West Seattle, Washington
If we see the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales sometime soon here in central Puget Sound, look – from shore – for that new little one, J57. The Center for Whale Research has published its announcement about seeing the new calf (first reported by Lynda Mapes in The Seattle Times), accompanied by researchers’ photos (which we are republishing with permission).
CWR believes Friday is the day J35 – at right, above, with the new baby and J47 – gave birth. Their researchers saw the newborn on Saturday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. J35 is also known as Tahlequah, who broke hearts around the world two years ago by carrying her dead calf on her head for 1,000 miles before finally letting it go. Researchers knew she was pregnant again – orca gestation is 18 months – but she had not yet given birth as of researchers’ sightings in Haro Strait last Tuesday and Thursday, when they also saw the other expectant J-Pod orca, J41. In the Saturday sighting, CWR reports, the “new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life.”
CWR’s announcement adds, “We hope this calf is a success story. Regrettably, with the whales having so much nutritional stress in recent years, a large percentage of pregnancies fail, and there is about a 40% mortality for young calves.” For now, though, the SRKWs number 73, and advocates are hoping for a reduction in other stresses such as boat noise (we reported earlier this week on the request that U.S. whale-watching boats pledge to join their Canadian counterparts in not following the SRKWs).
The orcas we’ve been seeing in local waters lately are transient killer whales, but the Southern Residents are expected soon. When they get here, some advocates want to be sure they’re not hounded by whale-watching boats – especially considering three of the endangered whales are pregnant. Today those advocates, including West Seattle-based The Whale Trail, are issuing a challenge to whale-watching operators to take this pledge:
On behalf of my company, I pledge to increase protection for the Southern Resident orcas and give the pregnant orcas in all three pods the best possible chance of having healthy calves, by giving them more space and quieter waters to find food and communicate with each other. Between now and September 2021:
• We will stay 1/2 nautical mile (1,000 yards) away from the southern residents.
• We will focus our tours on other ecotypes of killer whales and other wildlife, and will not intentionally plan or route trips to view them.
• If we encounter southern residents incidentally while viewing other whales, we will slow down (as Washington State law requires) to reduce our vessel noise, but will not approach or follow them.
• If we encounter southern residents incidentally while in transit, we will slow down (as State law requires) and not approach or intentionally follow them while continuing to transit. If it is unsafe to maintain a 1/2 nautical mile distance while transiting we will maintain the distances required by State law.
See the full letter here. The problems caused by noise, particularly from whale-watching vessels, was discussed at The Whale Trail’s February meeting – more than 100 operating in the region, morning through night. The Southern Resident population is down to 72, barely above its historic low, and advocates fear that further losses could put this species on an irreversible path to extinction.
11:08 AM: Right around sunset last night, transient orcas were headed this way again. This morning, Kersti Muul tells us they’re back in the area, seen southbound, north of Blake Island, within the past half hour. Let us know if you see them!
11:58 AM: Thanks for the updates in comments! We also got a text from Jay reporting that they’re off Dilworth (Vashon), still southbound.
1:38 PM: Orcas are off Constellation Patk, southbound, fairly close to shore, Kersti Muul reports. Let us know if you see them!
2:16 PM: Kersti says they’re now passing Lowman Beach.
2:40 PM: And now, she reports, approaching The Arroyos.
10:50 PM: Tonight Kersti sent some of her photos from the visit, including the scene discussed in the comments – standup paddleboarders who got an incredibly close view:
Kersti followed along by land as the orcas headed south and says they dove for 10 minutes at a time, and the boarders just happened to be there.
She says the passing orcas were T137A (male) and T137B (female) – brother and sister. She adds, “T137A has fully recovered from a horrendous injury he had last year near his tail. It was a big gash that was most likely from a sea lion. He was unable to hunt for himself and he lagged behind his family as they helped him. I’m always happy to see him!”
The T’s are transient orcas, who, unlike the residents, eat sea lions and other marine mammals as well as fish.
11:18 AM: The photo and report are from Kersti Muul: Orcas southbound off south Bainbridge Island, so they could be visible off west-facing West Seattle with binoculars. Let us know if you see them!
3:39 PM: Now they’re northbound, says Kersti – most recently reported between Blake and Bainbridge Islands.
11:14 AM: Transient orcas are back in the area and heading this way. Kersti Muul says they are southbound off North Bainbridge, toward the west side of the channel, so you’ll need binoculars to look for them.
1:31 PM: Update from Kersti – the orcas are in Elliott Bay, between West Point and Alki, headed southwest as of about 15 minutes ago – “long, long down times.”
4:41 PM: Thanks to Jamie Kinney for the above three photos, from the orcas’ pass by Constellation Park. (added) And thanks to Dan Ciske for the photo below, showing a research boat with the orcas (which were off The Arroyos, still southbound, at last report).
Thanks to Kersti Muul for the report – transient orcas are southbound off Eagle Harbor (Bainbridge Island), “more east in the channel.” Let us know if you see them!
Just announced by The Whale Trail executive director Donna Sandstrom:
We’re hosting our first virtual Orca Talk! We think the world needs a hopeful story right now. What better story than Springer’s?
Springer (A73) is an orphaned orca who was spotted near Seattle in January 2002—lost, alone, and 300 miles away from home. Six months later she was rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to her pod. Today she is thriving, tending her two calves.It’s the first—and so far only—successful orca rehabilitation and reunion in history.
Please join us for a special Zoom presentation of Springer’s story, as told by members of her team. The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion/Q&A. Panelists will include Bob Lohn, Joe Scordino, Kathy Fletcher, Suzie Hall (OrcaLab), and others. Prepare to be inspired!
What: Celebrate Springer 2020! Presentation and Q&A
When: Thursday, July 30th, 7 PM to 8:15 PM PST
Cost: Free! (Donations gladly accepted.)
Preregistration is required. Sign up here.
After registering, attendees will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Space is limited – sign up now!
Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip! She says transient orcas are off West Seattle again, this time headed northeast, between here and mid-Blake Island. Let us know if you see them!
6:12 PM: Thanks to Jay for the tip! He says orcas just passed Dilworth on Vashon Island’s eastern shore, northbound, so they could be visible soon from west-facing West Seattle.
7:02 PM: Eastbound – toward West Seattle! – in the Fauntleroy ferry lanes, says Kersti Muul.
Transient orcas, seen in the area a few days ago. are back – reported off Fay Bainbridge State Park and heading southwest about an hour ago, so you’d definitely need binoculars, but this is a heads-up to be on the lookout. (Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip!)
Thanks to David Hutchinson for sending photos from orcas’ visit to Elliott Bay on Thursday evening.
These were transient orcas, not the Southern Residents.
Unlike the resident whales, transients’ food sources include other mammals – seals, sea lions, even other whales.
David’s photos were taken from Duwamish Head and the Alki promenade.
Orcas are in the area again! The tip comes from Kersti Muul, who says whales are “milling on north en of Blake Island.” Let us know if you see them!
1:03 PM: Heads-up for whale lovers – Kersti Muul shares the news that southbound orcas were reported mid-channel off Shilshole about half an hour ago, so unless they change their direction, they could be in view now, or soon, off West Seattle. Let us know if you see them!
1:57 PM: Kersti says they’re “Visible with binocs from Alki and Sunset overlook.”
Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip to keep an eye out for orcas today – as of a short time ago, “Orcas are northbound again at entrance to Colvos Passage. Two groups today – one went south and is at Pt. Defiance.” That’s Tacoma, so you might not see them any time soon, but Colvos Passage is along the west shore of Vashon Island, so if those whales continue heading northbound, they will be in view from here. Let us know if you see them!
7:19 PM: Two tips in the past ~20 minutes report a whale northbound off west-facing West Seattle, toward Fauntleroy at last report. No report yet what species. Let us know if you see it!
7:45 PM: Humpback, says tipster Scott.
7:51 PM: Just got a call from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail, who says it’s a juvenile humpback, moving quickly, should be off Alki Point soon.
Thanks to Kersti Muul for word that there’s a humpback whale in the area, seen in Elliott Bay off Duwamish Head, a few hundred yards out. (If you’re not sure how to ID a humpback, check out this page from The Whale Trail‘s species guide.) Let us know if you see it!