Tomorrow is the annual Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey
Island, a chance to enjoy the company of top-level whale experts,
careful observers of marine mammals and people inspired by
Tickets will be available at the door. Go to
“Ways of Whales Workshop” for the schedule and details, such as
lunch and the post-workshop gathering at Captain Whidbey Inn.
For those who cannot attend, Orca Network is planning to stream
the event live on the Internet. Connect with the
Livestream network to join the event via computer.
In addition to speakers providing the latest information about
orcas, humpbacks and other species, Howard Garrett of Orca Network
will discuss progress in the long-running effort to return Lolita,
or Tokitae, from the Miami Seaquarium to her original home in the
For this blog post at least, I will go with Howie’s suggestion
that we call the whale “Toki.” “Tokitae” was the first name she was
given, and Howie says her trainers and staff in Miami shortened
that to “Toki.”
“She is accustomed to being called ‘Toki,’ so now with
indications that a combination of changing public attitudes,
questionable revenue prospects and legal developments may actually
bring her home some day soon, ‘Toki’ sounds fitting and proper,”
Howie wrote in a recent email to supporters.
A lawsuit involving Toki is scheduled for trial in May, although
the date could change. The lawsuit claims that keeping her in
captivity is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. If you
recall, she was listed as a member of the endangered Southern
Resident pods following a legal dispute with the federal government
— but so far that determination has been of little consequence.
The latest lawsuit will consider, at least in part, the plan to
return Toki to the San Juan Islands, where she would be kept in an
open net pen until she can be reunited with her family. If a
reunion does not work out, she would be cared for under better
conditions than in a confined tank for the rest of her life, or so
the plan goes.
It came as a surprise when Howie told me that attorneys for the
Miami Seaquarium plan to visit the exact site in the San Juan
Islands where Toki would be taken. One argument will consider which
location — a tank in Miami or natural waters of the San Juans —
would be more suitable for her health and well-being. Of course,
attorneys for the Seaquarium will argue that she has done well
enough for the past 40 years, so leave her alone.
Howie said he is hopeful that efforts by the investment firm
Arle Capital to sell off the company that owns Miami Seaquarium
(Spain’s Parques Reunidos) will help with the cause to return Toki
to Puget Sound. (See
Reuters report.) Perhaps the whale’s value has diminished as an
investment, encouraging corporate owners to try something new?
Break out the champagne! Amazingly, another new baby has been
born to the Southern Resident killer whales that frequent Puget
Sound. This makes eight newborns arriving since December of last
In the 40 years that the Center for Whale Research has
maintained a census of these killer whales, only once before have
more orcas calves been born, according to Ken Balcomb, who directs
the studies for the CWR. The year was 1977, when nine babies were
The new calf has been designated J-54, the next available number
for the J pod whales. The mom is J-28, a 22-year-old female named
Polaris who has one other offspring, a 6-year-old female named
The new baby was first seen on Dec. 1 by whale watchers near San
Juan Island and photographed by Ivan Reiff, a member of the Pacific
Whale Watch Association. But the photos did not reveal any distinct
features — such as the shape of the white eye patch or saddle patch
— to help experts determine if this was a new baby or one of the
other recent additions to J pod.
Pictures taken today confirm that this is a new calf, estimated
to be about three weeks old. The mother and calf continued swimming
north through Haro Strait, accompanied by the calf’s sister,
grandmother, aunt, uncles, cousin and other members of J pod.
This eighth birth within a year’s time is certainly cause for
celebration, Ken told me, but the health of the population is
highly dependent on the availability of food, primarily chinook
“I want to count back 17 months (gestation period) for each of
them to see what was going on with those whales at that time,” Ken
said, noting that fisheries managers have been reporting pretty
good runs of hatchery chinook in the Columbia River the past couple
With 27 females in the breeding population and roughly three
years between births, one might anticipate about nine pregnancies
per year, he said. But recent history shows that an average of
about three births per year are counted. That suggests that many of
these potential babies never make it to full term, possibly because
of the toxic chemicals the mothers have accumulated in their
When food is scarce, the mothers rely on their stores of fat for
energy, which could release their toxic chemicals to their fetuses
and to their newborns during nursing, Ken said. Fetal or newborn
deaths may simply go unreported. When food is adequate, the babies
get better nutrition — both in the womb and in their mothers’
“The biggest clue is the fact that they do well when they have
sufficient food available and not so well when there is not
sufficient food,” he said. “It should be a no brainer to feed
By feeding them he means managing the fisheries and the
ecosystem to make more fish available to the orcas. Removing dams
where possible could boost the natural production of salmon, he
said. Climate change, which tends to increase water temperatures
and reduce streamflows, could be working against the effort to
restore salmon runs.
The population of the Southern Residents now stands at 84 — or
85 if you count Lolita, who remains in captivity in Miami
Seaquarium. That total consists of 29 whales in J pod, 19 in K pod
and 36 in L pod, according to statistics reported by
Orca Network from census data collected by the Center for Whale
Ken said he is thankful for grants from the Milgard Family
Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation, which have kept his
operation going this winter, and to the Pacific Whale Watch
Association, which provides additional eyes on the water. Years
ago, without observers around, the news of new births usually
waited until spring.
Michael Harris, executive director of Pacific Whale Watch
Association, said celebration of the new birth should be
accompanied by determination to keep salmon available for the
“Just as we settled our brains for a long winter’s nap, we get
another gift for whale watchers, just in time for the holidays,”
Michael said in an email. “We thought seven was pretty lucky, but
having eight calves in this population is exciting.
“None of us expected a year like the one we just had,” he added,
“but we can expect tough times ahead for these whales. We had a
good year last year for salmon and we had a good year for orcas.
Now we’re coming off drought conditions and all sorts of problems,
and we’re looking at lean times the next few years. Let’s celebrate
this baby right now and this resilient village of orcas, but let’s
keep working to make sure we get fish in the water and whales
I am pleased to repeat the message we’ve heard again and again
over the past year: The baby boom continues for the orcas that
frequent Puget Sound.
Center for Whale Research has confirmed the birth of a new calf
in L pod — the seventh to be born to the three Southern Resident
pods since December of last year.
The new baby, designated L-123, is the first documented calf for
L-103, a 12-year-old female named Lapis. I have a special fondness
for Lapis and her family, because her mother, L-55 or Nugget, was
one of the 19 orcas that stayed in Dyes Inlet for a month during
1997. Nugget was 20 years old at the time, and her first born, L-82
or Kasatka, was 7. Kasatka had a calf of her own in 2010. Now, with
the birth of this new calf, our old friend Nugget is the
grandmother of two.
The new calf was first photographed Nov. 10 by Alisa Lemire
Brooks and Sara Hysong-Shimazu from Alki Point in West Seattle,
according to a news release from the Center for Whale Research. See
Orca Network’s Facebook page. Because of poor visibility and
sea conditions, those photos and others taken later by Melisa
Pinnow and Jane Cogan were not clear enough to confirm the birth of
a new orca. High-resolution photos taken yesterday by Mark
Malleson, a research associate with the Center for Whale Research,
were used for the final confirmation.
Having seven orca calves born in a 12-month period is almost
unheard of. In the 40 years that the Center for Whale Research has
been keeping tabs on the orca population, the greatest number of
calves born in a single year was nine in 1977.
Researchers will be watching all the new calves as they grow.
Getting through the first year is often the toughest, as the young
whales learn to survive while their immune systems develop.
The population of the Southern Residents now stands at 83 — or
84 if you count Lolita who remains in captivity in Miami
Seaquarium. That total consists of 28 whales in J pod, 19 in K pod
and 36 in L pod, according to statistics reported by
Orca Network from census data collected by the Center for Whale
The news release announcing the new baby adds this note of
“While a new calf born to this struggling population is
certainly cause to celebrate, it is important to remember that
another SRKW also means another mouth to feed. With each new calf
that is born, we continue to emphasize the need to focus on wild
chinook salmon restoration efforts — especially the removal of
obsolete dams that block wild salmon from their natal spawning
habitat, such as those on the lower Snake River. We will continue
to monitor the new calf in the next several weeks and provide
updates whenever possible.”
Carl Safina — scientist, teacher, author and documentary
filmmaker — will speak Wednesday on a topic of interest to many
killer whale observers, “Intertwined Fates: The Orca-Salmon
Connection in the Pacific Northwest.”
Following his speech, Safina will join a panel of experts on
salmon and killer whales to discuss the connections between these
two iconic species and what it will take for the survival of the
species. The experts are Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale
Research, Jacques White of Long Live the Kings, Howard Schaller of
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Lynne Barre of NOAA
Safina’s newest book, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and
Feel,” is winning acclaim for its description of animal culture and
even emotions in creatures such as elephants, wolves and killer
“We have long asked whether we are alone in the universe, but
clearly we are not alone on earth,” wrote Tim Flannery in his
review of “Beyond Words” in the
New York Review of Books. “The evolution of intelligence, of
empathy and complex societies, is surely more likely than we have
hitherto considered. And what is it, exactly, that sets our species
apart? We clearly are different, but in light of ‘Beyond Words’ we
need to reevaluate how, and why.”
“Safina comes to an unfamiliar but empirically based
conclusion,” Flannery continues. “Prior to the domestication of
plants and the invention of writing, the differences between human
societies and those of elephants, dogs, killer whales, and dolphins
was a matter of degree, not kind. Why, he asks, has it taken us so
long to understand this?”
Previously, in a PBS series “Saving the
Ocean,” Safina explored the effort to restore chinook salmon to
the Nisqually River. During a two-part segment, he interviewed
numerous biologists and talked to tribal leader Billy Frank before
Billy’s untimely death.
The newly formed Orca Salmon Alliance is a consortium of
environmental groups focused on supporting the recovery of orcas
and salmon. Proceeds from Wednesday’s event will support the
“We can’t recover the highly endangered population of orca
living off the Northwest coast without also restoring their primary
food source, the chinook salmon,” said Deborah Giles, Science
Advisor for OSA.
Interest in Puget Sound’s killer whales continues to grow, as
demonstrated recently when more than 3,000 people from throughout
the world helped name four new baby orcas.
The new babies are named Scarlet, Nova, Sonic and Windsong. I’ll
tell you more about these new names in a moment, but first I’d like
to describe the naming process and how it might change.
People were thrilled to get the chance to name some orca calves
this year, considering that the past two years no new babies were
around to be named, according to Jenny Atkinson, executive director
The Whale Museum.
The Whale Museum holds an annual vote on its website to name any
new members of the Southern Resident killer whale community. Once
the whales are named, people are free to “adopt” the young animals,
contributing to the Whale Museum’s educational, research and
orca-protection programs. Although any living whale is eligible for
adoption, people are especially excited to become connected with
little ones. Check out the orca adoption
What I never realized is that when someone adopts a baby orca
and then renews the adoption year after year, he or she will
receive annual reports and photos for as long as the whale
survives. Since killer whales may live as long as humans, I bet
more than a few people have some interesting scrapbooks of their
Knowing that a fair number or orcas don’t survive their first
year, some people were surprised that orcas born as recently as
March were being named now, Jenny said. Other people have never
understood why it takes so long to name the babies.
Jenny explained that the current naming process is based on
tradition and the idea that young killer whales should get a name
and be eligible for adoption after making it through their first
winter — the most trying period for young animals. This year, names
were given to whales first spotted in December, February (two
babies) and March — all surviving at least a portion of the
Over the past few years, more observers — including naturalists
associated with commercial whale-watching boats — have been able to
identify individual orcas and notice changes in family structure.
The information often goes to the Center of Whale Research, which
conducts an annual census of the Southern Residents as of July 1.
To stay on top of things, the Center for Whale Research has been
confirming new births soon after they are reported.
Just as the Internet has changed the reporting of news, we are
now seeing an ongoing population count of the Southern Residents
with very little delay in learning about new births in the
In a similar fashion, Jenny told me that she has begun to
consider a change in the naming process. She said it has always
troubled her that young whales sometimes die without being honored
with a name, and it becomes somewhat arbitrary which orcas get
names and which ones don’t.
Perhaps the original idea of naming whales after their first
winter helps to spare people the emotional upset of losing a young
animal that has barely been named and “adopted” by supporters of
The Whale Museum.
“Is it really any easier to lose them if they don’t have a
name?” Jenny pondered. “They may put on a great show, but this
population is suffering. If you only tell happy stories, how can we
expect things to change?”
The three Southern Resident pods are listed as “endangered”
under the Endangered Species Act. Until a recent “baby boom”
starting in December, no new calves were born for more than two
years. Six whales died during that time. The situation was bleak
and is still quite worrisome.
Based on studies, we know that a nursing mother passes more
toxic chemicals to her first-born than to subsequent babies. We
also know that the risk of death for an orca calf is greater during
the first few years of life. But I would not think that naming a
baby orca and then reporting its death would be any more traumatic
than reporting the death of an older whale that people have known
over many years.
“I believe everything deserves a name,” Jenny told me, saying
the process of naming newborn orcas more quickly will take some
planning and a full discussion by the board of The Whale Museum.
The current system coordinates with outside groups in choosing
names for specific orca families, and the names of individuals
within a family are often coordinated. For example, this is how the
new names came about:
Scarlet: Born in December to J-16 or “Slick,”
this young whale was designated J-50. She has “rake” marks on both
sides of her body, believed to be caused when another orca used its
teeth to assist in her delivery. “Scarlet” refers to the scars from
the rake marks. Other proposed names outvoted in the naming process
were Athena, goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration and strength;
Hi-Yu, a Chinook word for plenty; and Fraser, the salmon river in
British Columbia considered an important food source for the
Nova: First seen in February, this male orca
was designated J-51. He is the first offspring of J-41, named
Eclipse. The name Nova, which relates to the celestial name of his
mother, is the description of a star that flares into brightness
before fading back to its original intensity. Other options
outvoted were Apollo, the Greek and Roman god of sunlight;
Twilight; and Moonshadow.
Sonic: First seen in March, this male orca was
designated J-52. His mother, J-36 or Alki, has contributed to a
large and thriving family that consists of three generations.
Sonic, of course, relates to sound waves. Other options under
consideration were Galiano, a Canadian island in the area where
J-52 was first seen; Thetis, another Canadian island in the area
where J-52 was first seen; and Capilano, a historic family in the
Coast Salish Community in British Columbia.
Windsong: Spotted by researchers off the
Washington Coast in February, this young male is the second
offspring of L-94 or Calypso. He is designated L-121. The name
Calypso came from a song by John Denver about Jacques Cousteau’s
ship. “Windsong” was the name of the album. Other options were
Calliope, a musical instrument using compressed air as well as a
muse in Greek mythology; Tango, a dance; and Alcyone, Cousteau’s
Another new baby was spotted two weeks ago. The mother is
20-year-old L-91, known as Muncher. The newborn has been designated
L-122. When this youngster will be named is not certain.
The so-called orca “baby boom” continues with the birth of a new
calf in L pod, first spotted this morning near Sooke, British
The mother of the baby is 20-year-old L-91, known as Muncher.
The newborn has been designated L-122. This is the fifth orca calf
born to the Southern Resident pods since December of last year,
following a two-year period in which no calves were born and
The birth was confirmed by orca researcher Mark Malleson of
Victoria and by Dave Ellifrit and Melissa Pinnow of the Center for
Whale Research, according to a news release
issued this evening by CWR.
“The mother and baby and other L pod whales spent the afternoon
and evening in Haro Strait ‘fishing,’ and by day’s end were joined
by J and K pod members,” the news release states.
Orca observers throughout the Northwest are understandably
excited about the news of a new baby orca, particularly given that
the four other calves born since December are reportedly healthy
In the 40 years that the Center for Whale Research has been
keeping tabs on the orca population, the greatest number of calves
born in a single year was nine in 1977.
“We hope this year’s ‘baby-boom’ represents a turn-around in
what has been a negative population trend in recent years,” says
the statement from the Center for Whale Research.
Monika Weiland, executive director of the Orca Behavior
Institute, added a note of caution on her
“While the whale community is understandably excited about the
births, their arrival also means there are more mouths to feed,”
Monika wrote, noting that
NOAA Fisheries has listed the Southern Residents as among the
species at most risk of extinction.
“The reality is these little ones will only survive and thrive
if the biggest issue facing the Southern Residents is addressed,
and soon,” she continued. “Without an increase in abundance of
their primary prey, chinook salmon, it is unlikely this population
of whales is going to recover.”
Monika argues that one of the most important actions for the
recovery of chinook is to breach the four lower Snake River dams,
which have outlived their usefulness.
Meanwhile, researchers will be watching closely to see how
mother and baby do over the next days, weeks and months.
The population of the Southern Residents now stands at 82 — or
83 if you count Lolita who remains in captivity in Miami
Seaquarium. That total consists of 27 whales in J pod, 19 in K pod
and 36 in L pod, according to statistics reported by
Orca Network from census data collected by the Center for Whale
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has confirmed that
Paul Pudwell of Sooke
Whale Watching located the five missing killer whales that have
not been seen in U.S. waters this year. The whales were spotted
July 15 off Sooke, B.C., which is west of Victoria on Vancouver
Paul was able to get pictures of all five whales suitable for
identification by Ken and company.
By my reckoning, this should account for all the Southern
Residents. While four new orca babies are thriving, we have had
just one death to mourn over the past year. That brings the
population to 82, up from 79 last year at this time. That number
includes Lolita, a Southern Resident being kept at Miami
Seaquarium. For a full accounting of the population, see
Water Ways, July 1 and
Water Ways, July 7.
And would anyone like to write new words to an old song that we
could use to invite the last five orcas to the party in the San
Juan Islands? (Read on for details.)
I reported last week in
Water Ways (July 1) that nine Southern Resident killer whales
had not yet returned to the San Juan Islands this year. I’d like to
update you with the news that four of the nine have now been seen,
so we’re just waiting for the final group of five.
Dave Ellifrit, Lauren Brent and Darren Croft with the Center for
Whale Research did an amazing job Sunday tracking down 65 killer
whales in and around Haro Strait in the San Juan Islands.
Meanwhile, Ken Balcomb photographed another 11 from the porch of
the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island. Read Dave’s
report of the encounters on the center’s website, listed as
Encounter Number 59.
“Due to forest fires in several different places in British
Columbia, there were dark clouds coming out of the northwest which
made the sun red and the lighting a weird shade of brown-yellow.,”
Dave reported in his notes. “A little after 0930, we left the L
group and headed about a half mile north to a male who was foraging
by himself. This was K21 and we saw him actively chase a salmon
before he headed off to the west.”
The four “missing” whales spotted for the first time this year
in inland waters are known to travel together. As I reported in
last week’s blog entry, the groups of orcas have grown smaller and
more spread out, apparently because their prey — chinook salmon —
are not arriving together in significant numbers.
The latest four arrivals are Racer (L-72), a 29-year-old female,
and her son Fluke (L-105), an 11-year-old male; Ballena (L-90), a
22-year-old female; and Crewser (L-92), a 20-year-old male. Ballena
is Crewser’s aunt, and they are the last two members of what was
once an extended family.
Yet to arrive to the party in the San Juans is a group known as
the L-54’s. Some of you might remember a sitcom from the early
1960s about two New York cops, Toody and Muldoon. Anyway, the name
of the show was “Car 54, Where Are You?” and it had a catchy
(See YouTube) that featured prominently the title of the
It just occurred to me that we could rewrite the words to the
song, which would ask the question: “L-54, where are you?” If
anybody wants to take this challenge, I’ll post your new words on
As for the group itself, L-54 is a 38-year-old female named
“Ino.” She is closely followed by her 9-year-old son, L-108 or
“Coho,” and her 5-year-old daughter, L-117 or “Keta.”
Also traveling with the L-54 family is L-84, a 25-year-old male
named “Nyssa.” This orca is the last surviving member of what was
once called the L-9 subpod.
Another lone male, L-88 or “Wave Walker,” is 22 years old. He is
the last surviving member of what was once called the L-2 subpod,
and he now travels with the L-54’s as well.
This group — presumably all five — was last seen in March in the
western end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in February in the
Pacific Ocean near Westport.
Ken tells me that NOAA Fisheries funds his census work for
exactly 42 days, and the funding has now run out with more work to
be done. His nonprofit organization is continuing the search for
the “missing” whales mainly with contributions, including
memberships. See “SupportingThe
Center for Whale Research.”
With the disbursed pattern of orcas in recent years, some
changes are needed, Ken said. Perhaps he can get some additional
funding to search for the whales later in the year, travel to
coastal waters or contract with researchers already working in the
Another option is to provide an annual list of the whales
identified in inland waters when the 42 days of funding runs out,
he said. That idea would not allow a complete census each year, but
the whales would eventually show up and could be counted at that
time. That’s the system used for counting Northern Residents in
upper British Columbia, Ken said, noting that researchers up north
often don’t see all the orcas in any one year.
Increased funding for research projects, including census
counts, could come as a result of the new
“Species in the Spotlight” campaign launched this spring by
NOAA. The Southern Residents, listed as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act, are among eight well-known species
considered at the greatest risk of extinction.
Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries,
statement when announcing the new campaign:
“Of all the species NOAA protects under the ESA, these eight
species are among the most at risk of extinction in the near
future. For some of these species, their numbers are so low that
they need to be bred in captivity; others are facing human threats
that must be addressed. If we act now with renewed commitment and
intensified efforts, we can help these species survive and
The other seven “Species in the Spotlight” are Gulf of Maine
Atlantic salmon, Central California Coast coho salmon, Cook Inlet
beluga whales, Hawaiian monk seals, Pacific leatherback sea
turtles, Sacramento River winter-run chinook salmon and California
Coast white abalone.
The campaign, which ends next May, will follow a detailed
five-year plan to be unveiled in September.
A census of the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound is due
today, and it appears that the total population of the three
Southern Resident pods is 82, up from 79 last year at this
But that’s not the end of the story, because two small groups of
orcas have not been seen recently — so a final count must wait,
according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, which
conducts the annual census.
The three Southern Resident pods, well defined years ago, are no
longer the same, Ken told me. The tendency the past few years is
for the whales to split up into smaller groups of one or more
families, known as matrilines. Immediate families tend to stay
together, but larger groupings such as pods and subpods are
becoming less certain.
“They’ve decided to mix it up,” Ken said. “This is definitely
different. If we were trying to determine pod structures right now,
we couldn’t do it. It’s all mix and match.”
The Center for Whale Research records the annual census on July
1 each year and reports it to the federal government by
Four orca births can be reported since the last census was
J-50 a female calf born to J-16, named Slick, last
J-51 a male*
calf born to J-41, named Eclipse, in February
L-121 a male*
calf born to L-94, named Calypso, in February
J-52 a female
male calf born to J-36, named Alki, in March
*Update: Sexes not confirmed by Center for Whale
Research, and J-51 likely a male. (See comments.) I’ll update
These were the first births among Southern Residents to be
reported since August of 2012. Some people see these newborns as a
hopeful sign for the future of the population, which is listed as
endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
So far, one death has been confirmed over the past year. That
was J-32, an 18-year-old female named Rhapsody, who was found dead
on Dec. 4 floating near Courtenay, B.C. The young whale was
pregnant, and experts believe that the death of the fetus inside
her body could have led to her death as well. For more details ,
see Water Ways from
Dec. 7 and from
While there is no reason to believe that any other deaths have
occurred over the past year, nobody can be sure, at least not until
the last two groups of whales can be observed. If any animals are
truly missing after their family groups are carefully observed, we
could see one or more whales added to the death list.
In all, nine whales have not been seen this spring or summer
since returning to the San Juan Islands. One of the two groups of
whales was spotted off the Washington Coast in February, when all
the whales were present. One of the uncertain groups was reported
yesterday near San Juan Island, but I have not heard whether any
“missing” whales were identified.
Since the census report is not due until October, there is time
to see whether any more whales have died this past year. If any
more deaths are identified, the researchers will need to make a
judgment about whether the death occurred before or after the July
1 census cutoff. We can certainly hope that all the whales will be
Ken suspects that the pod groupings are becoming less distinct
because of the changing pattern of available prey, primarily
chinook salmon. When large schools of wild chinook head back to the
rivers, killer whales can work together to herd the fish and gain
Ken says hatchery chinook may not school together as much as
wild chinook, so the advantage goes to smaller groups of orcas if
the majority of salmon are from hatcheries.
“The prey field has changed for them,” he said. “Back when we
named the pods, the bulk of the fish were wild, and they were
coming through in pulses. All these fish were related and from the
same river system. Now with the hatchery program, there are less
pulses and the fish are more spread out.”
The chinook also are much smaller than they used to be, he said,
so it takes more effort to get the same nutritional benefit.
The Center for Whale
Research, now in its 40th year, conducts its census work in
Puget Sound under a grant from the National Marine Fisheries
Service. The grant is fairly limited, so the center began offering
memberships a few years ago to raise money for additional
This year’s membership drive is nearly halfway toward its goal
of 750 members, with 329 members signed on as of yesterday. An
individual membership costs $30 a year. For details and special
member benefits, go to “Supporting the
Center for Whale Research.”
In a related development, Ken recently took a trip into Snake
River country in Eastern Washington, the source of upstream habitat
for many of the salmon that come down the Columbia River. His
experience and what he has learned about the Snake River dams has
placed him among advocates for dam removal in this hotly contested
“Until recently, dam removal was against my conservative
“In truth, already well known to others but not to me, these
four Snake River dams are obsolete for their intended purposes and
are being maintained at huge taxpayer expense for the benefit of a
very few users. Plus, they are salmon-killers in a former river
(now a series of lakes) that historically provided spawning and
rearing habitat for millions of chinook salmon…”
“The technological fixes for the dams have not improved wild
salmon runs, and there is nothing left to try. As a nation, we are
dangerously close to managing the beloved Southern Resident killer
whale population to quasi-extinction (less than 30 breeding
animals) as a result of diminishing populations of chinook salmon
upon which they depend…
“Returning the Snake River to natural condition will help salmon
and whales, and save money. Please do not wait until all are gone.
Call or write your representatives today!”
This year’s research project tracing the movements of Southern
Resident killer whales has ended after 96 days of tracking L-84, a
25-year-old male named Nyssa.
It was the longest period of tracking among the Southern
Residents since the satellite-tagging studies began in 2012. The
transmitter carried by L-84 lasted three days longer than a similar
deployment on K-25 in 2013. The satellite tags, which are attached
to the dorsal fins of the whales with darts, often detach after
about a month.
The nice thing about this year’s study is that it covered the
entire month of April and much of May, according to Brad Hanson,
project supervisor for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
That tells the researchers something about the movement of the
whales later in the year than previous deployments have
A satellite tag on J-27 (Blackberry) in late December extended
the total tracking period to more than four months.
Looking back through the
tracking maps since February, it is clear that L-84 and his
entourage have spent much of their time moving up and down the
Washington and Oregon coasts. They seem to favor hanging out near
the mouth of the Columbia River. On a few occasions, they have
ventured into Northern California.
On May 6, they took their only jaunt north into Canadian waters,
reaching Estavan Point (halfway up Vancouver Island) two days
later. They continued north another day, nearly reaching Brooks
Peninsula (about three-fourths up Vancouver Island) on May 9. Then
they headed back south, ending this year’s tracking program near
the Columbia River.
Just before the satellite tag fell off, biologists from Cascadia
Research Collective caught up with the whales on May 21 south of
the Columbia River. The researchers noticed that the tag was
loosening, and no further satellite signals were picked up.
The tracking studies, combined with efforts to collect samples
of feces and fish remains, are designed to identify where the
whales are spending their time in winter months and what they are
finding to eat when salmon are more scarce. All of this could lead
to a major expansion of their designated “critical habitat” and
increased protections in coastal waters. As of now, critical
habitat for the whales does not extend into the ocean, and NOAA has
concluded that more information is needed before changing the
designated protection area.
Within the next month or so, all three Southern Resident pods
should head into Puget Sound, congregating in the San Juan Islands,
as chinook salmon return to Canada’s Fraser River and other streams
in the Salish Sea.
Meanwhile, J pod seems to be hanging out in waters around the
San Juans, possibly waiting for the other pods to show up. Plenty
of observers have been filing some great reports and related photos
That link also includes recent reports of seal-eating transient
killer whales that have traveled as far south as the
Bremerton-Seattle area, perhaps farther. A few humpback whales have
been sighted in northern Puget Sound.