Tag Archives: Whidbey Island

Orca Network plans to ‘Livestream’ Ways of Whales Workshop

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 nature.


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 Salish Sea.

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.

"Toki's retirement home," as Howard Garret calls it. Photo: Orca Network
“Toki’s retirement home” in the San Juan Islands, as Howard Garrett calls it.
Photo: Orca Network

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?

Resident orcas check out Whidbey, North Kitsap

Susan Berta of Orca Network shot some nice video of J pod, one of our three resident pods, about 50 feet off Whidbey Island’s Bush Point Lighthouse on Saturday. (Click on video player.)

The orcas haven’t been spending as much time in Puget Sound this year as usual, and nobody is sure why. As of last week, lower-than-usual numbers of chum salmon were reported in local streams — but that doesn’t mean the salmon are not somewhere in Puget Sound. It’s kind of a waiting game at this point, and I plan to write a story updating the salmon picture in the next day or two.

On Saturday, orcas were first reported heading south between Whidbey and Marrowstone islands about 1 p.m., according to several reports made to Orca Network. They seemed to linger at Bush Point.

During the night, they must have headed farther south along the Kitsap Peninsula, because about 8 a.m. Sunday they were headed back north past Point No Point near the tip of the peninsula. Then they rounded the point and stayed awhile off Hansville’s Foulweather Bluff, according to one resident.

By Sunday afternoon, they were slowly heading back toward Point No Point, which they reached late in the day, still traveling south. Not surprisingly, nightly reports are few and far between, and the whales often pop up somewhere else the next day.

No confirmed sightings were reported until yesterday afternoon, when J and K pod, along with L-87, were spotted off the south end of Vancouver Island. They were widely spread out and heading west out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to observers.

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Lunar energy could offer a steady, predictable supply

The gravitational pull of the moon offers an enormous potential to provide electrical power, since ocean tides move massive amounts of water on a regular schedule.

Harnessing ocean energy has the potential of providing a steady, predictable power supply. And, while wind and solar power are still favored on a cost basis, tidal power has the benefit of being always on, undiminished by clouds or lack of wind. That alone is considered a major benefit when it comes to operating the regional power grid.

This week’s conference on ocean energy in Bremerton turned out to be interesting, not only for the types of technology discussed but also for its variety of viewpoints — including fishermen who want to make sure tidal turbines don’t hurt their operations. Check out the story I wrote for Thursday’s Kitsap Sun.

In the Puget Sound region, the Snohomish County Public Utility District is studying the potential environmental effects of placing a tidal turbine in Admiralty Inlet between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island. A small pilot project is all that is planned at this time.

At the Bremerton conference, Jim Thomson of the University of Washington described some of the ongoing studies, from measurements of currents passing through Admiralty Inlet to the possible effects of noise on sealife. So far, concerns appear to be manageable. I reported some of Thomson’s comments in my story.

Another news report on the project itself was written this past summer by Charlie Bermant of the Peninsula Daily News. Charlie reported that the latest schedule calls for installing the turbines in 2013.

The top video on this page depicts a commercial turbine developed by OpenHydro, the company working with the PUD on the Admiralty Inlet site. The second video, though made in 2008, offers a nice perspective of the overall effort by SnoPUD General Manager Steve Klein.

Worldwide, the quest for energy is not bypassing the gravitational power of the moon. John Daly of Oilprice.com reported last week that Rolls Royce, which has become a formidable player in the energy business, has developed a tidal turbine that could make inroads into Great Brittain’s electrical needs — although Daly failed to describe the potential cost obstacles.

Needless to say, this subject is worth following, and sponsors of the Bremerton event — including organizer Cleantech West Sound — are already discussing new issues that could be discussed at a repeat conference next year.

Killer whales hang out in Central, South Puget Sound

Two of our local killer whale pods, J and K, have been hanging around Central and South Puget Sound the past few days — something quite unusual for the month of February.

As I write this late Sunday afternoon, a large group of orcas has been reported in Seattle’s Elliott Bay. On Friday, the whales came into Bremerton’s Sinclair Inlet as far as Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

J pod is known to travel in and out of Puget Sound in the winter, but the total amount of time spent in Central and South Sound the past few days — along with the presence of K pod — points toward a pattern I cannot remember seeing before.

Are they finding an abundance of fish, perhaps blackmouth (immature resident chinook) or herring? We’re in the midst of herring-spawning season for much of Puget Sound. Or could the orcas be here to help a newborn calf get off to a good start? There are no confirmed photos of a new calf, but Orca Network is getting some significant reports of a very small orca.

Brad Hanson and Candi Emmons of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center observed foraging during the current visit and collected some fish scales, which should provide information about what they are eating. (UPDATE, 2-7: Brad told me that fecal or scale samples have never been taken from killer whales in Puget Sound during February, at least not until now. So it will be interesting to see what this one fish turns out to be. Brad said he didn’t get a good look at it, but it was a salmonid of some kind.)

The whales were pretty active in and out of the San Juan Islands the second half of January, before being spotted Wednesday near the Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry route. Here’s a summary of their activities since then via reports to Orca Network:
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Another rare attack on gray whales, this one on video

Transient killer whales apparently attacked a gray whale near Whidbey Island yesterday, an encounter caught briefly on video. But the orcas seemed to back off before killing the larger marine mammal.

The footage was captured by Wendy Hensel of Chilliwack, British Columbia, who was aboard the whale-watching boat Mystic Sea out of La Conner. KING 5 TV posted the video on its Web site.

The boat’s skipper, Monte Hughes, told King 5 reporter OWEN LEI that whale watchers were observing a gray whale between Whidbey and Camano islands when a group of orcas raced up from behind in a direct line headed for the gray whale.

All the animals disappeared beneath the waves. When the gray whale surfaced, it was belly up. Moments later, the large whale jerked as if being struck from below.
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