Tag Archives: Orca Network

New L pod calf reported among rare superpod

A new calf was spotted today in L pod. The baby, L119, is the offspring of L77, Matia.
Photo courtesy of Jeanne Hyde via Capt. Jim Maya

UPDATE, June 3

The Center for Whale Research has reported the apparent absence of two additional Southern Resident killer whales as a result of an encounter last Tuesday by center researchers Dave Ellifrit, Erin Heydenreich and Barbara Bender.

In addition to L-112, the 3-year-old female found dead near Long Beach in February, and J-30, a 17-year-old male who has not been seen since December, the research team reported that two older females appear to be missing. They are L-5, estimated at 47, and L-12, estimated at 78. (Their ages are estimates, because the annual census that keeps track of every birth and death began 36 years ago.)

“We will wait for a couple more good encounters with L pod before writing them off to make sure they were not just missed,” the researchers said in their report of the encounter, which also includes 10 photos.

Orca Network has tentatively removed all the missing whales from its list of living orcas, leaving the number of survivors at 85.
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Earth Day activities scheduled for the weekend

A few quick notes on Earth Day activities this weekend.

First, if you haven’t been to Pacific Science Center in Seattle lately, you may be surprised by some of the new events and exhibits on tap for this weekend.

Of special note is “Science on a Sphere,” a new permanent exhibit that uses computers and video projectors to animate a globe, which is used to demonstrate atmospheric changes and the effects of heating and cooling across the Earth’s ocean and land masses.

Special programs on the sphere Sunday include “Chasing The Rain” at 10:50 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. along with Oceans, Earthquakes & Tsunamis. The exhibit, provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is similar to spheres installed in about 80 locations throughout the world.

“To the Arctic 3D,” being shown throughout the day in the Boeing Imax Theater, presents an up-close look at a landscape of immense glaciers, spectacular waterfalls and snow-crusted peaks while telling the story of a polar bear and her cubs. Check ahead for reservations.

Check out the Earth Day page for other events at Pacific Science Center on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Orca Network is holding its annual “Welcome the Whales Day” tomorrow on Whidbey Island. Costume-making and a critter parade are part of the fun. On the educational side, Bruce Mate, director of the Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, will discuss gray whales and the animals he has tracked throughout the Pacific Ocean to discover their migration patterns.

For local events, I wrote a piece in the Kitsap Sun about Earth Day activities in Kitsap County.

Environmental groups will boycott Navy meetings

A dozen environmental groups say they will boycott the nine “scoping meetings” the Navy is holding to kick off a new round of studies regarding testing and training activities in the Northwest.

In a letter dated March 13 (PDF 16 kb), the groups said the format of the meetings is not designed to encourage public discussion or even allow public comment. In addition, the Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have ignored ongoing calls for the Navy to better protect marine wildlife and the environment along the Washington Coast and other biologically important areas, they say.

Navy's Northwest testing and training ranges. Click to enlarge.
Map by U.S. Navy

The Navy will seek a new permit from NOAA for the incidental harassment of marine mammals during testing and training activities. Most of the activities are identical to what is taking place now, but some new activities are added — including the testing of sonar from ships docked at piers.

Between now and 2015, Navy officials will describe and study the effects of various activities on marine life and update existing mitigation with new research findings. See my initial story in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 27, and a related post in Water Ways, March 6. Also, you may review the official notice in the Federal Register.

Back to the letter, which states in part:

“As you know, the scoping process is the best time to identify issues and provide recommendations to agencies on what should be analyzed in the EIS. However, a process developed for activities with controversial impacts, like those at issue here, that does not provide opportunity for the public to testify or speak to a broader audience, or to hear answers to questions raised by others, and that fails to engage major population centers is not designed to help citizens and organizations effectively participate in agencies’ environmental reviews.”

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Resident orcas check out Whidbey, North Kitsap

Susan Berta of Orca Network shot some nice video of J pod, one of our three resident pods, about 50 feet off Whidbey Island’s Bush Point Lighthouse on Saturday. (Click on video player.)

The orcas haven’t been spending as much time in Puget Sound this year as usual, and nobody is sure why. As of last week, lower-than-usual numbers of chum salmon were reported in local streams — but that doesn’t mean the salmon are not somewhere in Puget Sound. It’s kind of a waiting game at this point, and I plan to write a story updating the salmon picture in the next day or two.

On Saturday, orcas were first reported heading south between Whidbey and Marrowstone islands about 1 p.m., according to several reports made to Orca Network. They seemed to linger at Bush Point.

During the night, they must have headed farther south along the Kitsap Peninsula, because about 8 a.m. Sunday they were headed back north past Point No Point near the tip of the peninsula. Then they rounded the point and stayed awhile off Hansville’s Foulweather Bluff, according to one resident.

By Sunday afternoon, they were slowly heading back toward Point No Point, which they reached late in the day, still traveling south. Not surprisingly, nightly reports are few and far between, and the whales often pop up somewhere else the next day.

No confirmed sightings were reported until yesterday afternoon, when J and K pod, along with L-87, were spotted off the south end of Vancouver Island. They were widely spread out and heading west out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to observers.

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A chance to learn about the ‘Ways of Whales’

We’ve talked a bit lately on this blog about research involving orcas and other whales. For that reason, I’d like to call your attention to the annual Ways of Whales workshop, where you can meet some of the region’s leading cetacean scientists.

Sponsored by Orca Network, the all-day event will be Saturday, Jan. 29, at Coupeville Middle School on Whidbey Island.

This year’s lineup of speakers includes:
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Killer whales have been in and out of Puget Sound

The three pods of Southern Resident killer whales have been in and out of Puget Sound the past few weeks, according to reports from Orca Network and the Center for Whale Research.

Today, people began reporting sightings of the killer whales from the Bainbridge Island ferry before 9 a.m. Apparently, there were lots of orcas and spread out, as folks began seeing them about the same time in Seattle’s Elliott Bay, according to reports from Orca Network.

By 10:30 a.m.,they were between West Seattle and Vashon Island. They continued south and reached about the halfway point on Vashon Island about 12:30 p.m., when they turned around and headed back north, according to reports. Some whales may have continued south around the southern tip of Vashon Island and came back north through Colvos Passage, as five or six whales were spotted near the Southworth Ferry Terminal about 5 p.m.

Below are videos taken from news helicopters over Elliott Bay in the morning, top from KOMO-4 and bottom from KING-5.

Baby boom continues for Southern Resident orcas

A new calf born in K pod is seen swimming with its mom, K-12, also known as Sequim.
Photo by Emma Foster, courtesy of Center for Whale Research

Everyone I know who studies and loves killer whales is pleased to see a continuing series of births among all three pods that frequent the Salish Sea. It’s a good sign to have such a variety, and the calves seem to be surviving at a high rate.

The population is gradually rebuilding itself, with the latest news being a new calf in K pod. Here’s the story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun, which was posted on the website:

FRIDAY HARBOR — A new orca calf has been born in K pod, one of the three groups of killer whales that frequent the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, experts say.

The young calf, designated K-43, was spotted Tuesday swimming with K-12, presumed to be the mother, according to biologists with the Center for Whale Research. It is the third calf born to the three Southern Resident pods this year.

K pod returned to the San Juan Islands this week by way of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but apparently turned back. All three groups are beginning to settle in for a summer of fishing in and around the islands. J pod and portions of L pod have already arrived, but both pods have been coming and going, apparently not finding many chinook salmon, experts say.

The new whale apparently was spotted by observer Jeanne Hyde on Feb. 21 while K pod traveled with J pod in the San Juan Islands. At that time, the calf could not be positively confirmed, but it now looks to be five months old.

K-12, the new mother, is believed to be 38 years old.

She was a young animal when Ken Balcomb, the center’s director, began to identify individual whales and maintain an annual census. She has two other offspring, K-22 and K-37.

The new birth brings the number of whales in K pod to 20. J pod has 28 whales, and L pod 42. Final counts for this year won’t be made until all the whales have returned.

For the past few years, the Center for Whale Research has been reporting births and deaths as they are observed. It is much easier to take note of births, because the young whales are quite obvious. Deaths are tougher, because it takes time to decide whether a whale is gone for good or just off somewhere else. A good count of the whales traditionally comes in summer, when all three pods are around long enough for Ken Balcomb and his crew to make a complete tally.

As of now, the total count of the three pods stands at 90, according to a running tally kept by Orca Network, based on reports from the Center for Whale Research. That number was last reached in 2004. (See chart by Orca Network.) A recent high of 96 animals was reached in 1996, the year before 19 members of L pod spent a month in Dyes Inlet. If I recall, the number of killer whales was estimated to be close to 200 before the decline brought about by capture for aquariums during the 1960s and early ’70s.

It’s the year of the T’s — transient orcas

UPDATE, FRIDAY, MAY 28, 8:25 a.m.

On Thursday, it appears the transient killer whales started the day in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay, passed by Illahee and went out Rich Passage about 10 a.m. I heard from researcher Mark Sears that they had spent the day traveling around Vashon Island, ending up at 8 p.m. at the south end of Bainbridge Island. Check out my story in today’s Kitsap Sun for a few more details.
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I’ve been hearing about transient killer whales in Puget Sound all year. Dozens of these seal-eating orcas have been sighted in small groups here and there throughout the region. Check out Orca Network’s Archives for reports made to that organization.

Transients have come and gone quickly from Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton a few times this year. But, as far as I know, yesterday was the first time since 2004 that they made it all the way into Dyes Inlet.

It was a good chance for me to talk a little about transients with the help of Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of Orca Network, as you can see in a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun.

By the way, the last report we had last night was at 7:30 in Ostrich Bay, but an observer reported them at 9:20 p.m. on the west side of Dyes Inlet and posted a comment on the story. (Appreciation goes to “rgdimages#217099.”)

Howie informed me this morning that a group of four transients was seen coming out of Liberty Bay near Poulsbo at 6:45 a.m. We’ll try to report whether those are the same animals as the ones in Dyes Inlet and where they go next. To report to Orca Network, one can send an e-mail, info@orcanetwork.org, or call (866) ORCANET.

It seems to be a big year for the transients. Why this is happening is open to speculation, which is always risky, but I appreciate Ken’s willingness to think out loud sometimes and kick a few ideas around. I mean, if scientists are unable to come up with hypotheses, there is nothing to test for.

So one possible explanation is that transients are here because residents are somewhere else. Residents may be somewhere else because there aren’t many salmon here right now. On the other hand, maybe seals and/or sea lions are finding enough to eat, and transients are finding success in hunting the smaller marine mammals.

This whole notion raises all kinds of questions for me, and I’ll try to explore these ideas in future stories. For example, if there are fish for seals and sea lions, why aren’t the resident killer whales eating them? Maybe the smaller marine mammals are concentrating on smaller fish? If fish are in short supply, will the population of seals and sea lions crash, or will these animals go somewhere else, too? And, given the cyclic nature of salmon populations, what is happening to the entire food chain — from the forage fish that salmon and seals eat up to the largest predators, the killer whales?

Orca Network wants ferry to be named ‘Tokitae’

Today is the last day to propose a name for the new 64-car ferry now under construction by the Washington State Ferries. The names are to be narrowed down, if necessary, in the coming days with a decision coming in June.

Our friends at Orca Network have proposed the name “Tokitae” and are conducting an on-line petition campaign to garner support for this name, which relates to the last living Puget Sound orca being held in captivity.

Here’s the petition at ThePetitionSite.com, and here’s the rationale provided by Howard Garrett and Susan Berta of Orca Network:

“Tokitae” is a Coast Salish greeting meaning “Nice day, pretty colors”, and is also the name given to an orca captured at Penn Cove, near Keystone, in 1970. Tokitae was brought to a marine park in Miami 40 years ago, where she was put into service as an entertainer, and named Lolita. She is the last survivor of the 45 Southern Resident orcas captured in WA state during the capture era of the 1960s and 70s. Such captures were later banned in Washington State waters in 1976.

Orca Network would like everyone to sign the petition by the end of the day today, but if “Tokitae” makes the finals, I believe there will be time to express support for your favorite

Some other good names also have been proposed on the naming website.

“Salish” from San Juan County Council: “’Salish’ refers to the Coast Salish people of Washington, British Columbia, and Oregon and is also the geographical name of the inland marine sea comprised of Juan de Fuca Strait, the Strait of Georgia, and the Puget Sound.”

“Al-ki” from Town of Friday Harbor: “’Al-ki’ is the Washington State Motto meaning ‘By and By.’”

“Kulshan” from Town of Friday Harbor: “’Kulshan’ is a name given to Mount Baker by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, meaning ‘White sentinel’ (ie: ‘mountain’).”

“Lushoot” from Town of Friday Harbor: “’Lushoot,’ short for ‘Lushoot-seed,’ is a member of the Salish language family, whose approximately twenty surviving languages are spoken from northern Oregon to central British Columbia, and from the Pacific Coast eastward into Montana and along the British Columbia-Alberta border.”

If you would like to comment on any of these names or offer your own, you may e-mail the Washington Department of Transportation.

Death of orca trainer raises questions, concerns

With our widespread affection for killer whales in the Northwest, it is not easy to hear the news about the death of a human who worked closely with these powerful and intelligent animals.

If you haven’t heard, a veteran orca trainer at Seaworld Orlando, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau, was apparently petting the whale, named Tillikum, when the incident occurred.

Witnesses told the Orlando Sentinel that the whale grabbed Brancheau by the arm, tossed her around in his mouth and pulled her under water during a scheduled program about 2 p.m. today at Shamu Stadium.

Reporter Jason Garcia of the Orlando Sentinel described how Tillikum, a 12,000- pound male known as “Tilly,” was considered a dangerous whale. Only select trainers were allowed to handle him, and nobody was allowed to swim with him.

Chuck Tompkins, in charge of animal behavior for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, told Garcia that Tilikum worked well with Brancheau. “He knew her, and he liked working with her,” Tompkins was quoted as saying.

But many killer whale advocates were quick to argue that orcas don’t belong in captivity and that their confinement in close quarters can lead to psychological problems for the orcas.

The following are statements from OrcaNetwork of Washington state and Lifeforce of British Columbia, followed by a couple of opinion polls on this issue and links to the most informative news reports.
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