(2013 photo by Trileigh Tucker)
With the heartbreaking news these past few days of the death of pregnant Puget Sound-resident orca J-32, many wonder, can anything more be done to keep the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ numbers from dwindling further? Come hear and talk about them at The Whale Trail‘s next West Seattle event, 6:30 pm December 17th at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor). Here’s the announcement from TWT’s Donna Sandstrom:
With the loss of J-32, the southern resident orcas are down to just 77 individuals. Join us Dec 17 for a seasonal gathering to share our concern for and connection to these beloved and iconic whales.
Researcher Mark Sears will share photos from recent encounters with J, K, and L pods in Puget Sound. Seal Sitters and Diver Laura James will be there too.
Bring your ideas, your passion and your good energy. We’ll provide snacks, speakers, and tools to get involved.
Together we’ll find light in the dark for the whales.
(Mark Sears is one of the researchers you’ll see sometimes when orcas pass through our area, in a boat like the one in the photo above.) Tickets are $5 (kids free), available online. C & P is at 5612 California SW.
One person who recently reported a coyote sighting phrased it more as a surprise that they are in West Seattle. So that’s why we mention them from time to time … in hopes fewer will be surprised. That report was from a man out with his 3-month old daughter who saw it in the 37th/Hudson vicinity. Other recent reports include an early-morning sighting as a coyote emerged from Lincoln Park; a coyote running down 40th SW in Gatewood, toward Othello; one jumping over a 6-foot fence in Arbor Heights to try to get a backyard chicken; two in Highland Park around HP Way and Othello; 6700 block of 42nd in Morgan Junction; and one near Fauntleroy and Dawson.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE ONE? As the experts advise – try to scare it away – shout, wave, throw rocks, and remove every source of food you can (that includes outdoor pet food as well as small pets themselves, although experts say they more often eat small wild animals such as rats). Want to see where else they’ve been reported in the six-plus years we’ve been publishing sightings? Click the word “coyotes” under the headline of this story, to reach the archive.
(Possibly the last photo of J32 – at right – by Melisa Pinnow, provided by Orca Network)
11:45 PM: Another death reported tonight among the endangered orcas whose home is Puget Sound and adjacent waters. The orca found dead in British Columbia is identified as a member of J Pod, J32, known as “Rhapsody,” an 18-year-old female. According to reports including this one published by the Vancouver Sun, she might have been pregnant – a necropsy will reveal whether that’s true. J32′s death comes less than two months after the death of baby L120 was reported. The Southern Resident Killer Whales’ total number is now down to 77, much lower than the triple-digit population the official “recovery plan” had envisioned by now, as discussed at this recent talk presented by The Whale Trail.
11:53 PM: We have the full Orca Network news release about J32′s death – click ahead:
11:34 AM: Orcas are back in Puget Sound today, and might be visible off West Seattle soon. After tips to a sighting off Kingston at midmorning – thanks to our friends at Killer Whale Tales and The Whale Trail for early alerts – we’re seeing mentions via Orca Network FB commenters that they’ve been seen from Discovery Park, still “trending southbound.” Expert advice for today includes using binoculars to watch from bluffs, rather than on the surface. Please let us know if you see them – comment here, or text/voice 206-293-6302; we’ll be looking too.
1:08 PM UPDATE: By multiple reports, including Gary‘s comment here, they’ve turned back northward just as they got close to our area … for now.
12:58 PM: Early alert this time – text reports orcas are “south of Vashon” and headed northbound. No research boat this time because conditions and weather are less than optimal. If you missed the weekend sightings – photos and updates from Saturday are here, video by “Diver Laura” James is here. As always, we appreciate your updates if/when you see them – comment and/or text/call our 24/7 hotline, 206-293-6302!
1:23 PM: And … guess that’s the potential risk with early alerts. They’ve now turned to head through the Tacoma Narrows, southbound. But if that changes later, we’ll update here again.
3:51 PM: According to the Orca Network’s Facebook page, whales are now passing Olalla in Kitsap County, along the passage west of Vashon, northbound. It’s misty/murky looking west from Beach Drive (where we’re working right now) but you never know, they might be in view before nightfall.
No West Seattle sightings today that we’ve heard of, but Saturday, Southern Resident orcas passed our area headed southbound in the morning, and then back northbound in the afternoon (as reported here – thanks again to everyone who shared location updates!). “Diver Laura” James was watching from the Brace Point area during the northbound pass, and shares the video above (we mentioned it briefly in last night’s sea-star report but you might have gone right past the link). Note that the boat with the orcas in the last two minutes was carrying researchers.
A sea star wasn’t always such a memorable sight on a tidepool walk. Saturday night, though, we were glad to hear some were spotted in Constellation Park during a nighttime low-tide walk with Seattle Aquarium naturalists. The photo is by Antonio Ventimiglia, shared by Tom, who spotted the exploration event (sorry we didn’t have it on our calendar; turns out two more are coming up in December and January, and tonight you might just want to explore the beach yourself, as the tide will be out to -2.3 feet around 11:20 pm Sunday). Back to the sea stars; you’ll recall a new report earlier this week suggested a not-so-new virus might be factoring into the massive die-off. “Diver Laura” James, who has long been watching and investigating the sea star situation as a “citizen scientist,” went back to survey in Cove 1 near Seacrest shortly afterward; she shares this video spanning 8 years, from a time of plentiful starfish, to now:
P.S. Laura was out whale-watching Saturday afternoon, as were many others – here’s her video, featuring a multitude of spouts as the group of orcas swam in nearby waters.
(Photo by Trileigh Tucker)
8:53 AM: Southbound orcas were seen from the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry about half an hour ago, according to a thread on the Orca Network Facebook page. That could place them off our shores now or soon. Still blustery out there, so you’ll almost certainly need binoculars (also, sounds like they’re closer to the east side of the Sound). Let us know if you see them!
9:38 AM: In comments, Gary noted them passing Alki Point, and we’ve since received Jeff Hogan (Killer Whale Tales)’s text report of a Lincoln Park-area sighting, still southbound. This time of year, they are chasing the chum salmon run – same one that has brought net fishers into view in the past few weeks – so here’s hoping they are finding the food they need for survival.
(Photo by Paul B)
2:27 PM: See comments for the orcas’ travels since then. Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail has just posted on Facebook that they’ve turned back northbound and could be passing south West Seattle shores again by 3 pm if they continue their current path. We’ve also added photos from earlier.
3:37 PM: Donna just called – the whales are visible from Lincoln Park, with the blows visible from this side, and she’s off to the South Alki area in about 10 minutes – look for a pod of people watching from shore (she brings excellent binoculars).
(Photos by Torin Record-Sand for WSB, unless otherwise credited)
Tomorrow morning, you’re invited to join Puget Soundkeeper Alliance for a walk along Longfellow Creek in North Delridge, as the group continues to investigate the health of local salmon. We got a preview by joining Kathryn Davis and Michelle Piñon from Soundkeeper on Wednesday as they were joined by Elissa Ostergaard, a creek steward from South King County.
As WSB readers had reported earlier this month, they say they’ve seen many coho in the creek. We didn’t see any live fish on Wednesday, perhaps because of the semi-long dry spell (now over), but we did learn what you can find out from a dead fish, once one was spotted:
Thanks to West Seattleite Art Cazares for the quick clip and this report:
It has been one or two years since I last witnessed the birth of a new clutch “eaglets” at Lincoln Park, in West Seattle. I watched meticulously last time the Bald Eagles produced their clutch resulting in two chicks; one which died or fell out of the nest. Even more exciting, was to witness the successful raising on the one chick who grew into young adulthood and eventually flew away. Many at the park marveled each day and set up cameras and lawn chairs to witness the daily feedings and events.
Well, I’m pleased to report that the eagles have returned and once again; the warbled communication of their cries can be heard as they rebuild the nest that was partially destroyed by wind storms just a couple of months ago. I’ve included footage that i took just yesterday as the female returned to her nest with twigs and branches. It’s exciting to see that this mated pair might be planning for a new family next year. I’ve been to Lincoln Park 3 days in a row in the early morning to witness this rebuilding.
If you stand below the nest (which is about 100 feet up), you can see many branches sitting at the base of the trunk of the evergreen tree…auspiciously, the eagles have done some remodeling! :)
Cheers and best of luck to the “love birds!”
Just might be the same eagle photographed by Trileigh Tucker and shown here two weeks ago (or that eagle’s mate)! (She also documented, 2 years ago, the eaglet that Art mentions.) Read more about bald eagles here.
(File photo courtesy Laura James)
Thanks to “Diver Laura” James, who long has worked on the sea-star die-off mystery as a “citizen scientist,” for the tip on this: New scientific research says a virus is the likely culprit in the deaths of so many of what are commonly known as starfish. The Seattle Times (WSB partner) published a report this afternoon, pointing to the research paper itself (read it here), which concludes, “Based on our observations, the densovirus, SSaDV, is the most likely virus involved in this disease.” However, the researchers note, this isn’t a new virus, so they still don’t have the big picture of what’s happening and what it might lead to.
P.S. It’s been a year since Diver Laura first pointed out die-off evidence on West Seattle shores/in West Seattle waters, and she’s continuing to follow up on what’s happening now.
That short clip by Elizabeth Butler shows the first two coho spawners spotted this fall at the mouth of Fauntleroy Creek south of the ferry dock, back on October 25th. That’s how the volunteer salmon-watchers’ season started; now, after more than a week without sightings, it’s ended. Here’s the wrap-up report from Judy Pickens, including the visitor count as well as the fish count:
Salmon Watch 2014 on Fauntleroy Creek closed Nov. 7, a week after volunteers documented the last of 19 coho spawners to come into the creek.
Eleven volunteers watched for nearly three weeks, recording the first fish on Oct. 25, a day ahead of the annual salmon drumming. They noted spawning behavior at two locations and saw a third pair heading upstream at dusk with enough energy that they may also have left fertilized eggs. Spawning locations will be monitored in late January/early February to see if fry emerge to start feeding in the creek.
In addition to the fish, volunteers welcomed at least 190 visitors to see the action and learn about salmon and the creek habitat.
This fall marked the 20th anniversary of coho spawners in Fauntleroy Creek. Restoration activity happened just in time for a pair of fish to come in at high tide in 1994 and spawn a few yards up the creek. Since then, the number of spawners has fluctuated wildly, from zero some years to the record-smashing 274 recorded in 2012.
Thanks to Judy and to Dennis Hinton for sharing information and photos during the watch (not to mention other times of the year, including spring, when volunteers host schoolchildren at creekside, releasing salmon fry raised by their classes).
Quick note for whale fans: We’ve received a couple reports that the humpback seen in the area recently is in the Lincoln Park vicinity right now.
The Whale Trail’s Orca Talks: Southern Resident Killer Whales’ status next time; protection-zone proposal last timeNovember 5, 2014 at 10:16 pm | In Environment, West Seattle news, Wildlife | 5 Comments
(2012 photo by Rick Rasmussen)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Ten years after they were formally listed as endangered, what do we really know about Puget Sound’s endangered orcas, formally known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales?
One of the focal points of her research is how boat traffic affects the whales. And that was at the heart of The Whale Trail’s first Orca Talk of the season, last Thursday at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor).
During that event, Bruce Stedman of Orca Relief talked about his organization’s proposal of a zone in the San Juans where boats would have to keep a greater distance from whales than they do now. He said it’s not the only action that’s needed to help them – but it’s the one that could make a difference the quickest. Pointedly, he noted that the recovery plan originally envisioned up to 115 Southern Resident Killer Whales by 2015, but that is at this point beyond impossible … that’s three dozen more than the current population, which has had only one birth in the past two years, the calf that is now missing and presumed dead.
— Wade Harper (@Wade_68) November 5, 2014
1:27 PM: Thanks to two tipsters who have mentioned a lone whale – believed to be a humpback – headed northbound, fairly close to West Seattle’s shore. By Me-Kwa-Mooks on Beach Drive, according to the phone call we just received. Let us know if you see it!
4:43 PM: As commenters noted, it traveled into Elliott Bay. Wade tweeted the photo we’ve added above.
THURSDAY MORNING: 7:30 am sighting near Seahurst in Burien, according to the Orca Network FB page.
Here’s the latest proof of that:
That photo is from Scott, who says the coyote was “right in the front yard” at 39th and Graham, 8 am today. *Added – an 8:20 am photo from Jamie, same area*:
Another sighting this morning, via Twitter:
There was a coyote hanging out at Fauntleroy and Raymond this morning @westseattleblog
— Dorcas Bean (@dorcasbean) November 5, 2014
And Robyn saw one “run west up the sidewalk on Rose Street west of 35th” around 5 o’clock Tuesday evening.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE ONE? As the experts advise – do everything you can to scare it away. Yell, wave, throw rocks. That’s what experts urge, to encourage them to keep their distance. And remove every source of food you can (that includes outdoor pet food as well as small pets themselves, although experts say they more often eat small wild animals such as rats).
19 coho so far this week but none yet today, according to Fauntleroy Creek steward Judy Pickens, who is out today along the otherwise-private reach of the creek, talking with visitors, until 3:30 pm.
To get there, walk down the private driveway that’s off Director, off the northeast end of the creek overlook that’s across Fauntleroy Way (and up the embankment) from the ferry dock, and go around the house to find the path down to the creek. Judy was at the second footbridge when we stopped by.
3:47 PM P.S.: If you didn’t make it there today, you have another chance tomorrow, 12:30 pm-3:30 pm. More than a dozen people already had visited by the time we were there; one visitor was visiting Seattle from Boston!
Volunteers at Fauntleroy Creek have now counted 19 coho this week, and since the weather’s cleared up and there’s a chance of more fish, they invite you to come take a look this weekend. From Judy Pickens:
Salmon-watch volunteers on Fauntleroy Creek invite anyone who is interested to come down to the spawning reach on Saturday or Sunday afternoon between 12:30 and 3:30. Seeing coho spawners isn’t guaranteed but this “open creek” will be a chance to learn more about salmon and their habitat. Children are especially encouraged to come. Park on upper Fauntleroy Way SW, above the ferry terminal, and access the reach down the private driveway at 4539 SW Director Place.
Here’s a map.
Two coyote reports this Halloween: Paul tweeted about one in Fauntleroy, at California/Director, and we got a text about a “skinny coyote” near California/98th in Arbor Heights. Other reports in the past week or so include another one in Arbor Heights last Sunday, in which a coyote was interrupted while killing a cat (39th/100th); Upper Morgan (38th/Morgan); Puget Ridge (18th/Myrtle). If you’re new or haven’t seen these reports before, over the past six years we have received reader-reported sightings just about everywhere in West Seattle. This information from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife explains what to do if you see one (short answer – scare it away). Our previous coyote reports are archived here.
Thanks to Guy and Joy Smith for another unusual Alki Point sighting – a brown pelican. They report it “rested on the water just north of Alki Point (Wednesday) before it headed south around the point.” Though the photo is from a distance, it’s clear from the pelican’s coloring that it’s a mature brown pelican – the ones that are truly “brown” are juveniles, like this one that hung around West Seattle for a while in early 2013. They are more common the further south you go, but generally keep to the seacoast and aren’t often seen on inland waterways like ours.
The salmon homecoming continues! Above, another coho from Fauntleroy Creek; on Monday afternoon, Dennis Hinton reported, he and Judy Pickens “saw four new coho come through the culvert and shoot up the creek. Three were females, 4-5-pounds. One was a red-sided male, about 7 or 8 pounds. The big male did something I’ve never seen before in all my years of watching at Fauntleroy Creek. It leaped entirely out of the water over weir #6, into the next pool. Spectacular sight. Just like you’ve seen in the movies.” The photo above shows that red-sided male, one of nine counted in the creek as of last night (if we get an update for today, we’ll add it). Find out more about Fauntleroy Creek here. (**ADDED 8:58 PM** As Dennis notes in comments, 4 more today – 13 total in 3 days.)
(back to original report) And we’ve heard a couple reports of salmon back in Longfellow Creek, too – John sent a photo:
He “counted at least five around and under the salmon bone bridge” during a visit on Monday morning. You can find out more about Longfellow Creek (and its Legacy Trail) on this city webpage.
(Seen at the Fauntleroy Creek overlook late today)
4:53 PM: One dayhttp://westseattleblog.com/ after Judy Pickens sent a reminder of tomorrow’s drumming-the-salmon-home event, with a promise that she’d let us know as soon as there was a Fauntleroy Creek coho sighting, she has an update: “Elizabeth Butler and Chris Kim win the prize for spotting the season’s first spawners near the beach. All this rain, plus 11-foot tides, have brought them in ahead of tomorrow evening’s drumming!”
If you are on the volunteer salmon-watch roster, that means it’s time to sign up for specific shifts. Otherwise, they should be in view soon from the overlook at Fauntleroy and Director (map), across the street from the ferry dock (and up the embankment), where the drumming/singing is set for 5 pm Sunday.
6:32 PM: We stopped by the overlook before dark. It’s not a good viewing spot – lots of overgrowth – but when watchers are on duty, you can walk to the creek from Director St. just east of there. Judy was just there with Dennis Hinton and says that while coho #1 was eaten by a river otter, #2 and #3 were spotted under a bridge on the creek. She adds, “I’ll be spending most of my afternoon tomorrow down at the creek for any folk who wish to visit.”
11:57 PM: Dennis sent photos! Added the one you see above.
(WSB photo from last year’s Fauntleroy Creek gathering to call the salmon home)
Last year, they were a no-show; the year before, a record run. What will this year bring for coho salmon in Fauntleroy Creek? Steward Judy Pickens says would-be salmon spectators are already showing up at the creek but should know, no one’s seen any yet, and the official volunteer-powered salmon watch won’t start until Monday. Once they see one, she’ll share the news with us, and you’ll be welcome to come down and try to get a glimpse any time a salmon-watcher is on duty. Meantime, the symbolic start to the season is this Sunday, 5 pm, when you are invited to join in the annual “calling the salmon home” gathering at the Fauntleroy fish ladder (Fauntleroy/Director, across the street from the ferry dock, up the embankment) – bring something to drum with if you can, but not mandatory.
Late in the day, orcas were back in the area, first time since last Friday’s throng, heading south – thanks to @sudsymaggie for tweeting the report! – so if you’re by the water tomorrow, keep watch, and please let us know (text/call 206-293-6302) if you see them. Even though weather made the viewing tougher, orca lovers were somewhat balmed, after the sadness of last night’s report that the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ first baby in two years is missing and presumed dead.
Unlike most of their counterparts, the southern residents subsist on fish, and they are here looking for chum salmon; as of last weekend, the run didn’t yet appear to be plentiful – Guy Smith on Alki Point sent a photo of a purse seiner that he said didn’t seem to be hauling much in on Sunday night (though apparently it did net some fish before departing Monday morning).
Also regarding the chum, our friends at the Kitsap Sun have published this update about how things are looking across the water.
WEDNESDAY MORNING: A sighting was reported from the Bainbridge ferry just after 7 am, by a commenter on the Orca Network FB page, a few orcas headed toward the southwest. Weather’s awfully murky today but conditions can change quickly, so …
(Photo by Carrie Sapp)
After the Southern Resident Killer Whales came through last Friday, the experts noticed someone missing in other regional sightings – baby L120, first calf born to the local orcas in two years. No one wanted to announce her death until word came from orca experts – and now it has, shared in a news release via Orca Network:
The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that baby L120, only about seven weeks old and the third known offspring of a 23-year old Southern Resident orca known as L86, was not with his or her mother when she and other members of L pod were photographed recently in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said, “L86 was seen and photographed on Friday, Saturday, and Monday, all without L120.”
L120 was the first newborn Southern Resident offspring seen since August 2012. In February of that year the the body of L86′s second offspring, 3-year old female L112, washed up at Long Beach Wash. with indications of death by severe acoustic trauma.
Research conducted in recent years has shown that Southern Resident orcas depend almost entirely on chinook salmon for sustenance, with a diet of chum salmon during fall months when chinook are especially scarce.
This orca clan has suffered episodic food deficiency for many decades, as chinook salmon runs were depleted by habitat destruction, excessive harvest and dams from Alaska to California. They were also routinely shot at for decades and over 50 were captured or killed for theme parks during the 1960s and 70s, followed by wanton disposal of persistent toxins into Puget Sound that continue to impair fetal development and immune responses, especially when the whales can’t find sufficient food.
“We haven’t treated these magnificent orcas well at all. As a society we are not successfully restoring this orca community despite the many warnings and legal declarations. Our challenge is clear: bountiful salmon runs must be restored and protected or we won’t see Resident orcas in the Salish Sea in coming years.” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.
The loss of her second baby must be especially traumatic for L86, but knowing this young orca will never grow up and reproduce is painful for all who care about this precariously dwindling extended family. Now down to only 78 members, the Southern Resident community is at or below their numbers in 2001 when alarms rang with such intensity that they were eventually listed as endangered under the ESA in 2005.
(Starting at :15 in, you’ll see some whales – sorry for the shakiness, very long zoom!)
8:59 AM: If you’re anywhere near the water today, keep watch for orcas! Just before nightfall Thursday, the Orca Network had southbound sightings in the north Sound – first sightings that far south in quite a while. Then this morning around 7:30 am, according to West Seattleite Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales, sightings were reported off Vashon Island – still southbound, but at some point, they will have to head back this way, so we’re sharing the alert. If you see whales, please let us know (text/voice 206-293-6302 is our breaking-news hotline, and this qualifies); we’ll update with any reports.
9:40 AM: Still southbound, south of us, per this ON commenter – off Point Robinson on Maury Island (across Puget Sound from Des Moines) about 20 minutes ago.
10:44 AM: Now at least some of the whales are reported to have turned and headed northbound.
12:14 PM: Jeff just texted to say that whales believed to be from all three resident pods are “trending northbound” past Three Tree Point south of West Seattle.
(Added: Photo by Greg Snyder)
1:28 PM: In view! Passing Blake Island.
1:58 PM: The research boat is visible off Blake Island – binoculars definitely needed – if you are near Me-Kwa-Mooks on Beach Drive as we are now. Some whales are ahead of it, some behind.
5:38 PM: Continuing to add visuals from today’s sightings as we get them. Above and (added) below, photos by Gary Jones, as the orcas passed Alki Lighthouse.
Here’s word of the first presentation in a new series of Orca Talks presented by West Seattle-headquartered The Whale Trail: You’ll hear about the proposal for “A Protected Zone for Puget Sound Orcas,” 7 pm Thursday, October 30th at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor). From TWT executive director Donna Sandstrom:
The Southern Resident Killer Whales are endangered and seriously declining; their 2014 population of 79 is the lowest since 1985. To aid their recovery, Orca Relief is urging NOAA Fisheries to conduct a public process that will result in a Whale Protection Zone for the SRKWs.
A well designed and enforced WPZ would provide the Southern Resident Orca a safe-haven in the very core of their critical habitat, and a relief from vessel impacts including noise, disturbance and air pollution. Bruce Stedman, Executive Director of Orca Relief, will describe the key aspects of how a protected area for the Orca should be developed and how it could help the SRKWs begin to recover.
These talks are usually sellouts – get your ticket(s) ASAP online, $5 suggested donation, kids free. C & P is at 5612 California SW.
Header image by Nick Adams. ABSOLUTELY NO WSB PHOTO REUSE WITHOUT SITE OWNERS' PERMISSION.
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