Jeff Hogan of West Seattle-based Killer Whale Tales, who brought us first word of the big orca group that passed through on Friday, shares that photo of L-pod whales along with an update on his adventures as they headed north:
I got the opportunity to go out on the “fecal follow” boat with our friends from NOAA Fisheries after (watching from West Seattle shores) … We caught up with the 40+ members of L Pod at the Kingston Ferry terminal and stayed with them for nearly three hours as the whales moved northwards. The scientists I was with were trying to collect fecal samples, (yes..poop!) as well as fish scales left over from predation events.
The scat samples will allow the scientists to measure and determine a variety of things, including hormonal levels in the individual whales. These levels can be used to determine many systemic problems in the individual whales, like stress, illness or even something positive like pregnancy in females.
Check out this link to find out more (May 2008 KING5 story).
The prey samples collected will help to narrow down what these animals are eating throughout the year. Right now it looks like their diet is nearly 90% salmon, and mostly Chinook or King in the summer and Chum in the winter. The DNA recovered in the samples can also identify exactly which stream those salmon come from and can help to steer recovery of those specific runs.
By the time the orcas had moved to northern waters, three Seattle TV stations had recorded aerial video; here are links to those 3 clips – KOMO (4), KING (5), KIRO (7). Find out more about the “southern resident” orcas here.