West Seattle, Washington
(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.
(WSB photo from Sunday)
On the third day of cleanup at an oil-contaminated White Center stormwater-retention pond, we’ve just obtained the newest information from state Ecology Department spokesperson Larry Altose:
Workers made progress on Saturday and Sunday, rescuing oiled waterfowl and removing oil from the pond near 13th Avenue Southwest and Southwest 100th Street in unincorporated King County.
The Washington Department of Ecology is coordinating the response, in cooperation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. Ecology has hired a spill response contractor and a wildlife rescue organization for the cleanup.
The spilled material appears to be about 50 to 100 gallons cooking oil that entered the pond via the county stormwater drainage system. County and Ecology staff have been tracing storm drains to search for the source of the spill. No additional oil has entered the lake since a citizen first reported the spill late Friday afternoon.
Cooking and other edible oils, while less toxic to wildlife, still cause environmental harm. When birds contact the oil it coats the feathers so that the animals lose insulation and buoyancy. Oil damages habitat for other aquatic life, reducing oxygen levels and creating physical impacts on the water surface and shoreline.
Crews from Focus Wildlife International have captured 14 oiled birds, four mallard ducks and 10 Canada geese. The birds received initial treatment near the scene in the organization’s special trailer. They were transported for further treatment at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society’s Wildlife Rescue Center in Lynnwood.
Workers hope to capture approximately 20 other oiled birds, some of which have flown to other ponds, lakes or fields in the area. No wildlife deaths have been reported.
Meanwhile, other workers continue to tend oil spill cleanup materials placed in the pond to collect the oil, which has spread into a slick over much of the surface. Crews succeeded in preventing oil from draining out of the pond, which flows into nearby Hicklin Lake.
The cleanup has reduced the amount of oil seen on the pond over the past two days. Ecology’s contractor will measure the amount of oil recovered in cleanup materials to better determine the size of the spill.
The on-site response effort, which involved 25 people on Saturday and 18 on Sunday, continues to step down to about 9 responders today.
Our first report, on Saturday, is here; our Sunday followup is here. As we’ve noted previously, this county-owned area of unincorporated King County had already been the subject of extensive cleanup efforts – focused on the land, rather than the water, because of problems with encampments and drug use during the non-rainy months – here’s a report from last month, published on our partner site White Center Now.
Just in from Fauntleroy Creek steward Judy Pickens:
(Photo courtesy Nathan Franck)
On Oct. 21, science students from Our Lady of Guadalupe School sampled Fauntleroy Creek for aquatic insects to understand how much food is available to salmon fry and how clean the water is. The insects in the lower creek will have another year to grow because the salmon watch closed today with no fish. That means the lower creek will have no “home hatch” of hungry fry this winter. Very few coho made it back to Puget Sound this fall from the Pacific.
Volunteers have been keeping watch for three weeks, since just after this year’s drumming/singing/welcoming gathering. The spawner turnout has varied wildly in the 20-plus years since restoration work made Fauntleroy a salmon creek again. Last year, 19 were counted; the year before, none; the year before that – 2012 – set a record with 274. West Seattle’s other salmon creek, Longfellow, has no formal count, but we’ve had several reports of sightings.
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.
(Photo added 5:32 pm, looking southward over the pond, toward SW 102nd)
FIRST REPORT, 3:09 PM: Wildlife experts are hoping to help more than a dozen birds struggling with oiled feathers after a spill in a White Center pond. A reader texted us this photo:
King County has sent this news release:
Crews are responding Saturday afternoon to an oil spill that was discovered in a King County stormwater retention pond in White Center.
An estimated 20 to 50 gallons of what is believed to be cooking oil was found floating in the pond, which sits along 13th Avenue Southwest at Southwest 100th Street in unincorporated King County. Lab analysis of the oil will determine its exact composition.
Employees with the Water and Land Resources Division (WLRD) of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks were at the pond this morning, along with Washington Department of Ecology spill response personnel, to assess the spill and determine its source.
An oil-spill response team from NRC Environment was also on site this morning to contain and clean up the oil from the pond. A crew trained in cleaning wildlife was on its way to the pond to capture and clean the estimated 20 waterfowl that appeared to have been in contact with the oily water.
Stormwater system experts with WLRD will look into how the oil got into the retention pond, which accepts runoff from the surrounding neighborhood and helps clean stormwater runoff before it continues downstream to Hicklin Lake.
Shorelines along the White Center pond system have been a focus of cleanup efforts we’ve covered on partner site White Center Now, but usually the problems have been on the shore, not in the water.
5:17 PM UPDATE: We’re just back from the scene, where we talked with a Department of Ecology rep; others on the scene include NRC (spill response) and Focus Wildlife, the contractor there to help with the birds. While we were there, they captured one Canada goose that had been wandering in busy SW 102nd on the south side of the scene, apparently unable to fly because of the oil.
They found out about the oil because of a nearby resident who watches the area and often photographs birds; they haven’t traced the source yet but because of its smell and consistency, they’re fairly certain it’s cooking oil. What looks like a white boom around the edges of the pond is actually absorbent material intended to soak up anything that can’t be cleaned up.
The responders were going to work until it got dark and then return at first light tomorrow. The rescued birds were going to be warmed in a truck on site, and then taken to PAWS for rehabilitation. Besides the wandering goose, we saw a group of ducks milling on the sidewalk along the pond’s western side; the Ecology rep said they’d been there all day.
Most of the oil, he added, was on the north end of the pond.
(Quick clip of salmon in Longfellow Creek last year, contributed by Josh)
Tom e-mailed earlier this week to report spotting salmon in Longfellow Creek, by Dragonfly Pavilion in North Delridge – two last Friday, and “four big ones” last Monday. If you want to go look for salmon, tomorrow morning brings an excellent chance – go on an educational walk 10 am-11:30 am Saturday with Puget Soundkeeper volunteers. You’ll learn about their ongoing study of pre-spawning mortality, too. Meet up at the pavilion (4107 28th SW); you’re advised to “wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet/stinky.”
P.S. On the other side of West Seattle, no salmon sightings in Fauntleroy Creek yet, as of our last check.
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.”
11:36 AM: Thanks to Trileigh for the tip: Whale watchers commenting on the Orca Network Facebook page have been tracking whales heading in this general direction all morning, southbound, including sightings from Golden Gardens (Ballard) within the past hour. So this is your early alert. Please let us know if and when you see any from West Seattle – texting 206-293-6302 is the best way to reach us immediately – so we can update. Thanks!
2:55 PM: Haven’t heard of any sightings here, and it seems they might not have made it this far south before heading back north, according to the ON FB thread.
Suddenly we have three coyote reports to share – so here goes.
FROM JAF: A coyote crossed 35th SW at Brandon “at approximately 2 pm on 10/27. Poor thing ran east across 35th in traffic to get away from me (pulling in garbage cans). Luckily, cars stopped for it.”
Not long before that, and not too far away:
FROM JOHN … who included this photo:
He saw that coyote “at the corner of 37th and Graham, 1:20 pm today.”
And this happened around 11:30 last night:
FROM JOEY: “Coyote spotted on 34th running toward Barton and the P-Patch. On its way, it attacked a small animal (cat?). Horrible sounds. Little animal got away and ran toward west side of 34th.”
(The most important thing you can do if you see a coyote, the state reminds us on this info-sheet, is to scare it away – for its sake, for your sake, for pets’ sake. They’re everywhere – but they’ll keep their distance if they perceive it’s too risky to get close.)
Great news! New calf in J pod! We were out on an encounter today and documented a new calf, designated J53. The calf was seen traveling with J17. This is the third calf born in J pod this year. We will be following up this post with more information in the next few days. 👏👏👏 #srkw #orca #killerwhale #newbaby #congratulations #jpod #savethewhales #wildlife #centerforwhaleresearch
Just last Wednesday, it was announced that the federal drone survey of Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Killer Whales suggested more orca babies were on the way. And tonight, the Center for Whale Research shared news of one! This is the sixth orca calf reported in the three resident pods – J, K, and L – in less than a year, dating back to last December. As you can see in the Instagram post embedded above, they’re promising more info soon.
(Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium, “taken by UAV from above 90 feet under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization.” Mother ID’d as J16 with calf J50)
New information today about Puget Sound’s endangered orcas – thanks to an aerial study done via drone – and NOAA says, among other things, what they found brings “hope for the population.” Here’s the news release we received this morning:
A NOAA Fisheries research team flying a remotely operated hexacopter in Washington’s San Juan Islands in September collected high-resolution aerial photogrammetry images of all 81 Southern Resident killer whales that showed the endangered whales in robust condition and that several appear to be pregnant.
Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs and has proven to be a powerful method for understanding the health of whales and other wildlife. Researchers can readily identify individual killer whales from the distinctive shape of their dorsal fin and saddle patch from the air or water, allowing them to track the condition of individual whales over time. Following analysis, individual growth and body condition from this year will be compared to previous photogrammetric assessments in 2008 and 2013 to assess changes.
The thousands of photogrammetry images collected to date provide important baseline information about the condition of the whales as a warm El Nino climate pattern takes hold along the West Coast following more than a year of already unusually warm ocean temperatures. El Nino and warm ocean conditions have in the past led to declines in salmon, the favored food of Southern Residents.
Right about now, about a month into fall, for more than 20 years, this happens at Fauntleroy Creek: A ceremony to welcome the coho salmon spawners home – and then the watching and waiting. This afternoon, about 25 people gathered at the creek’s fish-ladder overlook to drum, dance, sing, and chant. Watershed steward Judy Pickens emceed:
Jamie Schilling led the music:
And the children led the way in joyfully participating, as you can see in our video:
Some had been there before, we saw when Judy asked for a show of hands. But no two autumns are alike, even if it is the “circle of life,” as noted on the sign Phil Sweetland hoisted for a call-and-response:
A bit of video:
Three years ago, 274 coho spawners showed up – the most ever. The following year, none. Then last year – 19, a few of which had shown up even before the welcoming ceremony. It’s impossible to predict, so the volunteer watch starts tomorrow; Judy said the tides are looking most promising starting next weekend. The mouth of the creek is near the ferry dock, across Fauntleroy Way from the overlook where the salmon-welcomers gathered late today.
When there are fish to see, by the way, the creek overlook will have a better view than years past, because of some recent trimming.
Sunday evening, wrap up your weekend with a West Seattle tradition: Gathering at the Fauntleroy Creek fish-ladder overlook for drumming, singing, and dancing to call the coho home. Just show up at 5 pm, atop the embankment that’s across Fauntleroy Way from the ferry terminal. All ages welcome, and if someone in the family made a “salmon hat” at the Fauntleroy Fall Festival last Sunday – that’s what the little person in our 2014 photo is wearing – bring it along! New? Not sure what to expect? Check out our past coverage – 2013, with video, for example.
P.S. Whether or not you’ll be there Sunday evening, you are also welcome to volunteer for the Salmon Watch that starts Monday.
The photo and report are from Sid:
I was having coffee this morning and saw a coyote stroll across my backyard. We live close to Seola Park. It walked around the side of the house and when I opened the door, it ran away into Marine View Drive.
We have long published coyote-sighting reports to help with education and awareness. The most important thing you can do if you see one is actively scare it away – “hazing” is how experts describe it – wave your arms, throw rocks, etc. They live among us but coexistence depends on them keeping their distance. See the state’s “Living With Wildlife” page on coyotes for more info. (Archived WSB coverage is here.)
(2012 WSB photo)
How does this sound for a volunteer gig: Sit and watch the water! That’s exactly what you’re invited to do:
If you’d like to experience coho spawners up close, consider joining Salmon Watch 2015 on Fauntleroy Creek. We’ll begin Monday, Oct. 19, with veteran watchers, then fold in newcomers if/when we start seeing fish. To learn why West Seattleites eagerly get wet and cold to document fish, contact Judy Pickens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hard to tell how exciting (or not) this’ll be this year – last year saw 19 spawners, two years earlier, a record 274. Salmon watch starts right after a community event this Sunday – the annual gathering to drum, sing, and dance to call the coho home. To be part of that (all ages welcome!), be at the creek overlook (across the street and up the embankment from the ferry dock) at 5 pm Sunday (October 18th).
An overnight extra while it’s quiet: “Diver Laura” James and fellow diver Lamont G. recorded this video at Cove 2 earlier this week. “So many fish” that night, Laura enthused, while sharing the link, also noting that the sea stars are still more or less MIA.
P.S. We asked about the creature you’ll see about a minute in … “lemon peel nudibranch,” Laura replied.
P.P.S. Remember to do what you can to help keep the water clean for everything that lives there – minimizing deadly, toxic runoff is a start – find out how, here.
That photo by Araya Casey Photography is one of several shared with us after orcas swam past West Seattle on Sunday (see others here). If you’re among our area’s many orca fans, you will want to hurry up and get your ticket for the October 13th event that will lead off The Whale Trail‘s new Orca Talk season, with world-renowned author and orca expert Erich Hoyt speaking October 13th at The Hall at Fauntleroy. His talk titled “Ants, Orcas and Creatures of the Deep” is one of three stops in the region on Hoyt’s “Orca Tour 2015.” Wondering what in the world ants and orcas could have in common? Don’t miss the chance to find out – you can get your ticket right now through Brown Paper Tickets. (When Hoyt spoke here two years ago, he filled the house!)
(ADDED: Photo by Paul Brannan – orca off Fauntleroy)
5:43 PM: Caller says a few orcas are southbound – playfully, not speedily – off Constellation Park south of Alki Point right now. Might be “transients,” which Orca Network says have been in the central Sound today. Let us know if you see them!
7:46 PM: Adding a photo – thanks, Paul!
8:25 PM: And thanks to Araya Casey Photography for sharing these images:
The photos were taken in the Alki area.
Just in via text (206-293-6302, 24/7), our first coyote report of the fall:
Just spotted a large coyote in the street on SW Thistle, near the alley between 24th & 25th Ave. I slowed down thinking it was a stray dog, then watched it go into the walkways in between the apt buildings there. Just want to spread the word since it’s in a highly populated area.
As also noted in our exchange with the texter, that’s across the street from the stretch of Longfellow Creek that runs east of the Chief Sealth International High School/Denny International Middle School campus. But coyotes can turn up anywhere, whether a greenbelt is nearby or not – just browse our eight-plus-year archive of sighting reports for ample evidence of that. When you see one, do your best to scare it away – more for its good than yours – as explained here.