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Posts Tagged ‘Orca’

Attack by orcas scatter dolphins near Nanaimo

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

John Buchanan of Squamish, British Columbia, was in the right place at the right time when a group of transient killer whales mixed it up with hundreds of fleeing white-sided dolphins.

John said it appeared that the orcas had formed a line to herd the dolphins into shallow water in Departure Bay near Nanaimo.

“The only way they could escape was going through the orcas,” he told me. “I was wondering if they would swim right into the ferry. The ferry may have made the escape a little narrower for them.”

John happened to be on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island when the wild encounter occurred on Monday.

“I was just traveling on the ferry to meet someone at Nanaimo,” said Buchanan, who is active in the environmental groups, including Squamish Stream Keepers. “I always have my camera close by.

“We were just coming into Departure Bay. Someone spotted the orcas, then the water just exploded with all these dolphins in the bay. The orcas had them pinned in.

“I bet there was all kinds of action going on under the water,” he said. “It was spectacular, especially when one orca was breaking in one direction and another was breaking in the other direction.”

John recorded that exciting shot of a double breach on his camera, which you can see toward the end of the video.

Later, he was informed by a biologist at Vancouver Aquarium that breaching is often how the whales celebrate a kill. Although he noticed a lot of chasing at the time, he never spotted any dead or dying dolphins nor was any blood in the water.

John posted the video on YouTube on Monday, the same day he recorded the dramatic encounter. As of this morning, the number of views was approaching 100,000.

CBC News posted the video on its webpage, and John has been approached by people who would like to purchase the footage, but he plans to keep it available for public viewing.

“I’ll never see anything like that again,” he said.

At my suggestion, John sent photos to Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. Ken reported that the orcas included T-100s. According to the book “Transients” by John Ford and Graeme Ellis, they are a group of killer whales seen mainly in Southeast Alaska.


Orca Awareness Month marks whales’ return

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

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

June is Orca Awareness Month, as proclaimed by Gov. Jay Inslee, and whale observers are now waiting for all three pods to get back together for their annual salmon feast in the Salish Sea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)


K pod turns offshore from Strait of Juan de Fuca

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

UPDATE, Jan. 27, 2013

K pod has reached the mouth of the Columbia River for the second time since K-25 was darted with a satellite tag a month ago. To preserve the life of the transmitter battery, the data is now being sent less frequently. See Robin Baird’s update on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

UPDATE, Jan. 25, 2013

After dipping their dorsal fins into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, K pod turned back to the ocean, as we reported yesterday. This morning, they were still heading down the Washington Coast, approaching the Columbia River. See Robin Baird’s post for Brad Hanson.

UPDATE, Jan. 24, 2013

The orcas took another alternate route again. Instead of heading on into the Salish Sea, K pod turned around in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, not far from where we last reported them yesterday. As of this posting, they are back in the ocean, near the mouth of the strait, according to the latest satellite data posted by Robin Baird of Cascadia Research for Brad Hanson, NOAA’s principal researcher.
—–

UPDATE, Jan. 23, 2013

Answering yesterday’s question about where K pod will go next, the orcas made a turn to the east and headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, back toward the familiar waters of Puget Sound. Take a look at the latest map of the whales’ travels that Robin Baird posted on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

As of this morning, K pod was nearing Port Angeles. From there, they could turn north toward Victoria and the San Juan Islands or head into Admiralty Inlet on their way to Central Puget Sound.
—–

K pod has made two interesting detours since Saturday, when the orcas returned to Washington state waters from the south, according to tracks generated by the K-25, who has been carrying a satellite transmitter for more than three weeks.

As the whales approached the Columbia River on Saturday, they took a sharp turn to the left and headed out to sea, reaching the edge of the continental shelf. Their failure to delay their travels at the mouth of the Columbia has been a surprise to those of us who assumed they would find salmon in the vicinity. See map on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

The whales then followed the edge of the shelf until they were offshore of Queets, where they began to move toward shore again.

The next question, as the whales approached the Strait of Juan de Fuca, was whether they would enter the strait and return to Puget Sound, continue past the strait along Vancouver Island or turn around and head south again. Their answer was a fourth course, veering sharply offshore into the open Pacific Ocean.

Robin Baird of Cascadia Research, who has been mapping the satellite data, reported that as of 7 a.m. today K pod was about 30 miles southwest of Cape Beale on the southwest side of Vancouver Island. That would put the pod about an equal distance from Cape Flattery at the northwest corner of Washington state.

Anyone wish to guess where these orcas will go from here?

K pod has been tracked to an area offshore of Washington State and Vancouver Island.

K pod has been tracked to an area offshore of Washington State and Vancouver Island.
Tracking data from NOAA


‘Ways of Whales Workshop’ to feature new info

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Orca Network’s annual “Ways of Whales Workshop” on Whidbey Island Saturday has lined up some great speakers this year.

The cost of the daylong workshop is $30, or $25 for students and seniors. If you register right away, you can buy lunch for an extra $10. Visit the website for registration and additional information.

Peter Ross, a researcher with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will discuss toxic pollution and whales in a talk titled, “Of Whales and Men: Ocean Pollution in the 21st Century.” Peter is a leading researcher in the effort to determine why killer whales in the Northwest are among the most contaminated mammals in the world.

Other speakers include Don Noviello of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who will discuss plans to protect marine mammals from the threat of an oil spill; John Gussman and Jessica Plumb, who are documenting in film and photos the restoration of the Elwha River; Steve Mashuda, an attorney for Earthjustice who will review legal attempts to remove the Southern Resident killer whales from the Endangered Species Act; and Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who will present a theory about why male orcas stay with their mothers for life.

Sustainable Cinema Series

Another event worth noting is the film “The Pacific Rim: Americas” about the dynamic geology of the West Coast.

The film will be shown Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Dragonfly Cinema in Port Orchard. Jim Bolger of the Puget Sound Partnership will lead a discussion during the event. A $5 donation is suggested. See Kitsap County’s news release for details.

The film is being shown as part of the Sustainable Cinema Series, sponsored by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, who hopes the films will stimulate discussion about environmental issues.


K pod reverses course at Point Reyes, heads north

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

UPDATE, Jan. 17, 2013

It looks like K-25 and his companions did a little zig-zagging yesterday, also turning south and then north again. The latest report from this morning shows them near Coos Bay.
—–

UPDATE, Jan. 16, 2013

K pod crossed the Oregon border yesterday on their way back north. The latest satellite data from this morning places the orcas near Port Orford, Ore., according to an update from Robin Baird of Cascadia Research, who is helping with the tracking effort.
—–

UPDATE, Jan. 15, 2013

After turning around at Point Reyes Friday night, K pod has proceeded north. The latest satellite data from this morning showed the whales at Crescent City, Calif., about 20 miles from the Oregon border. The orcas are still traveling north, but will they come back to Puget Sound?
—–

Killer whale experts were anticipating yesterday that K pod might make it to Monterey Bay and perhaps a little farther south, as I described in a story in this morning’s Kitsap Sun.

K-25 1-12

Everyone was wondering exactly where these whales would linger and where they would eventually turn around and return north.

Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Collective reported this morning that satellite data showed that the whales had turned around last night after reaching Point Reyes, which is north of San Francisco Bay. They continued rapidly north, reaching Bodega Bay this morning.

Where K pod will travel next is anyone’s guess. But, if we’ve learned anything through the years about Southern Residents, we know that they will remain unpredictable. I’ll keep reporting their travels as long as they seem interesting.


Satellite tracking shows K pod has reached California

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

UPDATE, Jan. 11, 2013

K-25 and presumably all of K pod traveled south all day yesterday, reaching an area just north of Point Reyes National Seashore this morning. Will they linger near San Francisco or continue on to Monterey Bay, the southernmost location ever reported for the Southern Residents? See map posted on Orca Network’s Facebook page.
—–

UPDDATE, Jan. 10, 2013

As of this morning, K pod had moved south about 150 miles in 24 hours to an area just north of Fort Bragg, Calif. See the map on Orca Network’s Facebook page.
—–

UPDATE, Jan. 9, 2013

It appears that K pod has chosen to hang out for awhile outside of Humboldt Bay near Eureka, Calif., not far from where the pod was located yesterday via satellite transmissions. Recent movements can be seen on the map posted on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research met up with Jeff Jacobson of Humboldt State University yesterday. Ken spotted from shore while Jeff took his boat out to photograph the whales, according to Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. During the foraging, Jeff was reported to have picked up some fish scales to identify what the whales were eating, and he may have gotten some fecal samples as well, according to Brad.

The weather is a little rough to get out on the water today, but conditions may improve over the next day or so, Brad told me.
—–

In the 10 days that a satellite transmitter has been attached to K-25, this 21-year-old male killer whale has traveled from South Kitsap to Northern California.

The latest plot shows K-25 off the California city of Eureka. NOAA map

The latest plot shows K-25 off the California city of Eureka. / NOAA map

K-25 — and presumably all of K pod — was reported off Eureka, Calif., this morning. Where the whales will go from there is a matter of intense interest among orca researchers.

This is the first time that the endangered Southern Residents have ever been tracked for more than three days in the open ocean, and researchers have told me they are somewhat surprised at their pace of travel.

I wrote about the tagging project in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, where I briefly touched on the controversy over whether it is wise to attach these barbed tags to the endangered orcas. For now, there’s not much more to be said.

For background on the tagging program, check out my previous stories and blog posts:

Story, Dec. 4, 2010: Satellite Tagging Could Track Killer Whales in Winter … but at Some Risk?

Blog entries

Orca tagging raises questions about research (Dec. 8, 2010):

Orca researchers divided over use of satellite tags (Dec. 28, 2010)

Researchers launch winter tracking of killer whales (Feb. 22, 2012)

Update on orca research cruise and tracking effort (Feb. 26, 2012)

Kitsap Sun graphic shows where K-25 traveled as of Saturday.

Kitsap Sun graphic shows where K-25 traveled as of Saturday.


First Olympic class ferry shares name with an orca

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

A female killer whale named Tokitae remains in an aquarium in Miami, but a future Washington state ferry will carry her name for years to come.

The Washington State Transportation Commission named two new ferries today, choosing Northwest Indian names. And both names — Tokitae and Samish — are associated with killer whales, said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who attended the commission meeting. See the WDOT’s news release (PDF 29 kb).

Tokitae will be the name of the first Olympic Class ferry.
Rendering courtesy of Washington DOT

“I was reserving excitement until it happened,” Howie told me. “Then it was, ‘Wow, they really did this!’ I am reinvigorated with all the feeling of support.”

Garrett is leading an effort to return Tokitae — known in Miami as “Lolita” — to the waters of Puget Sound, where her extended family still lives. See “Proposal to retire the orca known as Lolita.”

He says naming the ferry could indirectly help the cause of relocating Lolita/Tokitae, although the action carries no endorsement of any kind.

“It demonstrates an understanding and awareness of her predicament, and it honors her and her family,” he said. “I think that goes a long way.”

The second ferry was named for “Samish,” which means “giving people.” It is the name of a tribe that once ranged from Northern Puget Sound into the Cascade Mountains. It’s also the name for J-14, a 38-year-old female orca who became a grandmother in August.

So, if the ferry Tokitae is named for an orca, where did the orca get her name?

The answer to that question goes back to 1970, when a veterinarian from Miami’s Seaquarium, Jesse White, came to Seattle to select an orca to be trained for public viewing.

“He had a couple to choose from, and he chose this young female,” explained his daughter, Lisa White Baler. “They really bonded right away.”

As Lisa tells it, her dad saw something special in the young whale and wanted a name that would fit the orca’s beauty, courage and gentleness.

“He was in a gift store, probably buying gifts for myself and my brother when he saw something with ‘Tokitae’ on it … and he decided that had to be her name.”

The Coast Salish greeting means, “nice day, pretty colors,” according to the ferry-naming proposal (PDF 68 kb) submitted by Orca Network.

When the young whale arrived in Miami, the owners of the aquarium decided to change her name to Lolita.

Howard Garrett says it was one way to divest the animal of her history, allowing people to believe that she was just taken off a shelf, not captured from the open waters of Puget Sound. As the story goes, the name Lolita was chosen because she would become the young bride of an older male killer whale named Hugo, also from Puget Sound. (Check out the Wikipedia summary of the Vladimir Nabokov novel.) The two orcas performed in shows together until Hugo died in 1980.

Lisa says her father, while serving as staff veterinarian, argued that the marine mammals at the aquarium needed bigger quarters. Later in life, her father got to know researcher Ken Balcomb, a San Juan Island resident who was studying the orca families. Dr. White came to support Lolita’s return to Puget Sound, according to Lisa.

Lisa, who was born in 1966, says she recently realized that she is the same age as Tokitae/Lolita, and she is especially thrilled for the ferry to be named after the whale.

“I grew up with her,” she said. “My father died in 1996, and so much of his legacy is left for me to deal with. I am thrilled and excited for all the people who have become Toki’s champions.”

In Miami, Lisa said, trainers still use the name “Tokitae” or “Toki” when working behind the scenes; she’s only “Lolita” for an audience. Some of the trainers signed the petition to name the ferry after her.

Lisa said she would like to visit Puget Sound when the new ferry is launched or at the time of an official naming ceremony. She says she feels a special pull to this area.

Howard Garrett says he reluctantly uses the name “Lolita” in his campaign to bring her back, because that is the name the public knows.

“Tokitae is her Northwest name,” he said, “and this (new ferry name) helps connect her to her family. The minute she touches her home waters, she loses ‘Lolita.’”


Killer Whale Tales helps kids connect to nature

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

I’ve been wanting to write about Jeff Hogan’s Killer Whale Tales for years now, but we’ve never managed to mesh schedules during one of his classroom visits to Kitsap County.

Olalla Elementary students examine a cast of a killer whale skull following a presentation by Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid.

“Go for it,” I told Kitsap Sun reporter Chris Henry when she learned that Jeff would be at Olalla Elementary School in South Kitsap. That’s where Chris serves as our “regional reporter” and recently added education to the list of issues she covers.

Chris did a nice job explaining Jeff Hogan’s educational program, his background and his hope to use students as “citizen scientists.” Check out the story she wrote for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Jeff has been encouraging students to monitor hydrophones in our local waters and report observations of orca calls through the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orcasound, which has its own wonderful educational program. Young and old alike can have fun trying to identify specific calls that killer whales make. To play the game, access the practice page on the Orcasound website.

To his credit, Jeff is generous with his classroom materials, including eight work sheets teachers and parents can download from his website. Using these worksheets, kids can outline a family tree as it relates to an orca pod, puzzle over a “word search” related to killer whales, create a “blubber glove” to see how whales stay warm, track the movements of killer whales in Puget Sound and more.

The sounds of one of Hogan’s classroom visits was captured by Irene Noguchi when she worked at KUOW public radio in 2009. Check out the video posted on YouTube.


Orca calves are given names for the first time

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

The votes are in, and three young killer whales born into the Southern Resident community in 2010 and 2011 have officially been given names by The Whale Museum.

The newly named babies are: Ripple (K-44), Keta (L-117), and Jade (L-118).

Ripple (K-44)

Getting a name means an orca calf has survived through its first year, a period of high mortality among killer whales.

Naming involves nominations for likely monikers followed by voting, which this year generated about 5,000 votes.

Here’s some info behind the names and the animals themselves. Thanks go to Jeanne Hyde and The Whale Museum for the photos and comments about the youngsters:

Ripple: The definition of ripple means “to form or display little undulations or waves on the surface.” It is also the name of an island located in the San Juan Islands. Though a ripple and Ripple Island may both be small, young Ripple will hopefully grow to leave large ripples on the surface of the water.

Ripple, born in 2011, is the first offspring of Deadhead (K-27). He was first seen early in the morning, along the west side of San Juan Island, traveling in his mother’s slipstream. Ripple’s grandmother is Skagit (K-13). He has one cousin Comet (K-38), one aunt, Spock (K-20), and two uncles, Scoter (K-25) and Cali (K-34). Kitsap Sun, July 7, 2011.

Keta (L-117)

Keta: Keta is another word for chum salmon, a fish the Southern Residents feed on in the fall. One of Keta’s brothers is named Coho (L-108), another type of salmon the whales occasionally eat. Another brother is named Indigo (L-100).

Keta was born in December 2010 to Ino (L-54), who was born in 1977. Keta’s sex has not yet been determined. Kitsap Sun, Dec. 8, 2010.

Jade: Jade is a gem stone. Jade’s mother, Nugget (L-55), and one sister, Lapis (L-103), have gem stone names. Jade was first seen on May 29, 2011, as several L Pod family groups traveled south through Trincomali Channel, B.C. They had arrived from the north, which is not common for them. In addition to Lapis, Jade has two living siblings, Kasatka (L-82) Takoda (L-109). Jade’s sex is still unknown.

Jade (L-118)

These three orcas are now ready for “adoption,” a fund-raising promotion by The Whale Museum, as explained in a news release issued yesterday:

“The Orca Adoption Program was started in the spring of 1984. The rationale behind the creation of the adoption program was that if each orca were given a name and history, people would understand its unique personality and complex social relationships, and form a connection to the whales.

“At the time the Orca Adoption program was created, a congressional bill to ban live captures of killer whales was pending; it subsequently passed. Today, thousands of people know Granny (J-2), Oreo (J-22) and other Southern Resident orcas through the Orca Adoption Program.

“An Orca Adoption is a wonderful way to connect with these magnificent orcas. Symbolically adopting a whale in the Southern Resident Community also supports the mission of The Whale Museum which, since 1979, has been promoting stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea eco-system through education and research. In addition to providing exhibits and the Orca Adoption Program, the Museum provides programs including: the Soundwatch Boater Education, Marine Naturalist Training, San Juan Islands Marine Mammal Stranding Network and the Whale Hotline. For information, visit The Whale Museum website.”


Groups celebrate anniversary of Springer’s rescue

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

UPDATE: June 15

I didn’t realize until this morning that the YouTube video I posted contained only about a fourth of the original half-hour “Orphan Orca: Saving Springer” program. I’ve replaced it with the full version I found on Vimeo. Sorry for the oversight.
—–

A celebration of Springer’s dramatic rescue, which began 10 years ago this week, will be held a week from Saturday, June 23, at Seattle’s Alki Bathhouse.

Springer, of course, is the female orca who was captured near the Seattle-Vashon ferry lanes, moved to Manchester for a time and then reunited with her extended family near the north end of Vancouver Island. See Kitsap Sun, June 12, 2002, and watch the video on this page, which was produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The Springer success story is an inspiration for all of us working in these marine waters,” Lynne Barre of the NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center said in a news release. “The relationships forged by Springer have helped foster successful international cooperation of many conservation efforts, including oil spill prevention and response, fisheries management and habitat protection.”

“Springer’s reunion is an unqualified success — the only project of its kind in history,” said Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail in the news release. “But today our whales are in trouble. We hope Springer’s success inspires people to join us in working on issues facing orcas today, with the same urgency, commitment and resolve.”

Sandstrom is organizing Seattle’s free event, which will feature a welcome dance by the Duwamish Tribe’s Singing Feet dancers.

The Le-La-La Dancers, a First Nations troupe from Victoria, will appear in Seattle for the first time and perform a killer-whale-mask dance and other traditional dances. (Members of the group greeted Springer with the same mask when she returned home to her family 10 years ago.)

A celebration in Telegraph Cove, where Springer was released in 2002, is scheduled for July 12 to 15.

On Tuesday, a celebration was held at Vancouver Aquarium.

For information, check the “Celebrate Springer” Facebook page or The Whale Trail website.

It is believed that 2-year-old Springer strayed into Puget Sound, far from her home waters, after her mother died. Remarkably, it was at the same time that Luna, a 2-year-old male orca from the Southern Resident pods, was found in Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

After I broke the news of these two young whales in foreign waters, the unusual circumstances drew international attention. A rescue for Luna was never completed, and he was tragically killed by a propeller of a large boat three years later.

Springer was taken back into her pod, and it appears she was watched over by her aunt. Springer’s story continues, and researchers are waiting for the day she is observed with her own young calf.


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

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