Killer whales live wild and free in the San Juans

Knowing the precarious nature of the Southern Resident killer whale population, it’s hard for me to write about the loss of individual animals, as I did in Tuesday’s entry in Water Ways, when I reported the deaths of three orcas.

Life goes on, but it’s hard to duck a mild feeling of gloom when I think of these families struggling to survive — with some whales dying before their time and a number of female whales failing to mother any calves in the peak of their reproductive years. Given uncertainties about food, disease and unknown catastrophes, I’m reminded that the risk of extinction remains very real. We’ll hear more about this potential in the coming months, as the National Marine Fisheries Service completes its five-year status review under the Endangered Species Act.

All in all, it’s been a good summer for killer whales in the San Juan Islands, according to Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research. The orcas appear to have found enough salmon to be considered a healthy size, and it appears they are fit to go into winter.

Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters sent me some nice photos of the orcas in the San Juan Islands. He said I could share them with you. It’s an important reminder that these animals live in tight-knit family groups, traveling together, sharing food and helping each other raise the young ones. To me, that’s what it means to be wild and free, no matter what their future may hold.

(Click to enlarge.)

Photos by Capt. Jim Maya

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