Dana Lyons, known for his songs of humor and environmental
inspiration, performed his tune “The Great Salish Sea” during
Saturday’s Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island.
The lyrics are told from the perspective of “Granny,” an orca
estimated to be 104 years old and the oldest whale among the
Southern Residents. The song tells about how underwater sounds, as
heard by the whales, have changed over time — from the Native
American canoes and the sailing ships of yesteryear to the noisy
tankers of today.
Dana performed the song solo, with only his guitar, on Saturday
at the Ways of Whales Workshop, sponsored by Orca Network. The
sound was wonderful, and Dana’s voice rang out clear, but the
recorded version sounds richer with additional instrumentation, as
you can hear in the first video on this page.
“The Great Salish Sea” is the title song is from Dana’s latest
album, which includes the popular “Salmon Come Home.” I’ve posted
the music video of the salmon song in the second video player on
this page. Other songs on the album include “I Need the Water,”
which speaks of the competition for this limited resource. To hear
the songs on the album, go to
“The Great Salish Sea” on Dana’s website., which also includes
list of albums.
Dana has toured throughout North America and in many countries
during his 30-year career. His current schedule includes
upcoming appearances in Langley, Vancouver, B.C., and Port
Dana was born in Kingston, New York, and graduated from
Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He now lives in Bellingham.
Humor has long been a key part of Dana’s music, so I think we
should revisit one of his most popular songs, “Cows with Guns,”
viewed in the third video player (below).
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?
Those interested in the creatures that inhabit our local
waterways may find themselves enthralled by two recent publications
— one describing the many species of fish found in the Salish Sea
and the other examining the lifestyles of crabs and shrimps living
along the Pacific Coast.
new fish report (PDF 9.2 mb), published by NOAA Fisheries,
documents 253 species found in the Salish Sea, including 37
additional species not listed in the previous comprehensive fish
catalog, now 35 years old.
What caught my immediate attention in the report were the
beautiful illustrations by Joe Tomelleri, who has spent the past 30
years capturing the fine features of fish from throughout the
world. Check out the ornate fins on the fourhorn poacher and the
muted colors of the spotted ratfish. I never realized that common
ratfish wwere so beautiful.
The new report offers a preview of a much-anticipated book by
Ted Pietsch, retired fish curator at the University of Washington’s
Burke Museum, and Jay Orr, a biologist at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries
Science Center. The book, “Fishes of the Salish Sea,” will provide
extensive descriptions as well as illustrations of all known
species — including some early discoveries that came to light after
publication of the new NOAA report. The book could be 600 pages or
I interviewed author Ted Pietsch of Seattle and illustrator Joe
Tomelleri of Leawood, Kans., for a piece incorporated into the
The other book, “Crabs and
Shrimps of the Pacific Coast” by Greg Jensen of Bremerton,
pulls together information about 300 of these various crustaceans.
The book, which has been on my review list for more than year, has
won acclaim from experts in the field as well as casual observers
of nature. The book comes with an associated computer disc of the
book’s text, which allows one to link to other articles and
reports. One can also load much of the book onto a smart phone,
which can be taken to the shoreline and used as a field guide.
“My goal was to make a book that would appeal to someone who
just wants to learn about this stuff and would also be valuable to
someone, like myself, who is a specialist in the field,” Greg told
I enjoy Greg’s light writing style, as he tells little stories
in sidebars, shares brief biographies of key scientists and clears
up myths and confusion. One sidebar, for example, tells us that the
lines between shrimp and prawns have become blurred.
In Great Britain, he said, Crangonids, “with their stout,
somewhat flattened form, were called ‘shrimp,’ while palaemonids
were known as prawns.” In other places, prawns are considered
larger than shrimp. Sometimes prawns refer to freshwater versus
“Bottom line: There is no formal definition separating the two.
Like the Queen’s English, once they left home for America and
Australia, they became bastardized beyond recognition,” he
Greg, a scuba diver, shot about 90 percent of the pictures shown
in the 240-page book. If nothing else, he told me, the book
provided an excuse for him to dive in waters all along the
“It was like a big scavenger hunt,” he said. “You look through
the literature and you have this list (of crabs and shrimps). You
dig up anything and everything about where to find them.”
Like Ted Pietsch has done for fish, Greg has gone back to the
original references about crabs and shrimp, taking pains to correct
mistakes passed down through scientific literature. It has taken
years to track down the many references to ensure accuracy and give
credit to the right people, he said.
Greg, who grew up in Bremerton, was in grade school when a field
trip took him to Agate Passage on a low tide, where he became
intrigued by crabs. He soon started an extensive collection of
dried crab shells. Looking back, Greg credits marine biology
instructors Ted Berney at East High School and Don Seavy at Olympic
College for helping him pursue his interests, eventually launching
his career at the University of Washington.
Today, Greg still lives in Bremerton, researching, writing and
teaching at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Science.
Like many people, I was shocked and saddened by the death of
J-32, an 18-year-old female orca who had offered an avenue of hope
for the recovery of the endangered killer whale population in Puget
We now know from yesterday’s necropsy, that Rhapsody, as she is
called, was pregnant at the time of her death.
“Yes, she was pregnant, near-term, 80 percent or plus,” Ken
Balcomb told me last light after participating in the examination
of the body near Courtenay, B.C.
The actual cause of death is not yet certain, but it is likely
that the fetus died in the uterus, resulting in a necrotic
condition that eventually broke down the mother’s tissues,
according to Ken, founder of the Center for Whale Research. There
were no signs of trauma that would suggest injury of any kind, he
Dr. Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist in charge of the
necropsy, removed J-32’s uterus with the intact fetus inside. Dr.
Rafferty told me that he plans to take images of the fetus in utero
tomorrow before continuing the examination. He said he would be
unable to provide any information until he receives approval from
his client, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
As in other post-mortem examinations of killer whales, experts
will examine tissues, blood and body fluids in multiple ways to
gauge the general health of the animal as well as the cause of
death. The Southern Resident pods — J, K and L — are known to carry
some of the highest loads of toxic chemicals of any marine mammals
in the world. The whales may also undergo nutritional stress
because of a shortage of their primary prey, chinook salmon.
The last sighting of the animal was Nov. 29. Her body was found
floating near Courtenay on Thursday, Dec. 4. She was a “remarkably
small” killer whale, about 15 feet long, Ken said. Females normally
grow to between 16 and 23 feet.
Rhapsody was born in 1996. Her mother, J-20 or Ewok, died when
she was 2 years old. The young whale was then raised by her Aunt,
J-22 or Oreo. Rhapsody is survived by her aunt and two cousins.
Orca Network’s news release about the death.)
At age 18, she was at the beginning of her reproductive life,
with a potential to add several babies to the dwindling population
of Southern Residents, now at 77 animals. J pod is down to 24
orcas, with only a few reproductive females at this time.
Ken Balcomb said he hopes Saturday’s necropsy will reveal
whether J-32 had ever been pregnant before, since killer whales
typically become fertile around age 12 and often give birth by age
15. Her mother was 13 when she was born, Ken noted.
When the ovaries expel an egg, it leaves a little white scar
tissue behind. If the egg is fertilized and grows, the scar tissue
is notably larger, Ken explained.
An average female gives birth every five years, Ken said. That
rate should be adding three or four calves to the Southern Resident
population each year.
“Three years ago, I predicted that they should be having 19
babies by now,” Ken said.
Instead, the population is declining, with no surviving calves
born last year or this year. A baby born to L-86 in September of
this year was reporting missing a little more than a month
Rhapsody was the third adult to die this year. Also missing and
presumed dead are L-53, a 37-year-old female known as Lulu, and
L-100, a 13-year-old male known as Indigo.
Howard Garrett and Susan Berta of
Orca Network may have spoken for many of us with this comment:
“We cannot express how tragic this loss is for this struggling,
precariously small, family of resident orcas of the Salish
Tracking J pod for 30 days — mostly during the month of January
— lends support for the idea that this group of Southern Resident
killer whales strongly depends on the inland waters of the Salish
Sea, perhaps more so than K and L pods.
A satellite transmitter was attached to L-87, a 22-year-old male
orca named Onyx who has been spending his time with J pod. The
tracking effort is part of a study to determine where the whales
travel in winter. While one month of tracking doesn’t prove much,
it is interesting to know that J pod can hang out for days around
Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia without being noticed.
The following video, courtesy of the Northwest Fisheries
Science Center, depicts travels of the whales from Dec. 26, when
the tag was attached, to Jan. 23, when the tag apparently fell
The tracks end just as the orcas seem to be leaving the Strait
of Juan de Fuca, but so far we don’t know if they continued or
When the whales moved into Central and South Puget Sound, as
shown by the satellite tracks, observers watching from shore and on
ferries reported the whales each time, noted Brad Hanson, who is
leading the tracking study for the NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries
Science Center. On the other hand, the whales were infrequently
reported while in the Strait of Georgia and Strait of Juan de Fuca,
“One thing that was interesting to see,” he noted, “is that the
movements are completely different from what they do in
In summer, J pod often moves north into Canada but not much
beyond the Fraser River near Vancouver. These winter travels show
the J pod moves farther north and stays in the northern part of the
Strait of Georgia for extended periods of time.
What they are finding there to eat has not been fully studied,
but some percentage of chinook salmon reared in local waters are
known to stay inside the Salish Sea, never swimming out to the
Past studies based on recorded killer whale calls have shown
that J pod moves into the open Pacific Ocean on occasion, but the
whales rarely travel very far down the coast. The recording
equipment was moved this winter to strategic locations to better
distinguish how far south J pod travels in winter, Brad said.
Over the next couple months, researchers will continue to look
for opportunities to attach tags to killer whales, he said. A
cruise aboard a large research vessel in March will attempt to
follow the Southern Residents, identify their feeding areas and
determine what they are eating in the ocean.
The unusual death of L-112, a young female orca apparently
killed by “blunt force trauma,” continues to fuel discussions about
what may have killed her and what should be done about it.
Kenneth Hess, a Navy public affairs officer,
posted a comment today on the recent blog entry
“Balcomb wants to know if young orca was bombed.” In his
comment, Hess repeats that the Navy did not conduct any training
with sonar, bombs or explosives in the days preceding L-112’s
death. He called it “irresponsible and inaccurate” to blame the
Navy for “blowing up” the whale.
Another new development today is an e-mail I received from Lt.
Diane Larose of the Canadian Navy, responding to my inquiry about
any explosive devices used in the days before L-112 was found dead
on Feb. 11.
Read the e-mail (PDF 16 kb) I received:
“On February 6, 2012 HMCS Ottawa was operating in the Straits of
Juan de Fuca, specifically in Constance Bank, conducting Work Ups
Training including a period of sonar use and two small under water
charges as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise. These small
charges were used to get the ships’ company to react to a potential
threat or damage to meet the necessary training requirement.”
In talking to experts involved in the investigation, it seems
unlikely that L-112 could have been injured or killed in the Strait
of Juan de Fuca and then wash up dead on Long Beach five days
later. So the mystery continues.
tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun, I’m reporting that environmental groups
on both sides of the Canadian border are calling on their
respective navies to disclose all the specific activities during
the 10 days leading up to the discovery of L-112’s carcass at Long
Beach on Feb. 11. The groups also are calling for a complete
cessation of sonar use for training and testing in the Salish
Check out three letters submitted to the navies involved,
including one from U.S. and Canadian scientists: Continue reading →
Killer whales of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound returned to the
San Juan Islands with a newborn calf yesterday, as I described in a
tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun.
While J pod and portions of K and L pods have been seen in
inland waters lately, the major portion of K and L pods have not
been around for weeks.
I was ready in early June to write about their return, because
that is often when they arrive in Washington state to spend much of
the summer. On Tuesday of this week, when L pod was reported off
the West Coast of Vancouver Island, I began checking with marine
mammal and salmon experts to find out what might be keeping the
I was getting ready to write something about the missing orcas
and their search for chinook salmon when they suddenly showed up
with the new baby. I will save some ideas about the orca-salmon
connection until I can put my thoughts into a coherent form. For
now, it’s good to celebrate the arrival of the newborn with no
apparent deaths among the orcas seen so far.
Of course, nobody knows how long they will stay or where they
will travel over the next few months before heading into Central
and South Puget Sound in the fall.
The new baby, designated K-44, is one the youngest calves ever
identified by gender. (He’s a boy.) Frequently, months or even
years will go by before researchers get a good look or photograph
of their undersides. Check out diagram at Center for
Whale Research (click on “Questions & Answers”) to see how
you can tell males from females.
UPDATE, Nov. 24, 2010
Sometimes it takes a vacation to catch up on things. I always
intended to list the new names given by the Whale Museum in this
entry. I’m only two months late, after more than 7,500 votes were
counted. Nevertheless, here are the new names as announced in a
Sept. 15 news release:
J-44: The Whale Museum’s name is “Moby.” Other
alternatives were “Kellett” and “Fin.” Ken Balcomb did not announce
a name for this one.
J-46: “Star” is the name chosen by Ken, and
Whale Museum voters concurred. Other options were “Galaxy” and
L-112: “Sooke” will be the name listed by the
Whale Museum. Ken had already named her Victoria. The Whale Museum
also proposed “ReJoyce” and “Wonder.”
L-113: Ken named her Molly. Whale Museum voters
chose “Cousteau.” “Haro” and “Talise” were other alternatives.
I still have not decided whether to list one or both names in my
stories or simply call them by their alpha-numeric
Ken Balcomb, who heads the Center for Whale Research on San Juan
Island, has announced new names for six young killer whales that
frequent the Salish Sea.
Balcomb’s names apparently will be different from names chosen
by the Whale Museum, which has traditionally named the orcas. Could
this cause confusion among those interested in whale families?
Since the 1970s, the Center for Whale Research has kept a census
of the whales, designating new calves with a letter for their pod
(J, K or L), along with the next available number in sequence.
Until last year, when Ken named one young orca “Star,” the naming
process was left up to the Whale Museum, based in Friday Harbor.
Water Ways, Nov. 19.
By the way, the Whale Museum is currently conducting a public
vote to name four killer whales as part of its Orca Adoption
Program. Check out the
Whale Museum’s site.
Ken told me that people may choose to use his names, or not, as
they wish, but he intends to list the names with their designations
for identification purposes. As he stated in a
blog entry announcing the names: Continue reading →
Killer whale observers are celebrating the birth of a new calf
born in L pod, one of the three groups of whales that frequent
Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. The proud mom is L-47, also known
The calf, less than three weeks old, appears to be doing fine,
according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.
Excitement over the birth is tempered somewhat by the knowledge
that Marina has lost five of her seven known calves, with survivors
being two of her older offspring.
In phoning Ken to confirm the new calf, I knew I needed to ask
about missing orcas — the ones not seen this summer. In the spring,
observers will keep looking intently for missing whales. Late in
the summer, it becomes time to face the fact that some individuals
will never be seen again.
Unfortunately, three killer whales must be placed on the list of
those “missing and presumed dead.” Two orcas born in 1986 — L-73
(“Flash”) and L-74 (“Saanich”) have been missing for several
Until now, Ken was not quite ready to give up on K-11,
“Georgia.” At an estimated age of 77, she was the oldest whale in K
“We’ve been hoping we would see K-11,” Ken told me. “We did see
her in May, but she didn’t make it to July, and we did not see her
recently. I think that’s enough time.”
So the new total for all three pods drops to 87, from 89 in my
To end on a positive note, the whales appear to be successfully
hunting for salmon this summer in the San Juan Islands and up into
Canada. They will likely go into winter with adequate body
UPDATE: MARCH 20, 2010
The transient killer whales moved up into the San Juan Islands for
a couple of days, according to commercial whale watchers. Today,
they were sighted at the south end of Whidbey Island.
UPDATE: MARCH 17, 2010
The transient killer whales that have been visiting Puget Sound for
about a week may have moved up to the Whidbey Island area, where a
group of about five orcas were reported yesterday and today.
Swift and silent killer whales, known as transients, must be
finding a good number of seals or sea lions to eat, because a group
of a half-dozen or so of these animals appear to have been swimming
around Puget Sound for about a week.
This video was recorded this afternoon in Puget Sound by KOMO
News. Although KOMO’s Web site does not say specifically where the
whales were sighted, they were reported between West Seattle and
Orca Network’s recent
reports include sightings of T87, 88, 90 and 90B south of Victoria
last Tuesday. Later that night, transients were heard on the
hydrophone off the West Side of San Juan Island. They stayed around
the San Juans on Wednesday.
Then on Thursday, they were spotted in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay
and near the ferry lanes on the Fauntleroy-Vashon Island route.
From a KOMO video that day, Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale
Research identified T87, T88, T90 & T90B, plus the T30s (which
may include a mother and two adult offspring).
Since then, these same whales apparently have been spotted
several times in Central Puget Sound. About halfway through the
video above, it appears the orcas catch and kill a seal, evidenced
by blood in the water.
Transients are orcas that eat marine mammals rather than fish —
the primary food of our familiar Southern Residents of the Salish
Sea. Transients usually travel in smaller groups and seem to give
residents wide berth when they come within range of each other.
Transients roam widely from Alaska to California, though some
stay farther north and others farther south. Because they hunt
seals and sea lions, which can hear them coming, they are
stealthier in their hunting than residents and appear to have a
more limited vocabulary of vocalizations.
According to estimates by biologists, transients generally need
to eat an average of one or two harbor seals a day to maintain
their caloric needs. In that sense, transients are friends to both
resident orcas and fishermen, because they eat the animals that eat
In 2005, a group of six transients stayed in Hood Canal a
remarkable 18 weeks, consuming a feast that amounted to an
estimated 700 seals and sea lions. See Kitsap
Sun, June 3, 2005.
With the help of Orca Network, we’ll report where these animals
go over the next few days.