Folks around here remember an orca called ‘Faith’

I don’t mean to be overly sentimental, but writing about L-57 last night was like writing an obituary for an acquaintance, maybe even a friend.

L-57, a 31-year-old male orca, has gone missing. That means, in all likelihood, that he has died, as I described in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

L-57, known as Faith, is special to a lot of Kitsap County residents and others, because he was the whale everyone could recognize when 19 members of L pod spent a month in Dyes Inlet in 1997.

He was the animal that opened my eyes to the fascinating research taking place among these highly intelligent creatures. I still recall taking Kelley Balcomb-Bartok over to Red and Donna Gay Boyle’s house in Tracyton (“Whale Central”) to see a bunch of killer whales swimming back and forth in Dyes Inlet — something that had not happened in that location for 40 years or more.

Kelley, son of Ken Balcomb, grew up around these whales. Here’s how I described it in my two-part series marking the 10th anniversary of that remarkable period:

When Kelley first arrived at Whale Central, he dragged out a long pair of binoculars and aimed them at the darkening water. He spotted a tall dorsal fin with an angled tip.

“That’s L-57,” he announced, describing the 20-year-old male. Then he turned to meet Donna Gay.

Kelley, 34, whose dark hair hung in a long pony tail, told her he didn’t know why the whales were staying in Dyes Inlet. If it was for food, why wouldn’t they be exploring other areas as well?

“If this is a place they don’t know well, it could give them problems,” Kelley said.

Donna Gay described how, over the past three days, the whales had swum to the edge of Dyes Inlet and even entered the Port Washington Narrows, but then turned back each time.

“We need to get the word out,” Kelley said. “If they make an effort to move out, then people can’t get in their way.”

Kelley realized that excitement was spreading like wind upon water. State law enforcement officers had already issued warnings to people for chasing the whales in boats to get pictures.

Kelley took another look toward the water, noting high-speed and circular swimming patterns.

“It’s seriously possible these animals may be stressed. We need to watch them, but if this goes on much longer, I’d have to say they’re stuck.”

I was impressed then, as I have been ever since, that one can get to know individual whales and their behaviors, which are coordinated with the larger group. One can tell when orcas are calm, when they’re stressed, when they’re feeling free and when they’re feeling threatened.

Male killer whales can live into their 50s and sometimes beyond, and L-57 seemed to an active whale in the prime of his life. If he has died, we may never know the cause. Given how loaded these whales are with toxic chemicals, a good guess is that he succumbed to a disease or cancer.

I would welcome further thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Folks around here remember an orca called ‘Faith’

  1. “excitement was spreading like wind upon water. State law enforcement officers had already issued warnings to people for chasing the whales in boats to get pictures.”

    These same yahoos chasing the whales care nothing of the whale, only their desire to get a photo…sort of like the lookie loos gathering at tragic accident spots and mucking up crime scenes….just to get a look.

    Those folks remind me of some property owners devoid of any desire but their ‘right’ to do whatever they want with their property irrespective of the damage done to the waterways.

    The boat owners should stay back whatever distance deemed safest for the whales. If not, fine them and confiscate their boat.

    Sharon O’Hara

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