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.)
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,”
Japanese whalers who hunt whales in the Antarctic can no longer
justify their actions as “scientific research” and must stop their
annual whale roundup, according to a ruling by the International
Court of Justice.
The court ruled today that Japan’s so-called “research” does not
meet ordinary scientific standards. The court ordered Japan to stop
killing whales under the guise of its research program, called
JARPA II. As stated in a 73-page finding
(PDF 649 kb) supported by 12 of the 16 judges:
“Taken as a whole, the Court considers that JARPA II involves
activities that can broadly be characterized as scientific
research, but that the evidence does not establish that the
programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to
achieving its stated objectives.
“The Court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan
for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with
JARPA II are not ‘for purposes of scientific research’ pursuant to
Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the Convention (the International
Convention for the Regulation of Whaling).”
In the legal action brought before the United Nations court by
Australia, the judges carefully scrutinized the JARPA II methods
and procedures. They found that the sampling procedure and lethal
take of minke, fin and humpback whales falls short of legitimate
scientific study in many regards:
“The fact that the actual take of fin and humpback whales is
largely, if not entirely, a function of political and logistical
considerations, further weakens the purported relationship between
JARPA II’s research objectives and the specific sample size targets
for each species — in particular, the decision to engage in the
lethal sampling of minke whales on a relatively large scale.”
“Examining Japan’s decisions regarding the use of lethal
methods, the court finds no evidence of any studies of the
feasibility of or the practicability of non-lethal methods, either
in setting the JARPA II sample sizes or in later years in which the
programme has maintained the same sample size targets. The court
also finds no evidence that Japan examined whether it would be
feasible to combine a smaller lethal take and an increase in
non-lethal sampling as a means to achieve JARPA II’s research
After the ruling, Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s representative at the
court, addressed reporters at the Peace Palace in The Hague.
According to a report by
Australian Associated Press, Tsuruoka stated:
“Japan regrets and is deeply disappointed that JARPA II … has
been ruled by the court as not falling within the provisions of
Article 8. However, as a state that respects the rule of law, the
order of international law and as a responsible member of the
global community, Japan will abide by the decision of the
He said Japanese officials would need to digest the judgment
before considering a future course of action. He refused to discuss
whether a new research program could be crafted to allow whaling to
Australian officials were careful not to gloat over the victory
as they emphasized the need to maintain favorable relations with
Japan. Bill Campbell, Australia’s general counsel in the case, was
quoted by the AAP:
“The decision of the court today, important as it is, has given
us the opportunity to draw a line under the legal dispute and move
The ruling was welcomed by environmental groups, including Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society, which has sent ships to the
Antarctic to directly confront the whaling ships and interfere with
their whaling activities, as seen on the television show “Whale
Wars.” Capt. Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global had this to
say in a
“With today’s ruling, the ICJ has taken a fair and just stance
on the right side of history by protecting the whales of the
Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the vital marine ecosystem of
Antarctica, a decision that impacts the international community and
future generations. Though Japan’s unrelenting harpoons have
continued to drive many species of whales toward extinction, Sea
Shepherd is hopeful that in the wake of the ICJ’s ruling, it is
whaling that will be driven into the pages of the history
For the first time, researchers are tracking by satellite a
group of “tropical oceanic” killer whales, a type rarely seen and
almost a complete mystery to scientists.
Researchers from Olympia-based Cascadia Research were in Hawaii,
on the final day of a 15-day research cruise to study marine
mammals, when they encountered four killer whales offshore from
Kona. They were the type of orca known to roam the open ocean, but
rarely seen by human observers.
In fact, in 14 years of research work in Hawaii, Cascadia’s
Robin Baird said he has encountered these tropical killer whales
only three times
twice before. Others have seen them on occasion, but sightings are
few and far between.
This time, on Nov. 1, Baird’s crew was able to obtain samples of
skin for genetic work, which will help determine how closely these
whales are related to other orcas throughout the world. The crew
also attached satellite transmitters to three of the four
Two of the transmitters are still transmitting nearly two weeks
later, and Baird hopes at least one will continue working for
several more weeks. In warmer waters, the barbed “tags” tend to
fall off sooner than in Northwest waters, Robin told me. As you can
see from the map, the whales first moved west, then north, then
west again. As of the latest plot this morning, they were west and
slightly south of Kauai.
By coincidence, two underwater photographers captured video and
still photos of these killer whales around the time the Cascadia
crew was in the area off Kona. Deron Verbeck and Julie Steelman
told KHON-TV that the experience was the pinnacle of their career.
(See video below.)
Although Nov. 1 was the last official day of the Cascadia
cruise, researcher Russ Andrews and several others went back out on
Saturday to find the four killer whales. They spotted three other
orcas with them. During the outing, they observed predation on a
thresher shark, something that photographer Verbeck also
These tropical oceanic killer whales are smaller than the
familiar resident and transient killer whales of the Northwest,
Robin Baird explained. Instead of a white “saddle patch” near the
dorsal fin, these animals have a gray, almost black patch that is
difficult to see.
These are not the “offshore” killer whales that roam miles of
the West Coast, but generally stay on or near the continental
shelf, Robin told me. Still, it will be interesting to see if the
tropical oceanic orcas are closer genetically to the offshores,
which are known to eat sharks.
We do know the Southern Resident orcas, which frequent Puget
Sound, specialize in eating salmon, particularly chinook. But Robin
says whales feeding in the open ocean probably don’t encounter
enough of any one prey type to be so specialized. Considered
generalists, they have been known to eat squid, sharks, dolphins
and occasionally larger whales.
Robin says little is known about how they group together,
because the number of photo identifications is small. Generally,
the groups are five or less. The groups are likely to be families,
including a female and all her offspring. This is the same type of
matriarchal society found in other orca groups, although in some
orca societies — such Southern Residents — one matriline often
joins with others.
Robin says just about everything learned about their travels is
new, “from short-term movement rates, habitat use, and — if the
tags stay on for a while — how often they may visit island-habitats
(and) whether they cross international boundaries.”
In addition to Robin Baird and Russ Andrews, the research crew
on the trip included Daniel Webster, Annie Douglas and Annie
Gorgone, all from Cascadia; Amy Van Cise from Scripps Institution
of Oceanography and several volunteers.
Even before the killer whale encounter, the cruise was
considered successful, Robin said. Twelve species of marine mammals
were encountered, and satellite tags were deployed on six species,
now being tracked. More than 40,000 photographs were taken, some of
which are shown on
Cascadia’s Facebook page or the project
page on Cascadia’s website.
If you haven’t seen it, I think you’ll be impressed with this
video, which shows a bottlenose dolphin apparently asking for help
from some scuba divers, who noticed the animal tangled in fishing
line with a hook imbedded in its fin.
Martina Wing of Ocean Wings Hawaii captured the action, which
really begins at 3:30 into the eight-minute video, though the early
part sets the scene with some beautiful shots of manta rays. The
encounter took place Jan. 11 off the west coast of the Big
Reporter Philip Caulfield of the
New York Daily News quoted Keller Laros, the diver who came to
the rescue, as saying the dolphin was responsive to his gesture and
deliberately moved in close to be helped:
“I noticed he had a fishing wire wrapped around his left fin. I
reached out with my left hand … and gestured with my index finger
‘Come here.’ And he swam right up to me. The fact that he seemed to
recognize my gesture, that blew me away.”
Laros was able to cut away the line and remove the hook, and the
dolphin swam away.
The video has been viewed nearly 2 million times, with more than
2,000 comments posted to the site. I found some observations to be
DavidKevin: I am overwhelmed.
I have been certain for over 35 years that we shared the
planet with another sentient species, the dolphins, and this is
just more evidence of it. We don’t have to go off-planet to find an
alien species with whom to communicate, we just have to look
If we cannot learn to communicate with our distant mammalian
relatives, we’ll never be able to communicate with true
extra-terrestrials, should we ever meet them.
Marvelicious75: We use the word ‘sentient’
in a dialectic manner, but it is quite obviously not accurate. It
is arrogance that makes us consider ourselves separate from
‘animals’ like the dolphin. This story isn’t truly surprising in
light of the countless stories of dolphins rescuing humans. The
only limiting factor is our surprising lack of empathy….
Hobbitfrdo: Sad day for the world if we
stopped loving all creatures. Respect to you all.
Russell Laros: The diver cutting the line
off in the video is my father. He was really happy to be able to
make this connection to the animal and was pretty impressed by it’s
intelligence. Apparently this dolphin has been in contact with
humans before, though. It has been seen and interacted with workers
at a local open ocean fish farm nearby. Still really amazing
Misa Eniaki Amane: This dolphin is smarter
than all of us…..went up for air and back down to continue with the
supertekkel1: There are numerous_ ancient
stories of dolphins rescuing sailors who went overboard. Whether
they are true or not, it’s nice to see that we are finally able to
do something to return the favor.
1Irisangel: What a blessing to have
captured these moments on film. No words needed, only love and
compassion for a fellow traveler on planet Earth. Wonderful capture
OonaCanute: Now to get rid of all the
fishing nets and lines and hooks that kill thousands of dolphins
like this beauty every year.
Alex Bruce: The trust the dolphin had in
the humans in his time of need is humbling to me. Dolphins are very
intelligent creatures and know when to allow man to handle and help
them. The men that helped the dolphin have to have felt some sense
of pride derived from their kindness and humane actions. I know I
did when many years ago I helped rescue a pelican that had a 3-barb
hook anchored in its wing and a weight that was attached to the
fishing line. He said. “Thank you” in his way and took off in
bcmom5: Awesome. It swam around until it
found the right person to help it. That person and all who had a
hand in it were blessed with Dolphin Medicine which teaches us to
get out and breathe, explore, play. Breathe new life into your
life. Awesome. Thank you for helping and for
userbc44: What a touching and pure video! I
love the part at 4:33 when the diver goes to take off his lights
and puts them on the sea floor, the dolphin swims right in front of
him as to say, “Theres more! don’t go, here I am!”
POMPCATZ: Wonderful to watch this
intelligent creature seek your help and let you finish the job
after going up for air. This is just more proof these beautiful.
intelligent life forms should not be slaughtered for ignorant
tradition and profit.
KillerinExile: Dolphins seem almost
sapient. If they’re smart enough to ask for help maybe we shouldn’t
be eating and abusing them like we do.
starsbydaylight: … I am sure the majority
of people are naturally happy to help distressed animals that keep
their calm, sometimes being out of fear unreasonable while being
rescued. Once I witnessed a toddler busy carefully rescue a
butterfly drowning in a puddle of water. The intelligence of the
dolphin and the kind manner of the diver made me cry. In fact the
dolphin saved its own life….
flowerseva: This is the ‘Real News’
happening on Planet Earth! Imagine if the 6 o’clock nightly news
was filled with these images and emotions – What kind of world
would we then be creating??
Last Monday, Feb. 27, the Navy announced that it was beginning
an environmental review that will lead up to a new federal permit
involving Navy testing and training efforts in the Northwest,
including the use of sonar at pierside in Puget Sound. See
Kitsap Sun, Feb. 27.
Two days later, workers and passengers on the Clinton-Mukilteo
ferry heard sonar pings apparently vibrating through the hull loud
enough to be heard above the water. Scott Veirs was the first to
report this issue in his blog
Orcasphere that same day.
Jason Wood, a bioacoustician and research associate at The Whale
Museum in Friday Harbor, made some phone calls and issued this
“The crew in the engine room, the captain, and passengers could
hear the sonar, at times so loudly that the ferry agent on land
could hear the sonar coming up through the ferry while it was at
the dock…. The operations center called the Everett Naval base, but
got no answers. They also called the Coast Guard. No (Navy) or
Coast Guard vessels were reported seen during the sonar incident,
other than a naval vessel at the dock in the Everett Navy
I phoned Sheila Murray, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest,
who confirmed that the sonar was coming from the USS Shoup, docked
at Naval Station Everett. She issued this statement:
“In response to your query, the Navy was conducting pierside
testing of mid-frequency active sonar at Naval Station Everett
yesterday. This is routine testing that is a longstanding and
ongoing requirement, and is an essential process in preparing a
Navy ship to get underway.
“Pierside testing is not continuous, but consists of very brief
transmissions of acoustic energy interspersed with longer silent
The Shoup gained a notorious reputation among some killer whale
researchers in 2003, when the intense sound of sonar pings was
reported to have caused J pod to flee in a confused pattern. See
Water Ways, Feb. 11, for links to videos of that incident.
Sheila also confirmed that this is the kind of “pierside
testing” contemplated for the new permit being sought from the
National Marine Fisheries Service, a permit that will allow
incidental harassment of marine mammals under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act. Such activities will be analyzed in an upcoming
environmental impact statement, as I described last week. Continue reading →
As you probably know if you follow this blog, a team of
researchers attached a satellite tag to one of the Southern
Resident killer whales a few days ago
(Water Ways, Feb. 22). But the transmission stopped sometime
after Thursday morning, following three days of transmissions used
to track J pod in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Pacific Ocean.
The researchers, led by Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries
Science Center, are now trying to locate J pod during the day to
determine whether the tag fell off or simply stopped
I received this e-mail from Brad yesterday:
“We have been unable to locate them during daylight hours the
last two days. We detected the whales on our towed array on
Thursday evening after sunset near the west end of the Strait of
Juan de Fuca but we were not able to stay with them until daybreak
because they stopped vocalizing and echolocating about 0130 on
“We spent most of Friday searching the central Strait of Juan de
Fuca before heading to Port Angeles late in the evening to avoid an
approaching storm. J pod calls were detected off San Juan Island
late Friday evening. We are waiting for winds to subside and will
resume our search as soon as possible.”
A decision about whether to attach a transmitter to another orca
in J pod will wait until the researchers get a look at J-26 to see
what may have happened to the transmission. No more than two tags
per year may used to track any one pod. Specific whales were
selected for tags, generally avoiding females that could contribute
to the population.
The ability to track the whales by satellite makes the research
work easier, but it does not change the priorities. Figuring out
where the Southern Residents travel in winter remains a primary
goal of the ongoing research. Two years ago, the crew went to sea
looking for the whales without the option of tagging, using the
same acoustic equipment being used now to find them.
The cruise also is collecting data on birds, zooplankton and
oceanographic conditions, as with the cruise in 2009, Brad told me.
The ability to use the satellite data to track the whales allows
researchers to collect information along the track where the whales
Without information about the location of the whales, the
researchers tend to follow systematic track lines with their
research vessel. When the whales are picked up on the acoustic
array, the effort to locate the animals takes precedence over data
collection. At night, changes in ship speed and heading limits the
type and quality of data that can be collected.
The risks of tagging can be debated, and I’ve tried to share the
concerns. Still, it is easy to see why researchers wish to have
this tool available to them as they try to figure out where the
whales go in winter.
A team of killer whale researchers is tracking J pod by
satellite, after attaching a special radio tag to J-26, a
21-year-old male named “Mike.”
Brad Hanson, who is leading the research team from the Northwest
Fisheries Science Center, said the tagging occurred Monday without
incident as darkness fell over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
“This is really exciting,” Brad told me today by cell phone from
the NOAA research ship Bell M. Shimada. “This
is something we have been planning on doing for quite a few years
now. Everything worked out to encounter the animals in decent
The map above shows where the whales have traveled since Monday
website showing the tracks, including an explanation of the
project, will be updated roughly once a day.
The goal is to learn where the Southern Resident killer whales
go in winter, what they’re eating and why they choose certain areas
to hang out. Until now, these questions could not be answered well,
because winter sightings were fairly limited.
When I talked to Brad about 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Shimada was
towing an acoustic array near Port Angeles, as the researchers
listened for the sounds of killer whales that might venture into
J pod was fairly spread out Monday during the tagging operation,
and visibility was low Tuesday during heavy rains. As the whales
headed out into the ocean, the crew decided to stay in the strait
to avoid 20-foot seas and heavy winds off the coast. They could
have followed the whales out, Brad said, but the satellite tag
allows the crew to keep track of their location. In rough seas,
there’s a risk that the research equipment will be damaged.
“Everything is weather-dependent,” Brad said. “Our plan is to
try to catch up with them as soon as we can.”
The goal is to collect fecal samples and fish scales — as the
researchers do in summer when the whales are in the San Juan
“That data is extremely valuable in determining the species of
fish,” he said, “and if it’s chinook, what stocks are
The satellite tagging has been controversial among some
researchers and killer whale advocates, but it was approved
following a study of the potential risks and benefits. See Water
Ways entries from 2010:
The researchers are scheduled to be out with the whales until
“We’re keeping our options open,” Brad said. “We will spend as
much time with Js as we can. It looks like we could get one
low-pressure system after another, as is typical for February, but
we might get a break on Friday. Sometimes we’ll get these holes in
the weather system.
“Right now, we’re basically hanging out in the Strait of Juan de
Fuca. If other animals come in, we hope to detect that.”
The tagging permit allows for up to six orcas to be tracked each
year, but nobody expects the number of tagged animals to be close
Data from the satellite transmitter is relayed to a weather
satellite as it passes over. The information is then transferred to
a processing center that determines the location of the
transmitter. Through the process, the information gets delayed a
Also on board the research vessel are seabird biologists and
other experts taking samples of seawater and zooplankton and
collecting basic oceanographic data.
Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, who appeared in the program
“Whale Wars” last year, has returned to her native Japan as a “Cove
Guardian” for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Izumi left yesterday, traveling with her daughter Fiona, who
will be 14 in April and who shares her mother’s passion to save
whales and dolphins.
Guardians are volunteers who document and photograph the
slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, a town made famous by the
award-winning documentary “The
I talked to Izumi Wednesday before she flew out. She was excited
and a little nervous. As a Japanese citizen who has lived in the
United States 19 years, she was not sure how she would be received
by Japanese residents when she stands alongside Sea Shepherd
A year ago at this time, Izumi was serving aboard the Sea
Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin as it followed Japanese whaling ships
and disrupted their activities in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica.
Izumi translated messages between the Japanese whalers and Sea
Shepherd and helped coordinate coverage by Japanese reporters.
Izumi was the first Japanese translator who did not conceal her
identity from the photographers filming “Whale Wars,” a weekly
reality program on Animal Planet. Izumi appeared in several scenes
but was not a major character. Check out my initial story for the
Kitsap Sun on Oct. 31, 2010, with follow-up reports on Water
Jan. 4, 2011 …
Feb. 22, 2011 … and
June 1, 2011.
Izumi says her language skills may come in handy in Taiji. Also,
her understanding of Japanese values may help her build a “bridge
of understanding” with the Japanese people. Many see no difference
between killing dolphins and killing fish to eat, she said, yet
dolphins are intelligent mammals, and the rate of hunting cannot be
“To them, killing dolphins is a tradition,” she said, “but every
country has its horrible traditions. Spain gave up the bull fight,
and Japan can give up this.”
Izumi said her daughter Fiona put together a school project
about the anti-whaling conflict last year, so she understands the
arguments on both sides.
Cove Guardians say they are careful to obey the local laws as
they document the daily killing of dolphins, which they claim is
about 20,000 per year. Besides documenting and filming the deaths
of dolphins and the movement of fishing boats, the general goal is
to create a sense of shame among the hunters and local residents,
Suzanne West of Seattle, whose husband Scott is coordinating
Cove Guardians in Japan, said Izumi may receive increasesd
attention from the Japanese media. Some people will be surprised at
her opposition to the hunt. By now, most Japanese are fairly used
to seeing Western visitors speaking in opposition to the events in
Taiji, said Suzanne, who coordinates efforts in the U.S.
“A big thing is making them aware that the world is watching,”
Suzanne said. “We got a lot of footage last year of them actually
killing the dolphins.”
Now, the hunters are conducting the slaughter behind tarps, she
noted, “but we can still count the actual bodies going in with none
Izumi will return to Bainbridge Island on Thursday, March 1. Two
days later, she will participate in a gathering of Sea Shepherd
supporters at Casa Rojas Mexican restaurant, 403 Madison Ave., on
Bainbridge Island. The event is free, with donations going to Sea
Shepherd. For reservations, e-mail Seattle Sea Shepherd.
Izumi’s arrival in Japan coincides with the release from jail of
Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen of the Netherlands, who was arrested
in December during a pushing incident while trying to photograph
dolphins in the cove.
A judge ruled that Vermeulen should pay a fine of 1,000 euros
($1,315 U.S.), but he cannot leave Japan pending an appeal by the
prosecutor. Officials with Sea Shepherd say they may file formal
proceedings to protest the two-month detention for a minor crime.
Update, Feb. 18: After I posted this blog
entry, I received an e-mail from Sea Shepherd’s media department
that provides additional details and clarifies the Expatica report.
Release (PDF 24 kb)