West Seattle, Washington
(J2, photographed by Leigh Calvez in the San Juans in 2011)
After almost three months without a sighting, another of the Southern Resident Killer Whales is believed to be dead, orca experts are saying tonight. This time it’s J2, nicknamed Granny, believed to have been the oldest of Puget Sound’s endangered resident orcas at ~105 years old, according to Ken Balcomb‘s “in memoriam” essay on the Center for Whale Research website, which concludes:
The SRKW population is now estimated to be 78 as of 31 December 2016, and J pod contains only 24 individuals plus the wandering L87. To whom will he attach now? Who will lead the pod into the future? Is there a future without food? What will the human leaders do?
The SRKW’s predicament was our choice for the top West Seattle wildlife story of 2016 – and it’s unfortunate that another orca death is making headlines so early in 2017. According to the Orca Network‘s website, L25 (Ocean Sun) is now the oldest of the SRKWs, estimated at 89 years old.
While we don’t usually spend much time looking back as each year wraps up, we do have a few reviews to share before 2016 makes its exit tomorrow night. First – our picks for the year’s top 5 West Seattle wildlife stories:
#5 – THE MYSTERY TURKEY(S)
Back in May, we started getting reports about, and photos of, a turkey ambling about West Seattle – from Pigeon Point to Lincoln Park to Alki. Then-Seattle Animal Shelter director Don Jordan (RIP) told WSB the sightings might have involved multiple turkeys. The mystery was never solved, but what might have been the same turkey turned up in North Seattle neighborhoods a few weeks later, we learned from commenters.
#4 – ‘WESTLEY’ THE DEER
Some found it hilarious that West Seattleites were so interested in a deer, given their proliferation in other areas as close as Vashon Island, just across the water. But the deer that appeared here in November, quickly nicknamed “Westley” in comments, was the first deer seen in West Seattle in a very long time. It was also observed that Westley seemed to be the same deer dubbed “Lefty” during sightings in Union Bay months earlier. While here, he crisscrossed the peninsula, and many worried he would come to an end via someone’s bumper – but instead, he headed south, and at last mention had been seen in Federal Way.
#3 – LINCOLN PARK GEESE PROCREATION, THEN RELOCATION
In June, hearts were warmed by news that the well-known white geese of Lincoln Park (and vicinity) had babies. But it wasn’t long before the sad news that two had been hit and killed. Then one of the adults vanished. And in a startling development in September – the surviving geese were captured and relocated to a Vashon Island sanctuary. Later in September, we published this report with followup information (and backstory on how the geese got to Fauntleroy in the first place), and that’s the last we’ve heard.
An alert from Lauren:
About 5:15 pm tonight we (myself, 1.5 yr old son, and large dog) were attacked by an owl on Marine View between SW 110 St and SW 108 St. [map] It divebombed at my son and I three times as we ran inside. Luckily it didn’t catch us. I think it was going after my son’s pom on his beanie.
They’ve seen it before in the area – brown, “couple feet wingspan,” possibly a barred owl. Here’s what the state Fish and Wildlife Department says about divebombing owls.
Though the Southern Resident Killer Whales were declared an endangered species in 2005, they’re not recovering, the federal government acknowledges, saying that the population “remains small and vulnerable and has not had a net increase in abundance since the mid-1980s.” The three pods together now number just 79 after J34’s death last week in British Columbia. Tonight, West Seattle was one of three locations where people concerned about the iconic orcas held vigils. More than 25 people gathered by Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza, with flowers and candles in memory of and tribute to the resident orcas lost this year.
The vigil was organized “in solidarity with” one held by the Orca Network at the same time at the Langley Whale Center on Whidbey Island; another was planned in the San Juans.
With the Southern Resident Killer Whale population down to 79 after the death of J34 in B.C. waters last week, many who love our orcas continue to wonder what can they personally do – if anything – to try to help keep the endangered whales from dwindling to extinction. Donna Sandstrom, the West Seattleite who founded and leads The Whale Trail, shares these thoughts, republished with permission from TWT’s website:
Let the untimely death of this young whale inspire us to address the issues that are impacting these orcas: lack of salmon, toxin accumulations, and noise and stress from boats. It is not one of these things, but all.
A well-meaning and concerned public has been led to focus exclusively on bringing down the Snake River dams, as if that was the only or even the best thing we can do to help these whales.
Bringing down dams is a complex challenge that will take decades to accomplish. Meanwhile, these pods are disappearing before our eyes. There are plenty of things each and all of us can do *right now* to help.
Watch from Shore. Noise and stress from boats makes it harder for hungry whales to catch the fewer salmon that *are* there. The next time J, K, or L pods are near, find a Whale Trail site near you and watch them from shore. Know that by reducing sound in their environment, you are giving them a better chance to make it.
Support a Whale Protection Zone. Orca Relief and others have petitioned NOAA Fisheries to establish a protected zone for orcas on the west side of San Juan Island. Sign the petition now, and encourage NOAA to give the whales acoustic space in a critical part of their range.
Reduce Toxins. Living on the edge of the Sound, the choices we make in our daily lives have an impact on whether these whales will survive. Orcas are at the top of the ocean food chain. Toxins like PCBs, PBDEs and DDT bioaccumulate in orcas, stored in lipid cells like blubber and mother’s milk. When the orcas are stressed, the toxins may be released into their bloodstream, and make them more susceptible to diseases. Any actions we take to reduce toxins from entering Puget Sound is a win for the whales.
A few simple suggestions:
*Don’t use pesticides on your lawns. Plant a rain garden, or a native plant, to filter toxins and prevent them from entering the Sound as runoff.
*Walk or take the bus instead of driving once a week, and reduce the oil that runs off pavement into the Sound.
Learning from Success:
Next year we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of Springer the orphaned orca going home. In 2002, she was rescued, rehabilitated and reunited with her pod on the north end of Vancouver Island. Three years ago, she had her first calf. It’s the only successful orca reunion in history.
Why does this story matter, and what bearing does it have on the survival of the southern residents?
To get the whale home, we had to learn how to work together, as individuals, and across organizations, agencies and nations.
Above all, we put the whales’ best interest first.
What hope there is for the whales begins with being honest about the issues that are impacting them. That means, putting their best interest ahead of our own, whether commercial, financial, or simply a desire to get closer that puts them further at risk.
We must encourage and embolden our governments to move urgently to protect this population. We must also understand that NOAA and DFO can’t do this alone—as with Springer, we each have a role to play.
As the days lengthen, let’s match the sadness we feel about J-34’s death with a strengthened resolve to protect his family. Their fate is in our hands — that is our challenge, and our hope. Together, we’ll find light in the dark for the whales.
While early necropsy results showed that “blunt-force trauma” killed J34, researchers have not yet conclusively identified the source. This was the third J-pod orca death announced in less than two months.
9:22 AM: Heartbreaking news overnight for those who cherish our area’s endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales: Another one is gone. An orca found dead in Sechelt, B.C. [map] has been identified as J34, an 18-year-old male. CBC News and CTV News reports say the orca was spotted floating on Tuesday and brought to shore yesterday so a necropsy could be done.
— CTV News (@CTVNews) December 22, 2016
No word yet on what has been found. Meanwhile, this tribute by the Orca Network puts the loss in context. An excerpt:
How to express this loss of beautiful young J34 Doublestuf? Of course we can only imagine how his mom J22 Oreo must feel from so much tragedy in her small matriline. In the mid 1990s the J10s were a bonded family with mom J10 Tahoma and big brother J18 Everett and sisters J20 Ewok and J22, always close. Then it started, with J20 dying in 1998, leaving her 2-year old J32 Rhapsody to be raised by younger sister J22, followed soon after by losing mom J10 in 1999, and a few months later big brother J18 washed up near Vancouver at 22 years old. J22 became mom and matriarch at that point. Just 2 years ago J32 and her unborn baby were found dead near Comox in Georgia Strait. And now, with J34 gone, only 31-year old J22 and her 13-year old son J38 Cookie remain. They need our help now more than ever.
Since the death of J1 Ruffles in 2010, J34 was often the most recognizable member of J pod, with his tall, slender, still gently curved dorsal fin with the telltale scallop midway in the trailing edge. …
The last J Pod deaths were announced by whale advocates two months ago, when they summoned reporters to the downtown waterfront (WSB coverage here) to call for pressure on the federal government to breach Snake River dams that are contributing to a shortage of salmon, which is what the resident orcas eat. Even before J34’s death was announced, the Orca Network was planning a candlelight vigil for the SRKWs for December 27th at the Langley Whale Center on Whidbey Island (where ON is based).
11:47 AM: The Center for Whale Research has just sent its news release about J34’s death:
We regret having to make a distressing announcement during this holiday season, but we confirm from news photographs and eyepatch photos sent to the Center for Whale Research that the killer whale carcass that was towed to a beach near Sechelt on the BC Sunshine coast is indeed that of J34, an eighteen-year-old male in the iconic J pod of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population. The carcass was observed floating near shore on Tuesday, December 20th 2016 and was recovered by coast guard personnel and Sechelt First Nation members.
We are awaiting the results of a necropsy conducted late Wednesday by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for an official report of J34’s body condition and cause of death. We reported that J34 was looking skinny this past summer.
At least four other J pod members have died so far in 2016: J55 in January, J14 in July, and a mother and calf J28 and J54 in October.
J34’s eighteen-year-old cousin, J32, died from birthing complications and emaciation in December 2014 and her necropsy report was released to the public in April 2016.
For over a decade, we have been voicing concern that these whales are not getting sufficient salmon for their survival and that all fisheries management options should be considered including catch limits and strategic dam removal to recover endangered wild salmon populations. However, a blue-ribbon panel of experts assembled by DFO and NOAA Fisheries concluded in 2012 that they were: “skeptical that reduced Chinook salmon harvesting would have a large impact on the abundance of Chinook salmon available to SRKW.”
However, in May 2016 Federal District Court Judge Michael D. Simon rejected the status quo on dam operations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and called for an extensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to determine dam related impacts to federally endangered salmon in the Columbia basin – salmon that are vital to the Southern Resident killer whales in coastal waters during the winter months and when they do not find sufficient food in the Salish Sea during the rest of the year.
Assuming no other whales are missing, J pod now has 25 members, K pod 19 members, and L pod 35 members.
Total SRKW population 79, but this number is obviously subject to change with births and deaths at any time.
CWR also released photos of J34, and we have added one atop this story.
ADDED MONDAY NIGHT: Early necropsy results show J34 died of “blunt force trauma,” possibly the result of a ship strike.
Thanks to Alisa for the tip: Washington State Ferries reported southbound orcas about half an hour ago off Bainbridge Island’s Restoration Point. “Presumably residents,” she adds, noting that J-Pod was seen in the Sound yesterday. Please let us know if you see them!
The photo and report are from Seal Sitters volunteer David Hutchinson:
Last Tuesday, Seal Sitters was involved in an unusual situation. While on a routine check of the Don Armeni boat ramp, we came across a dead bald eagle on the beach. Contact was made with US Fish & Wildlife in Redmond (425-883-8122) and permission was given for us to retrieve the carcass and keep it on ice until the next day when it would be picked up by an enforcement officer. We were informed later that the eagle had been checked very closely and that it “appears to be a natural death”. Please be aware that it is illegal to possess dead eagle parts or feathers, except in certain cases – see the links below. Birds can transmit diseases to humans – protective gloves should always be worn when handling sick or dead birds.
Based on a comparison of photos, it is believed by Seal Sitters that this eagle is the same as the one seen frequently over the last few months, perching on light poles and on the beach along Alki Ave and at Duwamish Head. That eagle had damage near the pupil of its right eye – as shown in the included photo taken back on September 3rd . This damage was confirmed on examination by USFW.
Just a reminder that as part of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Seal Sitters responds to live or dead marine mammals on the beaches of West Seattle. Please contact our hotline at 206-905-7325 to report these cases. Seal Sitters is not responsible for responding to reports of dead or live birds. Please check out the following links for the appropriate contacts and additional information.
(We believe the eagle shown in three photos in this WSB item from September is the one David’s referring to.)
Their appearances are thrilling … their predicament, alarming. Get the latest about our local orcas next Thursday when The Whale Trail‘s first Orca Talk of the season features NOAA Fisheries’ Lynne Barre talking about “Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales: Species in the Spotlight.” Tickets are available now for the 7 pm December 15th event at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor).
Last year NOAA Fisheries launched the Species in the Spotlight initiative focused on stabilizing the populations of eight endangered species at very high risk of extinction. Southern Residents are one of the Species in the Spotlight.
With this effort NOAA is marshaling resources and focusing on partnerships to turn around the decline towards extinction and support conservation of endangered species. Lynne will highlight some recent recovery and conservation efforts for Southern Resident killer whales called for in the Species in the Spotlight Action Plan.
This is the first of the 2016/17 Orca Talk series hosted by The Whale Trail in West Seattle, with help from Seal Sitters. Join us to celebrate the seasonal return of the orcas to local waters, and do some holiday shopping too!
Buy tickets now to reserve your seat. And hurry! This will likely sell out.
Speaker Lynne Barre is the Branch Chief for Marine Mammals and Puget Sound Species for NOAAs Protected Resources division in Seattle. She has been with the agency for more than 15 years, implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. Since 2003 she has worked on the endangered listing of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, designated critical habitat, developed and finalized a recovery plan, and implemented actions to conserve and recover the whales. As part of the recovery program, she developed an oil -spill response plan and protective regulations for killer whales in Washington.
Tickets are $5 (suggested donation), kids free – get yours now at brownpapertickets.com.
The Whale Trail‘s Donna Sandstrom sends early warning that orcas might be swimming southbound off West Seattle before sunset. She reports that Orca Network‘s Kersti Muul reported them off Richmond Beach, and so she’ll be looking northward from Alki starting around 3 pm. Just an early alert since the weather’s good – for now! – and we have about two more hours of light.
Just wanted to alert people that we just saw a coyote walking down our street on 37th between Willow and Myrtle. [map] It’s a busy walking area but fortunately no one was out at that specific moment. It was walking southward and into someone’s driveway towards the greenbelt area.
If you see a coyote, best thing to do, for your sake and the animal’s sake, is to do your best to frighten it away. Authorities advise yelling, waving your arms, even throwing rocks. They live among us (and vice versa); you can read the state Department of Fish and Wildlife‘s “Living with Coyotes” advice here.
10:52 AM: Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail sends word of orcas in the area – southbound. More to come – we’re headed for the shore to see if anyone’s caught view of them here.
11:17 AM: Just found Donna on the west end of the Alki Beach Park promenade. She says they’re not in view yet.
Thanks to Bob Spears for the photo of an unusual scene Friday off Alki. He explained, “Five seals hung out just offshore for over an hour and frequently appeared to be doing a water ballet with their heads, a single fin, and their tails out of the water. Fun to watch and with their barking they attached quite a crowd of people on the beach.” The behavior is known as “rafting,” most often seen among California sea lions, and sometimes people mistake it for a sign of distress – the Seal Sitters website has a good explanation here.
Back on Sunday, a text resulted in this report about a dead seal south of Alki Point. Commenter Jenny mentioned there was another carcass nearby. Tonight, we have an update from David Hutchinson of Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network:
Thanks to those of you who have reported these two dead marine mammals to Seal Sitters’ Hotline (206-905-7325). As of the evening of 11/21, the California Sea Lion is at the north end of Constellation Park and the adult Harbor seal is at the south end of the park. Seattle Parks has been notified of their current location. Seal Sitters has been tracking the position of both dead animals since first reported back on November 16th when one was onshore at Cormorant Cove and the other on private property to the north.
When Seal Sitters responds to dead marine mammals, the animal is photographed, measured and examined. An official report is then completed and entered into NOAA’s online marine mammal database. If the location is on a public beach, we typically bag the smaller animals, remove them from the beach and contact Seattle Parks for disposal, unless the animal will be transferred for necropsy by WA Department of Fish and Wildlife. In certain situations if a necropsy is performed, Seal Sitters pays for blood and tissue lab tests on the animal.
In this case, both animals are too large to be easily removed from the public beach – the sea lion is over 7 feet in length. Disposal of animals on private beaches is the responsibility of the property owner. Thankfully, the ebb and flow of tides will most often return carcasses back to the sea, to nourish other marine life. For smaller animals not suitable for necropsy due to decomposition, that is the ideal end result as well.
Got a text a little while ago about a dead seal on the Beach Drive shore, toward the south end of Constellation Park. First thing to do if you see a marine mammal on the shore, dead or alive, is call Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network – 206-905-SEAL – which the texter had done, but due to cell-signal breakup, wasn’t sure the message had gotten through. We e-mailed Seal Sitters, which confirms the seal’s carcass has been washing up and then back out again for a few days in the Constellation Park/Cormorant Cove Park area. Since it’s on public property, it’s also been reported to Seattle Parks – too large and heavy for a simple removal.
By Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog
Spawning season on Fauntleroy Creek closed on Friday with a total of seven coho spotted by salmon watchers.
The season began several days earlier than in years past, near dusk on October 20. Five vigorous fish entered the spawning reach across Fauntleroy Way SW from the ferry terminal, but darkness fell before any redd-building or spawning could be observed.
No more arrived until a single male on November 5 and another single male the following day. The 50 area residents who took advantage of four hours of “open creek” that afternoon with salmon watchers got to see “Wally” lazing in the fish ladder.
Watchers gave him a name because he defied the spawn-and-die-within-24-hours pattern that has been the norm. A week after entering the creek, he still had the energy to make a run up the fish ladder and was visibly deteriorating when last seen last Monday (November 14).
“Seven spawners isn’t a lot but it’s seven more than last year,” noted veteran watcher Dennis Hinton, “and during our watch, nearly 70 people got to see these amazing fish close to home.”
The season’s robust return of coho to Puget Sound defied the state’s warning that not enough eggs would be available for this school year’s Salmon in the Schools program. Most of the 71 participating schools in Seattle rear coho – and will start doing so again in January. Thanks to the return, the Fauntleroy Watershed Council was able to freeze carcasses from the Soos Creek Hatchery so that many fourth- and fifth-graders in West Seattle can have a captivating lesson in biological systems during classroom dissections this winter.
Thanks to Jake for the report: “I spotted a coyote this morning at 35th and Hinds [map] around 7:30 am. It jumped into a bush before I could get a pic. It appeared to be in good health and didn’t seem to be in a big hurry or especially skittish. It looked to weigh about 45 lbs.”
For more than eight years now, we’ve published coyote-sighting reports when we get them as a reminder that they live among us – (especially with new people arriving, not everyone knows that!). This one-sheet from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has info on what to do if you see one (in short: scare it away) and how else to foster coexistence.
The photo and report are from Alex:
Maybe not news but first time I’ve seen them, two jostling for space just upstream of fishbone bridge if you walk into the woods a little, just now!
Woo hoo, said our toddler!
The bridge is a bit north of Dragonfly Pavilion.
8:41 AM: Thanks for the tips – orcas are reported to be in the area again today. The person who called said they’re closer to the Vashon/Blake side, across from Fauntleroy; Jason points us to an Orca Network sighting thread with reports that they’re spread out and not necessarily heading in one direction. So if you’re on-peninsula and interested, take your binoculars over to the west-facing shore and have a look! (They were seen Sunday morning in Elliott Bay, as reported here, but the weather was a little murky for optimal viewing.)
9:06 AM: Thanks to Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail for this update – it’s a large group and they’re heading north, visible from the Alki area currently.
9:24 AM: Just got a report that a ferry going between Bremerton and Seattle has stopped so the orcas can pass!
9:36 AM: Just added (the top) photo from Gary Jones in the Alki Point area. Meantime, our texter says the ferry is moving again. (206-293-6302 any time, text or voice, that’s our breaking-news hotline, and whale sightings are always news!)
11:31 AM: Gary sent more photos that we’ve added to this story, including one showing the Bremerton ferry riders (aboard M/V Walla Walla) whale-watching as mentioned.
8 AM: The weather’s a little murky but if you’re near the water – keep watch for whales. Todd reports a northbound sighting just now, Alki area, headed toward Magnolia.
8:03 AM: Just after posting that, we got a text with another report and more details:
7:30 am-7:50 am, orcas seen between the west end of Alki Beach promenade and Alki Point. Adult and adolescent, possibly one more. Initially 50-100 yards from shore, gradually moving away from shore toward Magnolia, then diagonally toward Pier 91/Queen Anne.Exhibited what I would describe as feeding behavior – circling and roiling the water.
1:08 PM: Thanks to Jackie for that new photo of “Westley,” the West Seattle deer, who resurfaced today. Last sighting we heard about was on Election Night toward the west end of Alki Beach Park. So far this morning, the reports are from south Beach Drive and Lincoln Park. It’s now been a week and a half since “Westley” turned up in West Seattle (on Pigeon Point), and if you’ve missed our previous coverage (scroll through the WSB Wildlife archive), please note that wildlife/animal-welfare authorities ask you to keep your distance – getting too close could scare him, and also could put you into danger, as deer can lash out powerfully if they feel they are in danger. If you wonder “why doesn’t someone capture and relocate him?” Seattle Animal Shelter and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife both say that would be more of a threat to him than letting him be. So please, for as long as he’s in this area, please be extra careful – he’s crossed many streets – just in case he crosses your path.
1:33 PM: Thanks to Lezlie Jane for forwarding this photo by Jonny Layefsky:
Lezlie says it was taken on Beach Drive around 11:30 am.
We’ve just received the first West Seattle deer-sighting report since Saturday – Marsha e-mailed to say it was an “incredible sight” to spot the deer on Wickstrom Place SW in the Alki area this morning.
Nine days after first word of the deer (nicknamed “Westley” by WSB commenters) surfacing in West Seattle, we know at least one other person has seen him today – while we haven’t heard from them directly, we know about the sighting because of a call from Tracy Bahrakis, acting field-services manager for the Seattle Animal Shelter. She mentioned a report this morning and wanted us to let you know that while SAS is continuing to talk with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the animal authorities continue to contend that unless the deer is badly injured or in distress, trying to capture it would do more harm than good – so please just let it be.
If you’ve missed our previous coverage, this is the first deer spotted in West Seattle in years. First word came in a photo tweeted by Peter, October 30th on Pigeon Point; the next day, it was seen to the west, near West Seattle Health Club; the day after that, we learned it also had wandered onto the spawling site of Nucor, which reported it to WDFW but was told to leave it alone. On Friday, a series of sightings and photos showed it on the move from Fairmount to Beach Drive. On Saturday, it was seen in North Admiral.
Bahrakis says the person who called her this morning from West Seattle was concerned that the deer seemed to be limping; this has been an on-and-off description over the past week, but she says “they hurt their legs all the time” and do best healing on their own. (Reader video clips we’ve published show it quite mobile and running quite ably.) Bahrakis says that a past deer-relocation attempt – by shooting it with a tranquilizing dart, capturing, and moving it – left it dead the next day from stress.
So she says their request remains: Leave it alone. Keep your distance. Don’t put out food for it or otherwise entice it to stay. Just let it be. And if you still have questions or concerns, she said, WDFW invites you to talk with them directly – the main number is 360-902-2200.