West Seattle, Washington
2:30 PM: Just got this report via text, and the Orca Network has a report too – orcas in Elliott Bay, likely closer to downtown than West Seattle. Let us know if you see them!
4:08 PM: We had no luck but Amy Shuster sent the photo we’ve just added, taken from the Bainbridge ferry – thank you!
We’re using that photo with permission of NOAA Fisheries–West Coast, which just reported late today that its researchers found another baby with J-Pod in Puget Sound: “Using photos taken by the researchers, the Center for Whale Research confirmed this is a new calf, designated J55. The calf was in close proximity to both J14 and J37, so we don’t know who the mother is just yet, and it may take a few encounters before we know. The calf seems to be just a few days old and in good condition.” NOAA had sad news too – what appeared to be a dead newborn calf spotted with J31, a 20-year-old female they say “has never successfully calved … It is estimated that at least 50% of calves do not reach their first birthday, so unfortunately this sad event is not unusual.” Before J55, the last orca-baby announcement was five weeks ago, when we got word of J54. This one is the ninth calf for the Southern Resident Killer Whales in a little more than a year.
Thanks to Don Brubeck for the photos from Jack Block Park this morning, where the high tide at 9:39 this morning was 12.7 feet, close to the peak of this week’s “king tides,” the highest this winter (they peaked at 12.9 feet Wednesday-Friday mornings).
The state Ecology Department is continuing to study king tides and welcomes photos – either hashtagged via social media, or via the upload tool on this page.
10:32 AM: We mentioned the other day that the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) was scheduled to deploy from Bremerton today – and a texter sends word that it’s in view (or will be shortly) from West Seattle, rounding south Bainbridge Island as it comes out of Rich Passage. The Navy says the Stennis is headed for the Western Pacific.
11:54 AM: Added photos, courtesy of Greg Snyder – above, we had heard the Stennis would be flying a 12th Man flag, and indeed it did.
(March 2015 photo taken from Alki Point by Gary Jones)
Sometimes we don’t hear about notable sightings at sea, off West Seattle shores, until afterward – but this time, we have an advance alert. The Kitsap Sun reports that the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis will head out on deployment Friday. The departure time is generally not announced in advance.
(UPDATED 3:46 PM with more photos)
12:26 PM: Thanks to Chris Frankovich for the photo – the sailboats are out today for the Three Tree Point Yacht Club‘s Duwamish Head Race. It’s the second of four races in the 2015-2016 Southern Sound Series.
3:46 PM: More photos in – thank you! First, another from Chris:
Two from Trileigh Tucker:
This one’s from Jim Spraker:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
After a year full of new hope for survival of Puget Sound’s resident orcas, what will 2016 bring?
On the first Thursday of the new year, The Whale Trail invites you to its next Orca Talk in West Seattle – this time looking at the ecology of the “transient” orcas who visit our waters; registration for the 7 pm presentation on January 7th at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor) is open now.
If you’re interested, you’ll want to get your tickets fast, since the last Orca Talk of 2015 brought a sold-out full house. Good news is, it’s on video:
NOAA researcher Brad Hanson spoke at C & P on December 3rd to talk about the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ baby boom. At that time, the count stood at six in less than a year, and as if that wasn’t exciting enough, two more babies have been announced since then.
11:14 AM: Just got a text from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales that orcas are reported northbound between Lincoln Park and Alki Point – and per Ron‘s tweet, below, they are apparently toward the north end of that range:
— Ron Creel (@roncreel) December 31, 2015
Sometimes they change direction, stop or slow – let us know if you see them on this beautiful sunny last day of 2015! (206-293-6302, text or voice, is always the best way to reach us when something is happening *now*.)
11:42 AM: Update from Jeff – the aforementioned area is where he’s seeing them, between Alki Point and Bainbridge, headed north. But he advises viewing from a higher elevation; he’s been watching from the blufftop spot at Seattle/Sunset in North Admiral.
Thanks to Lynn Hall for the photo of Washington State Ferries‘ M/V Puyallup under tow eastbound in Elliott Bay this morning, headed to Vigor on Harbor Island. It’s been three weeks since Puyallup left service on the Bainbridge Island route after reported propeller damage. We checked with WSF to see if today’s sighting was a sign it’ll be back soon. Short answer: No. Longer – WSF spokesperson Ian Sterling tells WSB, “It’s going in for a closer look and repair of the damage caused by striking something under the water a few weeks back (likely a chain or cable). Between that and scheduled maintenance, we don’t expect it to be back in service for a number of weeks.” If all goes according to schedule, though, the Seattle-Bainbridge run will be back to full capacity in about a week or so, which is when M/V Wenatchee is scheduled to return, after sea trials following maintenance work at Vigor.
Two of the photos texted to our hotline (206-293-6302) this weekend are interesting sights you might have missed:
UNWRAPPED: Thanks to Charlie G. for the photo of wind-blown Tyvek peeled off the under-construction Rally project at Charlestown/California. (Lynda B. had texted us about it earlier but it was gone by the time we arrived.)
Meantime, today’s high-mark “king tide” is 20 minutes away, at 11:49 am. Today it’s 12.4 feet – just a bit down from Saturday morning, when Tim McMonigle shared this photo from the Alki seawall:
Certainly it’s more spectacular when north winds are blowing – but as Tim noted, even without them, seeing the Sound almost over the seawall is still impressive.
(Photo by Dave Ellifrit)
Puget Sound’s endangered orca pods – the Southern Resident Killer Whales – have another calf, the eighth in the past year. The announcement came tonight from the Center for Whale Research:
Another new Baby in J Pod!! Designated J54 – sex unknown.
Mother is J28, a twenty-two year old female Southern Resident Killer Whale in the Pacific Northwest. The mother had a previous baby designated J46, a female, born in 2009 and still surviving. This brings the known births of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) to EIGHT since last December, and the total population of SRKW’s as of now to 84 known individuals. 1977 is the only previous year in the past forty years in which as many baby killer whales were born into this community of whales, and there were nine in that year. From calculations accounting for all reproductive age females, we estimate that typically up to nine babies could be produced each year, but there is usually a high rate of neonatal and perinatal mortality, and we have seen only three babies annually on average. In the years immediately following poor salmon years, we see fewer babies and higher mortality of all age cohorts.
The new baby, J54, was first seen on 1 December 2015 by several whale-watchers near San Juan Island, and photographed with J28 by Ivan Reiff, a Pacific Whale Watch Association member. However, the 1 December photographs were not conclusive in that they did not reveal distinct features of eyepatch and “saddle” pigment shape that could unequivocally rule out that it was not another baby being “baby sat” by J28. Today’s photographs in Haro Strait between San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island confirm the distinct features required for alpha-numeric designation. The new baby is estimated to be two and a half to three weeks old as of now. The family, including mother and sister, grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousin, and other J pod members continued North in Haro Strait and Swanson Channel by sunset. Presumably, they are destined for the Strait of Georgia where J pod spent an extended amount of time last December.
It is clear that the SRKW population (in particular J pod) is investing in the future, and that survival of all of the new calves and their mothers and relatives depends upon a future with plentiful salmon, especially Chinook salmon, in the eastern North Pacific Ocean ecosystem. This may be problematic with pending and unfolding Climate Change that is anticipated to be detrimental to salmon survival, in the ocean and in the rivers. Warmer ocean waters are less productive, and rivers without continual water (no snow melt – rains runoff too quickly) and with warmer water are lethal to salmon. The Pacific Salmon Foundation and Long Live the Kings are non-profit organizations concerned with the declining survival of juvenile salmon in the Salish Sea, and the Center for Whale Research is a non-profit organization concerned with the survival and demographic vigor of the Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea and coastally from Vancouver Island to California. Please get involved and support these important environmental organizations.
The SRKWs’ baby boom started late last year.
A day that began in tumult – lightning, thunder, rain, wind – ended peacefully and tunefully, in calm weather, on the Harbor Island shore, as the Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship made its first West Seattle stop of the 2015 season, at Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsoor). A cozy crowd watched from inside, while other spectators stood on the shore. Here’s some of what they heard from Choir of the Sound, singing on board, amplified for those ashore to enjoy too:
Two more West Seattle stops are ahead for the Christmas Ship, both on Saturday night (December 12th) – Lowman Beach 4:20-4:40, Alki Beach Park 5:10-5:30, with The Dickens Carolers singing; see our WSB West Seattle Holiday Guide for other events happening on Alki before/during the visit. If you want to experience the Christmas Ship from on board, schedule and booking information can be found here.
Even if the weather outside is frightful, the Christmas Ship will be delightful … and, from the WSB West Seattle Holiday Guide, you have three chances to see the Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship in West Seattle this week! Wednesday, 9:15-9:35 pm, serenading Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor), with Choir of the Sound on board; then Saturday (December 12th), 4:20-4:40 at Lowman Beach, 5:10-5:30 pm at Alki Beach Park, with The Dickens Carolers on board. Alki Bathhouse is offering cookies and hot cider, 4-7 pm, for the occasion, and you’re also invited to stop by the Log House Museum (61st/Stevens) for its “Family Holiday on the Porch” starting at 3 pm Saturday, with free cookies, cider, and chowder.
(L123, spyhopping with L103; photo by Mark Malleson)
The Center for Whale Research has announced that Puget Sound’s orcas – the Southern Resident Killer Whales – have had their seventh baby in a year, and it was first spotted off West Seattle! Here’s the CWR announcement:
The seventh calf born into the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population in the last 12 months was confirmed yesterday. Photographs taken by CWR associate Mark Malleson confirmed the existence of a new calf born to L pod. The new calf will be designated L123.
This is the first documented calf of 12-year old L103 of the L4 matriline. L123 was first photo-documented on November 10th, 2015 by Alisa Lemire-Brooks and Sarah Hisong-Shimazu from Alki Point, West Seattle. CWR research assistants, Melisa Pinnow and Jane Cogan, later captured some distant shots on November 22nd near the Jordan River in B.C.
Due to poor visibility and unfavorable sea conditions, it took several weeks to confirm that there is indeed a new calf in L pod. We frequently use eye patches to positively identify new calves which can easily be obscured by poor conditions and surface waves.
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.
The November 10th orca visit was a popular one, our archives remind us – maybe you saw the calf and didn’t realize it at the time! The orca baby boom was a big topic at this past Thursday’s Orca Talk, presented by The Whale Trail; we will be publishing a story about it tomorrow – but even the researcher who presented the talk, Brad Hanson, didn’t have word of the calf then.
Thanks to the person who texted us to point out that the Orca Network has two reports of orcas in the Fauntleroy/Vashon vicinity within the past hour. Seems they were headed southbound, so out of range for most of the West Seattle shore by now, but what goes south must eventually head back north, so keep an eye out, and please let us know of any sightings – text/voice at 206-293-6302 is always the quickest way to get us, 24/7, if something is “happening now.”
Back in April, West Seattleite Wayne Kinslow celebrated his 1,000th consecutive day of salt-water swimming, all but three off Alki. After 200 more days, he’s taking a break, starting today:
Thanks to Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive director Clay Eals for sharing his video from Wayne’s final day of the streak on Friday – he’s documented Wayne’s achievements on the SWSHS website (after all, it’s now part of West Seattle history!).
(Added: Photo by Trileigh Tucker, taken from Lowman Beach)
2:13 PM: An update from this morning’s report of southbound orcas … a fairly sizable group is now heading northbound and has drawn a crowd off Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook on Beach Drive. Unless they change direction again, you should be able to watch them along the Beach Drive shoreline for a while. Visible without binoculars – look for the blows and the small research boat!
2:24 PM: They’re heading north fairly quickly, and now out of Emma Schmitz range, so if you’re still heading out, try Constellation Park south of Alki Point. What we’ve been watching is a group of eight or so traveling very close together.
2:36 PM: We’ve had to head back inland but a texter says they’re now visible from Weather Watch Park (Beach Drive & Carroll).
9 AM: As mentioned in our traffic/transit roundup – since the report was from a ferry – orcas are back in the area this morning. Just after 8 am, commenting on one of our stories from last week, Michele reported, “A big pod of killer whales just showed off for the passengers on the 7:50 ferry to Southworth! Huge pod going south!” She didn’t report which side of Vashon they were passing – which would make a difference for visibility from here – but Orca Network regulars say it’s the east side, so they might still be visible from south West Seattle, and of course they’ll have to head back this way eventually. Updates appreciated if you see them! (You can also text our 24/7 hotline, 206-293-6302.) *Just as we were publishing this, we also heard from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail, who reports researcher Mark Sears confirmed they’re southbound off north Vashon.*
1:30 PM: Per commenters and text, they’re now passing Fauntleroy, northbound.
2 PM: We and quite a few others are along Emma Schmitz, hoping to see them soon. One request, if you’re in a car and happen to see this … please don’t idle.
2:13 PM: Saw them! They are off Emma Schmitz, midchannel. Look for the blows, and the small research boat. Visible WITHOUT binoculars! We’ve opened a new story here.
9:13 AM: Missed your chance to go look for orcas during their recent weekday visits? Maybe today is your day. Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales just texted to share a report of orcas seen in the Vashon ferry lanes. No initial word of their direction. Take your binoculars; most of the time they’re closer to the Vashon side than the West Seattle side. More when we hear it.
10:15 AM: No further reports – and the murky weather is a complication – but if they’re in the general area, they might switch directions, so you never know where/when they will turn up. Please comment if you see them – thank you.
Via Twitter, Vanessa reports the orcas are back again today. She’s seeing them southbound off Beach Drive, just south of Constellation Park. That’s the third time this week!
(Photo added: Northbound orcas, photographed from Alki Point by Guy Smith)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 8:16 AM: Two whale-watching notes: First, multiple reports this morning of orcas back in the area – seen off Beach Drive, and from the Vashon Island ferry run, headed southbound.
8:47 AM UPDATE: Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail just called – now the orcas are headed NORTH from the ferry lane – watch from Emma Schmitz Viewpoint soon.
9:06 AM: Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales texted with news they’re off Lincoln Park right now.
9:46 AM: Via Twitter, MetPatrick reports they’re now off Constellation Park (Beach Drive, south of Alki Point).
1:27 PM: Adding two more photos, from Vicky Piston on Alki:
In comments, Donna from TWT says they disappeared from view here about two hours ago. But this is the season – keep watch and let us know (206-293-6302, text or voice, any time) if and when you see them!
(back to original report) Second, humpbacks have been in the area a while, and West Seattleite Dennis Hinton shares the photo of a sighting off the south end of Blake Island on Wednesday:
He says he was fishing off Southworth in the morning when he thought he saw a humpback – then the captain confirmed the ID as seen from a ferry headed back this way in the afternoon.
NOT SURE WHAT KIND OF WHALE YOU SAW? Check the species-ID info on The Whale Trail‘s website.
(Added 2:36 pm, photos by Gary Jones @ Alki Point)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 10:05 AM: Once again this morning, heads-up that orcas might be passing our shores soon. They didn’t make it this far south on Monday but they apparently did some traveling overnight, because Orca Network commenters (thanks again to Trileigh for the tip) are seeing them off Burien’s Three Tree Point – northbound this time – as of just before 10 am.
10:57 AM: Per Jen‘s comment, and also what we’re seeing from Orca Network commenters, they’re still headed northbound along Vashon; Jen notes that they are closer to the Vashon side, so if you’re looking from here, you’ll most likely need binoculars.
NOON: They are visible off north Vashon! We are now with Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail at Constellation Park.
12:30 PM: One group is past north Blake Island now; another one is off north Vashon. Still visible with binoculars. Donna says they’ve been confirmed as Southern Resident Killer Whales (the ones seen in the area earlier in the year were “transients” – one big difference is that SRKWs eat salmon, transients also eat marine mammals).
12:48 PM: We’ve left Constellation Park but Donna just called to say researcher Mark Sears, who is out with the whales, reports that one group is “headed right for Alki.”