Category Archives: Education

Thoughts run to an orca called Granny and her clan of five generations

Looking back on the various comments that followed the death of the killer whale named Granny, I realized that there were a couple of thought-provoking tributes that I never shared with readers of this blog.

Granny, designated J-2, was believed to be more than 100 years old, and she was the obvious leader for many of the Southern Resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound. Granny went missing last fall and was reported deceased at the end of the year by the Center for Whale Research. See Water Ways, Dec. 30.

Some tributes to Granny were written and posted soon after her death notice, including one by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research. I posted my thoughts along with some others in Water Ways on Jan. 4.

Two weeks ago, the town of Friday Harbor and The Whale Museum held a potluck to celebrate the life of Granny, who had lived long enough to be survived by a large well-documented family, including a great-great-grandchild. During the event, local school children displayed “Granny quilts,” made of paper squares bearing their drawings of Granny.

Also present were Friday Harbor Mayor Carrie Lacher and Town Administrator Duncan Wilson, who unveiled a sign to be erected on a street renamed “Granny’s Way” that will carry on the memory of a special whale.

The multi-media slide show, on this page, was created by Jeannie Hyde, a longtime orca observer. (Be sure to view in full-screen mode.) I think Jeanne does a wonderful job of capturing the family orientation of killer whales and recounting Granny’s life story. It got me to thinking about these intelligent animals with whom we share a place on Earth.

As much we have learned about orcas through the years and try to relate to what they are doing, we still have no way to know what they are thinking or feeling, how they communicate, how much they plan ahead and what they know about humans.

At times, observers say, killer whales seem to have fun, and sometimes we notice what looks like support and affection for each other. Perhaps we can observe their rituals of passage, as mothers mourn the death of their offspring and behaviors change for a time after the loss of older members of the society.

How deep do their emotions go? Will we ever be able to find out whether they experience what we humans call love? I certainly don’t have the answers, but the amount of affection that people feel for killer whales, as well as other marine mammals, suggests a powerful connection, perhaps at the subconscious level.

At the celebration of life two weeks ago, Jenny Atkinson, director of The Whale Museum, shared her thoughts about Granny:

“You may be familiar with the weekly program Sunday Today with Willie Geist and the segment ‘Honoring a Life Well-Lived.’ I love that segment and am titling my comments ‘Honoring a Life Well Lived: Granny (J-2).’

“’We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

~ quote by Henry Beston, The Outermost House

“We first met Granny in the mid-1970s, but she had met us long before. For thousands of years, she led her family through these home waters, travelling near the lands of Tribal & First Nations peoples. Then as early as the 1500s, westerners started to discover these islands. While Granny would not have been here for the Pig War in 1859, she was born in time to witness the establishment of the National Park Service, the Boy & Girl Scouts, the first transcontinental flight, the first telephone call, and later, the first run of the Washington State ferry, and many more small & large historic events.

“Estimated to have been born in 1911, Granny had already become a Grandmother by the time she was included in the Orca Survey. She led her family, year after year, season after season, from one salmon run to the next, making sure they were together and cared for. Until 2010, her presumed son Ruffles always travelled by her side. Granny & Ruffles, two of the most-well-known and loved orcas in the world. How many of us were honored & thrilled to see this pair swim by? Once you knew what to look for, how easy it was to spot Granny’s elegant dorsal fin with a half-moon shaped notch on the edge, along with Ruffles’ tall, wavy fin. Always, leading the family.

“Five generations of her family were recorded with her surviving family members including her three great grands – Hy’Shqa, Suttles & Se-Yi’-Chn, and great great grand T’ilem I’nges. Her granddaughter Samish passed this last summer. After Samish’s passing, Granny’s family, which includes her new adopted son Onyx, stayed together, travelling with her and being watched over by her. Resident orcas have tight family bonds, travelling by their mother’s sides all of their lives. We believe that Granny was the wisdom keeper, the matriarch of the Southern Resident Community. For at least the last four decades, she steadfastly led her family. Granny knew how to lead – whether it was out in front or from behind. We could count on her … the orcas could count on her. She lived life to the fullest, known for tail slaps and inverted tail lobs, surprising us with cartwheels & breaches, even at 100!

“We to invite others to share their memories of Granny & her family. Here’s one of mine: During the summer of 2012, Granny seemed to take particular interest & delight in the kelp beds just off the Westside preserve. She would swim in and roll around in the kelp, then come out draped in it. She spent so much time slapping the surface with kelp draped over her flukes, even I could recognize Granny by her tail flukes with that notch on the left edge. Even when out in the middle of Haro Strait, you knew Granny would veer off and head straight for that kelp bed, which we ended up nicknaming Granny’s Kelp.

“It is with heavy hearts we say goodbye to Granny. She was a complete being, ‘gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear’ but long to. She was an awesome, beautiful, majestic orca. Just by watching and observing, we had the opportunity to learn much from her about living in harmony with all of creation and stewarding our planet for the health of all. I hope we were listening and will continue to reflect on what she taught us, helping take care of her family in her absence. After all, we are blessed and far richer for having known her. Thank you, Granny.”

Crab Team training will foster the upcoming hunt for green crab invaders

A European green crab invasion may be taking place in Puget Sound, and Washington Sea Grant intends to enhance its Crab Team this summer with more volunteers looking in more places than ever before.

The second European green crab identified in Puget Sound was found in Padilla Bay, where three others were later trapped.
Photo: Padilla Bay Reserve

Training is about to get underway, and anyone with an interest in furthering science while being exposed to the wonders of nature may participate. It’s not always good weather, but I’ve been inspired by the camaraderie I’ve witnessed among dedicated volunteers.

The work involves going out to one or more selected sites each month from April into September with a team of two to four other volunteers. It is helpful to have folks who can carry the crab traps, plastic bins and other equipment. For details, check out the Washington Sea Grant website.

As I reported last fall, the first dreaded green crab showed up in a trap deployed on San Juan Island. See Water Ways, Sept. 3. About three weeks later, a second green crab was found was found in Padilla Bay, about 30 miles southeast of the first one. See Water Ways, Sept. 24. Intensive trapping in Padilla Bay located three more. See Water Ways, Oct. 1.

Whether green crabs find suitable conditions to allow their population to multiply is yet to be seen, but an extensive trapping effort can help identify reproductive success, locate new areas of invasion and remove individuals from the breeding population.

It’s an interesting scientific endeavor for Crab Team members. Nobody wants to find green crabs, because of the threat that they pose. Yet these volunteers know that their work may help prevent the destruction of an ecosystem that has stood the test of time. To gather background data, members count other species caught in the traps and measure their average size during the trapping period.

For information about the volunteer effort and the threat of green crabs, please read my stories in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound:

The upcoming Crab Team training will teach citizen science volunteers how to place the traps, identify and measure the crabs that get caught and record the data compiled into an extensive database.

Volunteers are especially needed to monitor sites in Skagit, San Juan, Jefferson, Clallam and Whatcom counties. If interested, one should register for one of the four training sessions:

Other sessions may be scheduled later, depending on need. One can check the Green Crab Events Calendar or email Crab Team organizers at

Amusing Monday: Ray Troll visits Puget Sound with Ratfish Wranglers

Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers, one of the most amusing bands in the Pacific Northwest, is touring Western Washington this month, with stops in Port Townsend, Gig Harbor and Seattle.

Two years ago, when writing about how fishermen can save rockfish from barotrauma, I featured a video by Ray and the band in Water Ways (June 22, 2015). This video includes a rockfish puppet and an original rap song by Ray Troll and Russell Wodehouse telling all about the problem.

Besides music, Ray is well known for his “fin art,” which is mostly about fish of all kinds, especially salmon. Ray prides himself on the realistic images of fish, produced with scientific precision, which he combines with humor to create some edgy posters.

Ray is based in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he owns and operates the Soho Coho Art Gallery, filled with all kinds of amusing artwork, as shown in the second video on this page. If you can’t make it to the gallery, you could spend several amusing hours looking at his online gallery of art and events, including all kinds of visual puns. The entire website is a kick. Check out a sampling of his style in the third video on this page.

The tour, called the “Great Northwest Whorl,” begins Saturday at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop, followed by a Tuesday performance at Gig Harbor BoatShop in Gig Harbor. The band will perform at Seattle Aquarium on Thursday before moving down to Astoria, Ore., for a Saturday show at the Columbia Theater as part of the FisherPoets Gathering. For details and ticket information, click on the link to the venue. Tickets are limited in some locations.

For the Seattle event, Ray is quoted in a news release:

“We’ll be playing in front of the big Window on Washington Waters exhibit at the Seattle Aquarium, one of my favorite places on the planet. This promises to be a truly magical evening, not only because we’ll have salmon and rockfish looking over our shoulders but also because my son’s band ‘The Amish Robots’ will be opening for us! And it’s right in the middle of Octopus Week!”

Ray Troll met Russell Wodehouse in 1985 in Alaska, where Ray moved after playing in a band during graduate school at Washington State University followed by a few gigs with a different band in Seattle. In Ketchikan, Russ was performing with The Squawking Fish, a band with Shauna Lee and Brandon Loomis when they invited Ray to join. After adding Craig Koch and Carolyn Minor, the group performed for a few years before disbanding. Ray continued to write with Russ and did a few gigs as The Ratfish Brothers until Ray was inspired to bring together some of his old musical partners to form The Ratfish Wranglers.

Through the years, Ray has blended science and art to produce a series of traveling exhibits, including “Dancing to the Fossil Record,” which opened at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco in 1995. In addition to Ray’s drawings, the project included giant fossils, fish tanks, an original soundtrack, a dance floor and an interactive computer display. In 2009, he teamed up with Russell Wodehouse again to produce music for a traveling exhibit for the University of Washington’s Burke Museum. The paleo-themed exhibit and later CD were called “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway.”

In 2007, Ray was awarded a gold medal from the Academy of Natural Sciences for distinction in the natural history arts. In 2011, Ray and Kirk Johnson were jointly awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship to develop a book project, “The Eternal Coastline: the Best of the Fossil West from Baja to Barrow.”

Ray has appeared on the Discovery Channel and has lectured at Cornell, Harvard, and Yale universities. His work has been on display in the Smithsonian, and a species of ratfish, Hydrolagus trolli, was named after him. To read more about Ray’s eclectic life, along with those of his fellow band members, check out the bios on the Ratfish Wranglers and Trollart websites.

Amusing Monday: Playing with water in the weightlessness of space

Since the beginning of the manned space program, astronauts have been playing with water in microgravity conditions. The result has been a large assortment of videos demonstrating the unique and amusing properties of water.

In the first video on this page, Chris Hadfield, an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency demonstrates what happens aboard the International Space Station when you ring out a soaked wash cloth in the weightlessness of space.

The experiment was suggested by students Kendra Lemke and Meredith Faulkner of Lockview High School in Fall River, Nova Scotia. It was posted on YouTube in 2013.

The video shows that the surface tension of water is great enough that the water keeps clinging when Hadfield rings out the cloth. If you watch closely, however, you can see a few droplets fly off when he starts to ring out the cloth.

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Amusing Monday: Snowflakes frozen in a world of their own

They say every snowflake is different. That may be hard to believe until you realize that snowflakes are really quite large on the molecular scale and that snowflakes come in various shapes and sizes, created under an enormous number of varying conditions.

In fact, most snowflakes are so different from one another that the effort to categorize their shapes has never been completely successful. In 2013, one research group came out with a new classification of 121 different types of snow crystals, ice crystals and solid precipitation. Check out the paper in Atmospheric Research.

But what really got me started on this topic was the beauty of snowflakes and wondering how they form. I offered a view of some stunning still photos in Water Ways in 2014. This time, I thought we could take a look at snowflake formation.

I really like the first video on this page, complete with music. I didn’t realize until later that the video does not show snowflake formation at all. Rather it shows the sublimation of snowflakes (their disappearance) played in reverse.

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Report: It’s time to shift the deadlines for Puget Sound restoration

Restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020 is an unrealistic goal that needs to be addressed by the Puget Sound Partnership, according to the latest performance audit by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee.


It’s a issue I’ve often asked about when talking to people both inside and outside the Puget Sound Partnership. What’s the plan? Are we just going to wait until the year 2020 and say, “Ah shucks; I guess we couldn’t reach the goal.”?

Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by the Legislature to coordinate the restoration of Puget Sound, is on the right track in many ways, according to the preliminary audit report. But the Partnership needs to address several “structural issues” — including coming up with realistic goals for restoration.

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Amusing Monday: Science is music when data becomes sound

Nearly everyone who deals in scientific information learns to read simple charts and graphs to help visualize the data. As a reporter, I’m often looking for the right graph to bring greater meaning to a story. In a similar way, some people have been experimenting with rendering data into sound, and some of the more musically inclined folks have been creating songs with notes and musical scales.

As with graphs, one must understand the conceptual framework before the meaning becomes clear. On the other hand, anyone can simply enjoy the music — or at least be amused that the notes themselves are somehow transformed from observations of the real world.

The first video on this page, titled “Bloom,” contains a “song” derived from microorganisms found in the English Channel. The melody depicts the relative abundance of eight different types of organisms found in the water as conditions change over time. Peter Larsen, a biologist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, explains how he created the composition to Steve Curwood, host of the radio program “Living on Earth.”

      1. Living on Earth

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Stormwater projects in Silverdale offer hope for a degraded Clear Creek

Detailed planning and design, followed by thoughtful construction projects, have begun to tame the stormwater menace in Clear Creek, an important salmon stream that runs through Silverdale in Central Kitsap.

A renovated stormwater pond at Quail Hollow near Silverdale includes a walking trail and enhanced wildlife habitat. Photo: C. Dunagan
A renovated stormwater pond at Quail Hollow near Silverdale includes a walking trail and enhanced wildlife habitat. // Photo: C. Dunagan

Stormwater has been identified as the greatest pollution threat to Puget Sound. In Kitsap County, many folks believed that the dense development pattern in and around Silverdale has doomed Clear Creek to functioning as a large drainage ditch for runoff into Dyes Inlet.

But reducing stormwater pollution is not beyond the reach of human innovation, as I learned this week on a tour of new and planned stormwater facilities in the Clear Creek drainage area. The trick is to filter the stormwater by any means practical, according to Chris May, director of Kitsap County’s Stormwater Division and a key player in the multi-agency Clean Water Kitsap program.

Projects in and around Silverdale range from large regional ponds of several acres to small filtration devices fitted into confined spaces around homes and along roadways.

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Granny, a killer whale unlike any other, stayed graceful to the end

If we can celebrate the life of a person who has died, it seems fitting to me that we should celebrate the long, productive life of a killer whale known as Granny.

Granny, or J-2, breaching in 2009, as she was known to do throughout her life.Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research
Granny, or J-2, breaching in 2009, as she was known to do throughout her life.
Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Granny, officially designated J-2, was the oldest orca in the three pods of Southern Residents. Possibly more than 100 years of age, her longevity is something we can only hope to see among the other orcas that frequent Puget Sound.

Granny was the longtime leader of J pod. In a matriarchal society like the orcas, offspring stay with their mothers for life. Generally, the older females lead the way, and Granny was almost always seen at the front of the pack as J pod moved through the Salish Sea.

For a long-lived intelligent orca, it is hard to imagine the amount of knowledge she must have accumulated through the years. I tend to think that Granny had a personal history with nearly every cove and inlet in the Salish Sea. I think she understood the movement of salmon and where the fish would congregate before heading up the streams. It must have been tough for her to watch the decline of the whales’ once-abundant prey.

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Amusing Monday: Looking forward to some new conservation films

“Dream” is a clever animated video promoting the annual Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York City. The festival is more than films, with workshops on wildlife topics and a goal to connect average people with filmmakers, conservationists, researchers and media outlets.

One of my personal goals for the coming year is to see more of the wonderful films being produced about conservation concerns, environmental issues and wildlife preservation.

Among the films being released next year are “A Plastic Ocean,” a feature-length documentary that explores the problem of plastic pollution in 20 locations around the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre, 1,500 miles off the West Coast. The film also discusses practical and technological approaches to solving the plastic problem.

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