West Seattle, Washington
3:12 PM: Thanks to Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch for the tip: Orcas are in view from West Seattle right now! They’re visible from Constellation Park, east of mid-channel, Kersti says, southbound, passing Blake Island. Let us know if you see them.
3:29 PM: Update from Kersti – they’re “just hanging” off Emma Schmitz Memorial Overlook (across from Me-Kwa-Mooks – she says they’re transients so they may well be hunting (transients eat other marine mammals, unlike resident orcas, who focus on fish).
4:22 PM: Among those who’ve seen them, Mike Jensen:
— Mike Jensen (@mjtwit) January 14, 2021
ADDED THURSDAY NIGHT: Along with the photos in comments, here’s another one – from Kersti:
10:53 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul from Salish Wildlife Watch for the tip – orcas are in view from Alki, at least four, southbound toward the west side of the Sound. Let us know if you see them!
11:04 AM: They’re moving fast – Kersti says they’re now off Blake Island.
12:37 PM: Now passing the south end of Lincoln Park, per Kersti, who says these are transient orcas, not residents.
2:16 PM: Another update from Kersti – residents are in the area too!
It’s not the only threat to endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, but vessel noise is a danger that can be reduced, and it will be, after a vote Friday by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission. Limits on commercial whale-watching are the culmination of work that Gov. Inslee‘s Southern Resident Orca Task Force started more than two years ago. Among the members of that task force was Donna Sandstrom, the West Seattleite who is executive director of The Whale Trail, a nonprofit that evangelizes and facilitates land-based whale watching. She tells WSB, “It’s not the year-round suspension the whales need, but it is a huge step forward and a significant reduction in noise and disturbance compared to the status quo. A big win for the orcas.” Just before the pandemic stopped in-person gatherings, in fact, The Whale Trail’s midwinter gathering last February (WSB coverage here) focused on the noise issue and the task force’s recommendation of restrictions on vessels watching the Southern Residents. The problem is that noise disrupts their ability to use echolocation to find the salmon they subsist on – salmon that themselves are already scarce. Work to increase the salmon supply and reduce water pollution is vital too, but neither of those can be implemented quickly, while noise reduction can. Here’s the slide deck from the meeting, including the restrictions (“Option A”) approved by the commission (with one “no” vote from a commissioner who wanted tougher rules):
As pointed out in the slides, thousands of comments were received, the majority in support of strong restrictions. The commission was tasked with making a decision on rules by year’s end, as required by the Legislature; Sandstrom notes that the bill setting the stage for that was sponsored by 34th District State House Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of West Seattle. This is unlikely to be the last word on the vessel-noise issue; some commissioners expressed concern that private vessels, not covered by the new rules, will rush into the void, for example. And they acknowledged that more stringent rules may be needed in the future, but this is “a starting point.” The rules will not apply to any other whale-watching done by the commercial vessels, only the endangered resident orcas, who number 74, perilously close to their historic low.
Whenever orcas are in our area, we share the news – and today’s news is how local advocates are inviting you to be part of the virtual “Welcome the Orcas” celebration. Here’s the announcement:
The Whale Trail and Seal Sitters invite the public to celebrate the annual return of the southern resident orcas to central Puget Sound. For 2020, the annual celebration has been transformed from a 1-day event into a series of activities that anyone can do from home. The community can show creativity and support for J, K, and L pods while maintaining physical distancing. The endangered orcas return to central Puget Sound each fall and winter, following chum salmon runs that are a critical part of their diet. The recent birth of two new calves is a ray of hope for this struggling population.
How to celebrate:
Put a Whale In your Window! Children and adults are invited to download, color, and display a welcome sign in their window. Use the downloadable template, or make your own. Display the sign in your window and share on social media with #welcometheorcas.
Write for the Whales. Write a poem or share your story. Share what the orcas mean to you, and your hopes for their future. Do you have a favorite orca, or orca story? We want to hear about it! Orca-themed prizes will be awarded for the top three poems or stories in each category: K-2nd grade, 3-5th grade, 6-8th grade, 9-12thgrade, adults. Limit of 3 submissions per person. Submission accepted on The Whale Trail’s website. Prizes are non-monetary. Winners will be announced in January 2021.
Snap a Selfie! Take a picture of your welcome sign. If you live near a Whale Trail site, show us what you see. (Wear a mask, maintain social distancing, and follow all other COVID restrictions.)
“There’s nothing like seeing J,K or L pods in our own backyard, an urban fjord where they have thrived for thousands of years,” says Whale Trail director Donna Sandstrom, a former member of Governor Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force. “In one human generation we’ve brought them to the edge of extinction, through threats that are all human-caused. Join with us to welcome the orcas with heart and art and commit to making the Salish Sea a place that can sustain them again.”
From a high of 98 animals in 1996, the southern resident population has declined precipitously, to a current near-historical low of 74 individuals. In 2019 Governor Inslee’s Task Force recommended 49 actions to recover the southern residents by increasing prey availability, reducing toxin accumulations and reducing noise and disturbance. Welcome the Orcas offers a creative way to celebrate our connection to the orcas and confirm our commitment to protect them.
Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network was founded in 2007 to protect marine mammals and to educate the public about our shared environment. “The Whale Trail is a natural ally in this work, said Lynn Shimamoto, Co-Investigator of Seal Sitters. “We are thrilled to join with all our partners in welcoming the orcas back to Puget Sound.”
Welcome the Orcas is co-sponsored by The Whale Trail, Seal Sitters, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Southern Resident orcas are back in the area for the second consecutive day! Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch says it’s K-Pod this time, southbound, north of Alki Point. Let us know if you see them!
12:39 PM: You may have another chance to see Southern Resident Killer Whales from the West Seattle shore today. Both Kersti Muul from Salish Wildlife Watch and Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail tell us orcas from J-Pod and K-Pod – two of the three resident groups – are headed southbound in this direction, still a bit north of Elliott Bay. Let us know if you see them!
1:23 PM: See comments for updates; Kersti reports some turned into Elliott Bay.
1:54 PM: Donna called to say the whales are now visible from Constellation Park (south of Alki Point), back southbound in the Sound, but “bring your binoculars.”
3 PM: Kersti’s update in comments – with photos – says some were visible without binoculars.
Meantime, Sasha tweeted this video:
Just saw some at Linkin Park! pic.twitter.com/HyE3cYoTWM
— Sasha (@essrez) December 6, 2020
5:46 PM: Thanks to everyone who’s since sent photos!
(Photo by Jamie Kinney, who has more here)
Orcas are in the area again today. About an hour ago, whales were spotted in the Bainbridge ferry lanes, southbound, according to Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch, so if you’re by the water any time today, be on the lookout. She says the whales that passed by yesterday were transients, not residents.
9:57 AM: For the second day in a row, you have a chance to see orcas off West Seattle – Kersti Muul from Salish Wildlife Watch says whales are southbound, south of the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry lanes. Let us know if you see them!
10:32 AM: In addition to the updates in comments (thank you!), Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail called to say they’re between Blake and Vashon, visible through binoculars.
12:36 PM: Southern Resident Killer Whales are back in our area! Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch reports J-Pod whales are southbound, visible from Alki right now, closer to the Bainbridge Island side of the Sound, so definitely binoculars are needed. Let us know if you see them!
1:24 PM: Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail says they’re visible off Alki Point, and if you need a point of reference, researcher Mark Sears has his boat out nearby.
2:32 PM: See comments for updates. Reported off Lowman Beach as of a short time ago.
11:13 AM: Two groups of orcas are heading in our direction, from opposite directions, according to Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch: Transient orcas are northbound, passing Three Tree Point a little while ago, while Southern Resident Killer Whales from J-Pod are reported to be southbound, off mid-Bainbridge Island at last report. Let us know if you see any of them.
12:15 PM: See comments for updates – thanks to everyone providing them!
2:10 PM: Time for a bit of other news before we get to the second bridge story of the day – Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch tells WSB that a large group of resident orcas is headed this way, southbound off Golden Gardens, closer to this side of the Sound, at last report, so likely in view from here soon. Let us know if you see them!
3:01 PM: Not here yet.
3:38 PM: Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales called to say they’re in view in the Bainbridge ferry lanes, from Alki. Kersti also has posted updates in the comment section below.
Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch reports orcas are visible West Seattle again – northbound, visible from Constellation Park south of Alki Point, right now. This time, transient killer whales, coming out of Rich Passage off south Bainbridge Island.
8:55 AM: Another chance to see orcas – Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch says they are southbound off Eagle Harbor!
9:14 AM: Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail called to confirm they’re in view, and we’ll repeat her reminder from Wednesday – if you’re going, wear a mask and keep your distance.
9:42 AM: Update from Kersti in comments – off Lincoln Park.
A mostly gray day ended with some flourishes of color. Thanks to Gill Loring for the photo above. The sunset arrived as Southern Resident Killer Whales passed by, and Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch shared the next three photos:
Kersti says the paddleboarder is Brian, admiring K21 aka “Cappuccino.” Some shore-based whale-watchers too, as the day ended:
Now back to the weather – one headline tonight: That possible windstorm we mentioned last night seems to have fizzled, the National Weather Service noted in its evening Forecast Discussion about half an hour ago. The Friday night storm will be windy, they’re predicting now, but nothing out of the ordinary for November in Seattle. The strongest winds that night are expected to be south of Olympia and along the seacoast.
12:52 PM: Might be some whale sightings from West Seattle this afternoon – Kersti Muul from Salish Wildlife Watch says Southern Resident Killer Whales are southbound, headed this way, passing Shoreline at last report, and close to this side of the Sound. She says photos indicate they include members of J-Pod and K-Pod.
1:10 PM: Kersti says they’re now south of Carkeek Park, still southbound, “spread east to west across the channel.”
1:34 PM: Now in view from Alki, Kersti reports in a comment.
2:49 PM: Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail is at Constellation Park, waiting for the orcas to come into view south of Alki Point. She says visibility and light is excellent. She also has an important reminder: If you’re going to go whale-watch, WEAR YOUR MASK and socially distance.
3:12 PM: Both Donna and Kersti say they’re now stretched out between north Blake Island and south Bainbridge. Donna says the visibility is so good, you can even see them without binoculars.
7:46 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch for the tip: Orcas are passing West Seattle, southbound off Blake Island.
10:39 AM: Kersti reports in a comment below that the whales (Southern Residents from J-Pod) have turned back northbound.
2:27 PM: Orcas are in the area again! The photo is from Elton, taken from Alki, and arrived in the WSB inbox just as we got a text from Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch that the whales were in the area – she says they are now southbound off Alki Point. Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail just called with the news too. Let us know if you see them!
2:47 PM: These orcas are moving fast – Kersti says they’ve already passed Me-Kwa-Mooks/Emma Schmitz Overlook (4500 block of Beach Drive SW), still southbound.
3:08 PM: Now approaching Vashon, per comment/text updates. (Thanks again!)
8:07 PM: David Hutchinson sends this photo:
These visitors were transient orcas (Bigg’s Killer Whales), not the Southern Residents. The big difference: Transients eat other marine mammals, not just fish. David also sent this photo of sea lions staying, warily, close to shore:
They were seen off Constellation Park, south of Alki Point.
On Sunday, we reported on another visit by Southern Resident Killer Whales. No visuals, though, until tonight:
That video is by Hannah Schuh, a seventh-grader at Madison Middle School. Her mom Liz Schuh sent us the clip, recorded at Point Robinson on Maury Island (a popular whale-watching spot since Puget Sound’s main channel narrows there and you have a better chance of a close pass). Viewing advice from Liz: “After the breaching whale, another group surfaces, including one of the babies.”
The babies are part of J-Pod, which may have another calf soon – we also received photos tonight from Brittany Philbin of PNW Orca Pod Squad Photography – a pregnant orca, also photographed from Point Robinson:
The photographer explains, “During their close pass, J46 Star breached just offshore and luckily I was in the right place at the right time and captured a photo at just the right angle to see her heavily pregnant abdomen. She has been confirmed by researchers to be pregnant. I just thought residents of West Seattle would love to see these photos of J46 Star. They are so beloved throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
J46 was born in November 2009.
11:40 AM: Just got a call from Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch – orcas are heading for West Seattle waters again, currently southbound in the Bainbridge Island ferry lanes. Let us know if you see them!
12:05 PM: Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales says they’re visible off Alki Point.
12:17 PM: Saw them! From north Emma Schmitz Overlook, with binoculars.
1:51 PN: Just seen off The Arroyos, per commenter Desertdweller, still southbound.
10:20 AM: Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales just called with an update – they’re now off Emma Schmitz Overlook, still southbound.
11:52 AM: Kersti Muul from Salish Wildlife Watch says in comments that they’ve turned around and are now northbound.
10:24 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul of Salish Wildlife Watch for the heads-up: Southern Resident Killer Whales are heading in our direction, southbound off Shilshole at last report. Last time, they turned around before making it this far south, but here’s an early alert just in case they keep going this time.
11:50 AM: Getting closer – see comments.
12:55 PM: Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail called with an update – still southbound but slowly, off Bainbridge.
1:42 PM: Donna just called again to say the orcas are rounding Alki Point! Kersti says they’re from J-Pod.