its
ruling, thus allowing uncertain security threats to trump potential
harm to marine life.
Josh contends that responsible parties from all sides should sit
down together and work out reasonable procedures for Navy training.
They should include exclusionary zones for the deployment of sonar
and live bombing in areas where whales go, at least during times
when whales are likely to be there.
More could be done with computer simulations to train Navy
personnel, he said. The other armed services are doing much more in
terms of simulating and responding to conditions that may be
encountered in real life.
“I have heard from well-placed people in the Navy that there is
room for vastly increasing the amount of simulation training,” he
“We know you can’t land an aircraft on a carrier (with
simulation), but if you can reduce the amount of live training, it
would be a win for everybody,” he added.
Simulations would not only reduce the impact on the marine
ecosystem, it would reduce the Navy’s cost of training, its use of
energy and its overall carbon footprint.
One thing is for sure, he said. Government oversight into the
Navy’s operations is nothing like the oversight into private
business. The National Marine Fisheries Service is so outgunned by
the Navy in terms of “political muscle” that the agency is
relegated to approving practically anything the Navy wants to do.
“I hope that comes through in the book,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Navy has developed the technology that could help
quiet commercial ships and reduce the noise and stress on marine
life throughout the world, he said.
“The Navy could take the lead and wear the white hat and save
the ocean from noise pollution,” Josh told me. “When you mitigate
for noise, the pollution goes away. It’s not like plastic pollution
that will still be there for a very long time.”
At the start, Horwitz was not sure what kind of story would
develop. It began with a meeting with Joel Reynolds, the lead
attorney for NRDC. At the time, Josh had just taken his 13-year-old
daughter on a whale-watching trip to Baja, Mexico. Like many of us,
he got sucked into one whale story after another, and he came to
learn about the Navy’s long and complicated relationship with
Horwitz has been involved in the publishing industry since the
1990s. He calls himself a kind of “midwife” for new books, which
involves putting writers together with characters who have a great
story to tell. He initially planned to “package” the story of the
whales by working with a professional journalist, but his wife
encouraged him to forge his passion into a book of his own.
Josh had co-written a handful of books in his life, including
some children’s books, after he graduated from film school at New
York University. But this was the first time he had tackled a
project with the breadth and depth of the story that became “War of
the Whales.” The project took seven years to research, write and
craft into a full-length, hard-bound book. Now, a paperback version
is in the works.
During the early part of the project, Josh continued part-time
with his publishing business. Over the final two years or so, he
devoted his full effort into the writing and follow-up research. To
pay the bills, he supplemented his publisher’s advance with money
raised through The Ocean Foundation.
By the time the writing was done, several editors who originally
expressed interest in the book were no longer in the business, he
said. As luck would have it, one interested editor had risen in the
ranks to publisher and was able to help him complete the project
and get the book into print.
Josh and his wife, Ericka Markman, live in Washington, D.C.,
with their three daughters, ages 20, 18 and 13.
In the book “War of the Whales,” author Joshua Horwitz reveals,
in exquisite detail, how Ken Balcomb played a central role in
showing how Navy sonar was killing and injuring whales around the
Ken, who we know as the dean of orca research in Puget Sound,
has not been alone, of course, in the quest to get the Navy to
better protect marine mammals. Horwitz introduces us to a variety
of people, each with his or her own interest in saving the
Frankly, I was surprised at how much I learned from the book,
given that I have been covering these same issues as a reporter for
many years. What really gained my admiration for Horwitz was how he
was able to weave scientific and historical aspects of the story
into a gripping tale that reads like a detective thriller.
I consider this book to be several stories woven into one.
First, there are the personal biographies of two key players in
this conflict with the Navy. The lives of Ken Balcomb, of the
Center for Whale Research, and Joel Reynolds, of the Natural
Resources Defense Council, became intertwined with each other after
the NRDC sued the Navy over its use of sonar around whales.
Next, we are given the history of the Navy’s sonar technology,
developed to track stealthy submarines. We meet many of the Navy
officials involved, including some who became emotionally involved
with marine mammals, flipping to the other side, as Horwitz
The Navy has long controlled much of the research involving
marine mammals — the original models for sonar. At times, whales
and dolphins were even trained as military combatants, with mixed
Last, but not least, we are shown the legal arguments related to
environmental law versus the need for national security. As a
result, we see how the Navy has become more open today about the
risks to whales from its testing and training procedures.
Horwitz paints intimate portraits of many of the characters,
especially Balcomb, the biologist, and Reynolds, the lawyer. He
sees the pair coming together from different backgrounds and
uniting in their effort to protect the whales against the Navy’s
single-minded approach to national security.
“Ken was such an extraordinary character,” Horwitz told me in a
telephone interview. “He was a reluctant activist. Activism wasn’t
The story begins in the Bahamas, where Balcomb was doing
research when a mass stranding of beaked whales took place,
practically at his doorstep. Navy sonar had been suspected of
killing whales in other areas of the world, but Balcomb was able to
secure fresh tissues — essential evidence to understand how their
injuries were caused by sound waves. Balcomb also observed that the
Navy was conducting exercises in the Bahamas at the same time, and
he made the connection to the dead whales.
From there, other researchers and policy officials became
involved, but Balcomb kept pushing to keep the incident from being
swept under the rug.
“Ken’s investment was immediate,” Horwitz explained. “One night
the Navy just plowed through and decimated this population of
We learn from the book about Ken’s serendipitous life. As a
young biologist, he collected whale lungs for research by going to
a commercial whaling station still operating in California. He
later signed onto a research crew as a dishwasher, but his skills
with a shotgun earned him the lead job of tagging whales.
Balcomb joined the Navy during the Vietnam War and became a
pilot. A series of circumstances led him into Fleet Sonar School
and the Navy’s highly secretive Sound Surveillance System, or
SOSUS. At the same time, his compatriots in graduate school became
some of the top marine mammal experts for the Navy and the National
Marine Fisheries Service. His later interactions with these folks
revealed something about their past and present positions in
Horwitz ties all these pieces of the story together in a
compelling narrative that kept offering me new and surprising
tidbits of information. It took the author seven years to complete
“He kept asking over and over the same questions,” said Ken,
somewhat amused when I asked him about it. “I didn’t know if he had
confused notes or what.”
Horwitz was seeking an extraordinary level of precision and
accuracy, so that his telling of this true and controversial story
could not be assailed.
Balcomb said he could find no errors, except for the conscious
decision by Horowitz and his editors to describe two overflights by
Balcomb in the Bahamas as a single event.
Most surprising of all was the account from Navy officials,
whose story about underwater warfare has rarely been told, except
perhaps in novels by Tom Clancy and others. Horwitz said
active-duty military officials were no help to him, but he got to
know retired Admiral Dick Pittenger, who opened doors to other
“He (Pittenger) was a total career Navy guy, but he was
skeptical about the way the Navy was handling some of these
matters,” Horwitz said, noting that the admiral spent days helping
him understand anti-submarine warfare.
Pittenger wanted the story told right, and he must have been
satisfied with the result, since he offered this comment in
promotional materials for the book:
“‘War of the Whales’ is an important book about a major
post-Cold War problem: the often conflicting goals of national
security and environmental protection. The author presents this
very complex and multidimensional story with great clarity.
“I’m certain that no one who has been involved with this issue
will agree with everything in this book (I don’t). But the topic
is, by its nature, so emotionally charged and controversial that I
doubt anyone can read it without a strong personal response. The
importance of this book is that it tells the ‘inside’ story to the
wide reading public in a compelling way.”
In my mind, Horwitz did a remarkable job of capturing the
relevant facts for this complicated story. He then seamlessly
joined the pieces together into a coherent and dramatic story — one
especially important to those of us living in an area where the
Navy maintains a strong presence among an abundance of marine
Check back to “Watching Our Water Ways” tomorrow, when I will
describe more of Josh Horowitz’s personal views about his book and
what he learned along the way.
Thanks to a baby photo from Jane Cogan, the newest killer whale
in J pod has been identified as a girl, according to Ken Balcomb of
the Center for Whale Research.
We still don’t know whether the mother is 42-year-old J-16,
known as Slick, or Slick’s 16-year-old daughter J-36, known as
Alki. At moment, the family group, which consists of J-16, her
three offspring plus the new calf, are sticking close together.
“It may take a little time for us to sort it out,” Ken told me,
but the mother should become apparent within a few weeks, if not
sooner, because the calf must be getting milk from the mom. From
all indications, the little one is doing fine.
Initially, the calf was thought to be the offspring of J-16,
because J-36 was some distance away. But now it seems just as
likely that J-16 was babysitting while J-36 got some rest, Ken told
Yesterday, Jane and Tom Cogan of San Juan Island took an
overnight trip up north into British Columbia, where J pod has been
swimming near Texada Island since the beginning of the new year.
Jane sent back a good photograph of the baby’s underneath side.
According to Ken, it is not unusual for mothers to roll their
babies near the surface of the water.
Female killer whales have a more rounded pattern in the genital
area, while males have a more elongated pattern of coloration. A
good photo is all it takes to tell a boy from a girl. For
comparison, see Questions
& Answers at Center for Whale Research website.
I talked to Tom briefly this afternoon. He told me that J-50 was
acting playful at times, like young whales will do, with some tail
slapping and porpoising.
“I would say it looked healthy,” he said. “It was following J-16
a lot of the time, but all of the family was in the area, and they
would group up at times.
“We’ll show Ken our pictures and debrief him when we get back,”
A 24-year-old male orca named Blackberry, designated J-27, has
been carrying a satellite transmitter since Monday, allowing
experts to track the movements of J pod.
The research project, started in 2011 and led by Brad Hanson of
the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, is designed to figure out
where J pod goes in winter and early spring. J pod does not seem to
travel far down the West Coast, as K and L pods do.
As luck would have it, the satellite tag was in place Wednesday
when a portion of J pod headed into East Sound on the south side of
Orcas Island. A day later, they were seen by observers with a new
calf, J-50, which I reported in
Water Ways yesterday and updated today. Nobody seems to recall
the whales ever going into that waterway, as suggested by comments
to a post on Orca
Network’s Facebook page yesterday at 5:19 p.m. It’s long been
speculated that orcas seek out calm waters, when possible, to give
The mother of J-50 is still a mystery, though it could be solved
as observers notice which adult female is spending the most time
with the young animal.
After J-27 was tagged about equidistant from Sequim, Whidbey
Island, San Juan Island and Victoria, the whales worked their way
through the islands near the Canadian border, then moved north to
Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia, east of Comox, B.C. As of
this morning, they were still traveling around that general
vicinity, as you can see from the map on this page and previous
maps on the project’s webpage. The page called
“2015 Southern Resident Killer Whale Satellite Tagging” also
contains information about the project’s goals.
I have written about these tagging efforts and the controversy
surrounding them since permits were first proposed under the
Endangered Species Act. You’ll find last year’s stories and links
to previous stories in Water Ways on
Jan. 3, 2014, and later on
Jan. 14, 2014. You can also search the blog for “satellite and
orcas” to find just about everything I’ve blogged about on the