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PHOTOS, VIDEO: West Seattle whale-watching: Orcas, northbound!

(Photo by Kersti Muul)

1:38 PM: Thanks for the multiple tips – orcas are headed northbound past West Seattle this afternoon. Kersti Muul says they’re Southern Resident Killer Whales – J-Pod, to be specific. Midchannel past The Arroyos as of about 20 minutes ago, says Alison via Twitter. Let us know if you see them!

P.S. The SRKW were already in the news today because of Gov. Inslee’s budget proposal and its recommendations for helping them. We’re working on a followup.

(Photo by Venkat Balasubramani)

1:46 PM: Now in the Fauntleroy ferry lanes, per text from Kersti.

2:45 PM: Photos added – thank you! Kersti says the whales were passing Constellation Park as of about half an hour ago.

ADDED THURSDAY NIGHT: The video above is by Greg Snyder, as the whales passed Alki Point.

Up close with the orcas, and scientists’ discovery of another threat to them, on The Whale Trail

(Thursday’s orca sighting, Photo by WSB’s Christopher Boffoli)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Three times in the past week, endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales have passed West Seattle shores.

It’s also been a busy week for one of their most fervent support groups, The Whale Trail.

Just three days after TWT co-presented “Welcome the Orcas at Alki – with SRKWs showing up for the occasion – the group’s monthly Orca Talk filled the seats at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor).

Unannounced guest speakers stole the show.

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West Seattle whale-watching: Southbound, then northbound, orcas

(Sent by Kersti Muul)

10:23 AM: Just heard from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail that southbound orcas are off Bainbridge Island and headed this way, likely in view from West Seattle shortly. Please let us know if you see them!

11:39 AM: In addition to commenters’ reports, we also got a text of orcas in view from Lowman Beach.

12:41 PM: Updates from Kersti Muul in comments and Donna by phone – the orcas (J Pod) have turned around and are now headed northbound.

2:51 PM: Added a photo sent by Kersti, of her photo taken as a second group of orcas headed NB around 1:30 pm, closer to this side of the Sound.

West Seattle whale-watching: NB orcas

1:03 PM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip: Orcas are northbound off south Vashon Island! Let us know if you see them.

3:57 PM: No orca updates but Pia called to let us know about a gray-whale sighting in Elliott Bay!

ALSO TONIGHT: The Whale Trail explores ‘Pesticides and Orcas: Making the Connection’

(Photo by Trileigh Tucker, from last Friday’s orca visit, with local researchers observing)

Missed getting this into our calendar! It’s also happening tonight – 7 pm at C & P Coffee Company (5612 California SW; WSB sponsor) – and with the intense interest in the fate of Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Killer Whales, this relates to the frequent questions about how what we do on land affects their health in the water. The announcement:

Pesticides and Orcas: Making the Connection

New evidence suggests that orcas are more sensitive to pesticides than we thought.

Lisa Hayward and Clement Furlong of the University of Washington Superfund Research Program (UW SRP) will present the story of a surprise discovery in genomics that suggests marine mammals may be much more vulnerable to organophosphates like chlorpyrifos than previously recognized.Their talk will cover evidence both of orcas’ vulnerability and also of their exposure in Puget Sound. Chlorpyrifos is a common pesticide recently in the news after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reversed a 2016 ban on it in a move later deemed illegal by a federal court. EPA appealed that decision in September and chlorpyrifos continues to be used widely on crops like wheat and apples.

About the speakers:

Lisa Hayward manages research translation for the UW SRP and has a background in endocrinology and science policy.

Clement Furlong is a principal investigator with the UW SRP and a world-renowned expert on the genetic and physiological basis of vulnerability to pesticides.

About The Whale Trail

The Whale Trail is a series of sites to view orcas and other marine mammals from shore. Our mission is to inspire appreciation and stewardship of whales and our marine environment.

Through our current sites and signs, including two on every Washington State ferry, we reach more than 50 million people each year. The Whale Trail is currently adding new sites along the North American west coast, from California to British Columbia.

The Whale Trail is led by a core team of partners including NOAA Fisheries, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Seattle Aquarium, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the Whale Museum. Donna Sandstrom is the Founder and Executive Director. Many members of the team first met on the successful effort to return Springer, the orphaned orca, to her pod.

Admission is $5 donation (TWT is a nonprofit) for adults – advance tickets are available online – no charge for kids.

Sea-lion shootings: 10 confirmed, after latest necropsy in West Seattle

(Photo by Robin Lindsey: SR3’s Casey McLean; SSMMSN First Responders David, Dave, Lynn, and Suzanne and Seattle Parks’ staff Lee and Donald in hi-viz jackets)

SUNDAY, 3:49 PM: An update today from Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters Marine Stranding Network:

We are now up to 10 confirmed shot dead California sea lions in King and Kitsap counties for the period from September to end of November.

On Friday the 30th, Seal Sitters MMSN responded to a report by Seattle Parks employee Marco of a very decomposed California sea lion carcass washed up at Don Armeni boat launch. This was the same animal that was wedged under the Water Taxi dock the day before, which we marked with bio paint for identification and pushed out into the current. Through photo comparison, we were able to verify that this was the same animal reported along the downtown Seattle waterfront some time ago which has been inaccessible. Thanks to Parks and Seal Sitters’ first responders, the carcass was secured until necropsy options could be weighed.

Because of delays getting EPA permits required for towing/sinking, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is unable to do necropsies until a permit is secured because of disposal issues. That is, unless we have options for burial/disposal on land. Read more about those challenges on my blubberblog post here.

Thanks to the efforts of Carol Baker and her many Seattle Parks/SW employees who lent a hand and provided removal services, we were able to do a limited necropsy onsite of this estimated 600 lb animal. X-rays of the head, done by a local veterinary lab, confirmed that the sea lion had indeed been shot.

There are 6 other reported dead sea lions in King/Kitsap who have not been necropsied, bringing the total of dead sea lions to 16. Additionally, there are several other dead animals in neighboring counties. Blubberblog.org provides the absolute latest updates regarding numbers and any new information.

MONDAY UPDATE: SS also wants you to know that “The Marine Mammal Stranding Network is gathering data from those counties and that information will be shared when possible.”

The Whale Trail, Seal Sitters and friends ‘Welcome the Orcas’ while watching them!

12:42 PM: While that was the message displayed alongside Mike the inflatable orca outside the Alki Bathhouse, steps away, “Welcome the Orcas” attendees got to put it into action:

The orcas that we mentioned earlier were in sight in the distance. Indoors, you can learn about them – and kids’ activities include ornament-making and face-painting:

The celebration presented by The Whale Trail and Seal Sitters, with some other partners, is on until 2 pm. As for the whales themselves – unpredictable, and magnificent.

ADDED 2:07 PM: A few more scenes from our visit to the celebration. Above, Whale Trail founder/executive director Donna Sandstrom with orca-costumed volunteers. Below, one of the orca-photo signs from the mini-parade:

Inside the bathhouse, all-ages environmental education:

Another of the partner organizations, SR3:

The timing of the celebration is based on the fact that the Southern Resident orcas usually return to Puget Sound in fall to chase salmon runs – the food on which they rely. The endangered whales have been in a brighter spotlight this fall after a task force appointed by the governor – with Sandstrom among its members – released a report with recommendations on how to save them from going extinct.

West Seattle whale-watching: Northbound orcas!

10:42 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the update – orcas are in the area again, headed northbound past the Fauntleroy ferry dock. (On their way to “Welcome the Orcas,” under way at Alki Bathhouse until 2 pm, apparently!) Let us know if you see them.

11:48 AM: Thanks for the updates in comments! Photo added above, from Kersti.

1:30 PM: Thanks to Monica Zaborac for the photos above and below this line, taken while looking toward Vashon.

No recent updates, and those viewing during “Welcome the Orcas were looking north from the Alki promenade, so we believe they’re out of view for now – please let us know if that changes!

West Seattle whale-watching: Resident orcas visit on eve of ‘Welcome’ celebration

(Photo by Kersti Muul: Mark and Maya Sears in boat, permit number 16163-01)

12:43 PM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip: Resident orcas are back in the area (just in time for tomorrow’s Welcome the Orcas event!) and headed this way. K Pod members were seen northbound off Normandy Park and are currently resting off Burien’s Three Tree Point, Kersti says. Let us know if you see them!

12:50 PM: Now an update from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales: They’re back on the move, off The Arroyos, and closer to this side of the Sound, so a good viewing opportunity if you can get to the shore!

1:25 PM: Update from Jeff – they’re now off Lincoln Park, still northbound.

2:05 PM: Visible from Constellation Park, according to updates from Jeff and from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail (which is co-presenting tomorrow’s event).

(Photo by Trileigh Tucker)

4 PM: No further reports, and no remaining pods of whale-watchers in view. Photos added!

SATURDAY: You’re invited to ‘Welcome the Orcas’!

(Photo courtesy The Whale Trail)

Saturday is a huge day for holiday events in West Seattle (from breakfast through tree lighting) but if you hadn’t yet seen this in our year-round calendar, we want to be sure you know you are invited to “Welcome the Orcas” at midday Saturday on Alki! The announcement explains that this will be both fun and educational, at a time when the future of Puget Sound’s orcas is in question:

The Whale Trail and Seal Sitters invite the public to an inspirational, educational, fun and family-friendly event on Saturday, December 1, to mark the annual return of the southern resident orcas to the inland waters of Puget Sound. At the event, members of the public can learn about the final recommendations put forth by Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force and have fun while learning about Seattle’s famous residents and the major threats to their survival.

“There’s nothing like watching J, K or L pods from shore at Whale Trail locations like Alki Beach, Point Robinson, or Point Defiance, or from the deck of a ferry. Seeing these endangered whales follow salmon into Puget Sound is a reminder that we each and all have a role to play in their recovery,” task force member and The Whale Trail founder Donna Sandstrom said. “The Governor’s Task Force has recommended a robust and comprehensive set of actions to address the threats that have brought these beloved and iconic pods to the edge of extinction: lack of salmon, toxin accumulations, and vessel noise and disturbance. Now we need everyone’s help to make sure the recommendations are acted on. With three pregnant females in the population – one each in J, K and L pod – there’s even more reason to act, and no time to wait.”

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.”

Details on the Welcome the Orcas event:

Who: Hosted by The Whale Trail and Seal Sitters with support from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and with partner booths from SR3, Orca Relief and Mid Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group

What: “Welcome the Orcas” community event featuring environmental booths, face painting, orca BINGO and an orca parade to welcome the southern residents to the central Sound. Event-goers are encouraged to dress in their best “orca spirit” costumes! Free and open to the public.

The event begins with activities, games, and informational booths at 10, speakers at 11:30 am, Orca Parade at noon, 12:30-2 pm “light reception” mode. The Bathhouse is at the east end of the Alki boardwalk, 60th/Alki.

FOLLOWUP: 3 more sea lions killed; at least 8 confirmed shot

(November 14th WSB photo by Tracy Record)

11:17 AM: Three more sea lions have been found dead of “acute trauma,” including one necropsied on Vashon Island Monday, according to Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network. That brings the recent total to 16. If you have a tip for investigators, NOAA’s hotline is 800-853-1964. If you see a dead marine mammal offshore, or one that’s alive or dead on the shore, report it to SS, 206-905-SEAL.

6:22 PM: We’ve received an update from NOAA, via spokesperson Michael Milstein:

(W)e now believe that eight sea lions were shot. The total number of dead sea lions is still 16, but the one from Vashon Island over the weekend was confirmed shot through x-rays today. Also the one found in West Seattle on Thanksgiving Day was decomposed but further examination has shown that it was shot, although we cannot be sure that was the cause of death given the decomposition.

I am attaching an x-ray of the sea lion found in West Seattle on Nov. 15 in which you can see different-sized shotgun pellets.

Our NOAA Office of Law Enforcement continues to investigate and we continue to urge people to advise us of any information related to this case.

Also, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has increased the reward it’s offering:

Recently Sea Shepherd offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the shooting of Sea Lions in Puget Sound.

Sea Shepherd is now increasing that reward to $10,000. Sea Shepherd is also offering an additional $2,000 for video evidence of the shooting of any Sea Lions in Puget Sound if the video shows the faces of the killers or images including the name of a vessel. This $2,000 will be payable upon receipt and not contingent on arrest and conviction. If the film leads to the arrest and conviction of the Sea Lion killers, the balance of $10,000 will be paid.

About the sea-lion carcass afloat off Alki today

The photo is from Deidre, one of a half-dozen people who messaged us about the sea-lion carcass floating off Alki today. We checked with Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which confirms this is the most recent of the 13 dead sea lions noted here on Thursday: “Seal Sitters responded yesterday when it rested against the Water Taxi dock. We secured overnight for a visual exam that revealed a suspected gunshot wound. Carcass was too decomposed for necropsy, so we documented with photos and allowed it to drift free.” The most-recent SS update includes numbers for reporting sightings, dead or alive, as well as for contacting investigators with any information on the sea-lion shootings.

FOLLOWUP: 13 sea-lion deaths now blamed on ‘acute trauma … from human interaction’

One week after two California sea lions were necropsied at Don Armeni Boat Ramp, and one day after another was buried on the shore near Seacrest, we have an update: 13 sea-lion deaths in the region – not just West Seattle – blamed on “acute trauma … from human interaction.” That’s from an update on the Seal Sitters Marine Stranding Network website, which says state and federal authorities continue to investigate. Read the update in its entirety by going here.

Seen off West Seattle: A finned friend

Thanks to James Moore for sending the photo, taken around 11 this morning. He reports: “It’s not an orca – but I think it’s a harbor porpoise. It was traveling south just off the Arroyos all by itself and as you can see quite close to shore (they’re usually quite far out and in a group).”

FOLLOWUP: Beach burial for sea lion

Thanks for the tip. Seattle Parks is digging on the shore south/east of Seacrest to bury the latest dead sea lion to wash up. (Here’s our report from Sunday.) This is one of seven recent sea lion deaths now under federal investigation, according to the Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network – which is who to call if you see a sea lion or other marine mammal on a local shore, alive or dead, 206-905-SEAL.

18 coho salmon spawners answer the call at Fauntleroy Creek

(Photo by Steev Ward)

By Dennis Hinton and Judy Pickens
Special to West Seattle Blog

The annual salmon watch on Fauntleroy Creek began on October 29, the morning after the drumming to call in the coho, and that very day, salmon watchers documented the first six to do so.

(Photo by Gordon Thomas)

By Sunday (November 18), when the watch ended, 18 had taken advantage of favorable tides, ample rainfall, and ideal habitat conditions to made their way into the lower creek – the most in four years.

The spawners were all vigorous and three pairs are thought to have left fertilized eggs to germinate in the creek. Four were “jack” salmon – small males that returned to fresh water after one year instead of the usual two in salt water. Full-sized spawners ranged up to 6 pounds. Most were released as smolts by hatcheries (as identified by missing adipose fins) but at least two could have originated in the creek as Salmon in the Schools release fish.

Nearly 100 students from two area schools came in hopes of seeing fish living or dead. Two “open creeks” drew 120 people and another 120 stopped by to chat with one of the 16 volunteers who took turns watching. Ferry foot passengers even got in on the action, cheering fish navigating through drift logs to enter the creek from Fauntleroy Cove.

Next up for local volunteers will be distributing eyed eggs in early January to 14 West Seattle schools for students to rear and release as fry in May. They will be among 70 schools citywide to rear coho, chum, or Chinook through the Salmon in the Schools program.

Why the latest sea-lion carcass on West Seattle’s shore doesn’t add to the toll

The photo and report are from David Hutchinson of Seal Sitters:

This morning, Seal Sitters responded to a report of a sea-lion carcass floating near the shore in Cove #1 (just north of Salty’s). On examination, it has been determined that this is the same dead animal that was reported to our Hotline back on November 8th. At that time, it floated away before we were able to arrange for retrieval. Due to the current state of decomposition, a necropsy is not planned at this time. The green “W.S.” marking is placed with biodegradable paint so that the carcass can be identified if it happens to float to a different location.

To report any marine mammal, alive or dead, on West Seattle beaches, please call the Seal Sitters’ Hotline at 206-905-7325.

This is one of five dead California sea lions found on area beaches this fall. As reported here, the previous two were necropsied at Don Armeni Boat Ramp on Thursday and both were found to have gunshot wounds. Federal authorities are investigating.

West Seattle whales: Orcas passing by again!

(Thursday photo by Kersti Muul – that’s K33)

11:09 AM: Thanks for the tips! The orcas are back this morning. Southbound passing Emma Schmitz Overlook, per Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales.

11:18 AM: Kersti Muul says the whales are spread out, north of Blake Island to south.

12:06 PM: In comments, Sydney says they’re now off Lincoln Park. We’ve also added a photo above that Kersti shared from Thursday.

12:53 PM: Per comments, the whales are now northbound.

FOLLOWUP: Gunshot wounds found in both sea lions necropsied in West Seattle today

(WSB photos by Patrick Sand unless otherwise credited)

10:38 PM: As we reported last night, wildlife authorities are investigating five sea lion deaths discovered on West Seattle shores. Today, the two most-recently discovered California sea lion carcasses – both adult males – were towed to Don Armeni Boat Ramp, where an area was taped off so necropsies could be done. Participants included Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which reports on its website tonight that the procedures showed “evidence of bullet wounds and projectiles … one (sea lion) with extensive internal damage.”

The first one was towed in late morning from the beach west of Seacrest. Longtime local whale researcher Mark Sears provided the boat, more often used for orca research. This one was measured at nine feet long and estimated to weigh almost half a ton.

(Photo courtesy Alexander Renz)

The other was towed in the afternoon from the 1500 block of Alki SW with a boat provided by West Seattle volunteer Rick Rasmussen. Those helping prep that sea lion for transport included “Diver Laura” James.

The Seal Sitters update continues, “The skulls [of both sea lions] were removed and will be radiographed early next week and should reveal more conclusive results.” The report also notes the full list of agencies and organizations that collaborated to make today’s procedures happen.

(Photo courtesy Alexander Renz)

As a NOAA spokesperson had told us early today, the federal agency’s Office of Law Enforcement is investigating. If you have any information on the sea-lion shootings, you can reach them any time of the day or night at 800-853-1964.

SIDE NOTE: While all this unfolded, a harbor seal swam over and hauled out elsewhere on Don Armeni.

Seal Sitters told us they’d been watching that one come and go.

ADDED FRIDAY MORNING: NOAA has now published its official statement:

NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the apparent shooting of several California sea lions in the area of West Seattle since October, and reiterates that sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

“We are concerned about a number of recent reports of marine mammal deaths caused by gunshots in the greater Seattle area. All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and OLE investigates all reported unlawful takes of sea lions,” said Greg Busch, Assistant Director, NOAA Fisheries, Office of Law Enforcement, West Coast Division.

To report a marine mammal violation, call 1-800-853-1964. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement provides live operator coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To report a dead, injured or stranded marine mammal, call: 1-866-767-6114.

In recent years, there have been reports of sea lion shootings n fall and winter in Puget Sound, said Kristin Wilkinson, NOAA Fisheries Stranding Coordinator for the Northwest. California sea lions in and around Puget Sound now are almost all males that have come north from the Channel Islands off Southern California in search of more plentiful food.

The MMPA prohibits the harassment, hunting, capturing, or killing of marine mammals, or any attempt to do so. However, the law does contain exceptions authorizing certain people under certain circumstances to use non-lethal methods to deter marine mammals from damaging private property, including fishing gear and catch, so long as it does not result in the death or serious injury of an animal.

For further details and frequently asked questions on deterrence methods, visit:


West Seattle whales: SB this morning, NB this afternoon

8:21 AM: Thanks to Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales for the tip: Orcas are southbound in the Fauntleroy ferry lanes right now.

9:32 AM: Still southbound – see comments, with photos including the one we reposted above, from Jsmyth.

4:30 PM: Now northbound, visible from The Arroyos, reports Kersti Muul.

UPDATE: West Seattle sea lion deaths under investigation

(WSB photo by Tracy Record)

9:29 PM WEDNESDAY: A dead sea lion found on the shore just west of Seacrest Park today was the fourth and possibly fifth that Seal Sitters Marine Stranding Network has responded to, and the deaths are under investigation. We photographed the dead animal at midmorning – by which time it was already tied to driftwood – and talked with Seal Sitters later. In addition to this one, they’ve responded to two at Jack Block Park and one in the 1500 block of Alki Avenue, plus received a report of one that they say might be the same one dealt with today. We reported on a Jack Block discovery last month:

(October photo by David Hutchinson)

Questions about whether the sea lions had been shot come amid multiple incidents in which people reported hearing/seeing gunfire offshore – including this one back on November 4th, and this one in late September. We’ve heard tonight from “Diver Laura” James that the sea lion near Seacrest will likely be moved to a less-public location tomorrow for necropsy, to check on whether it might have a bullet wound. Seal Sitters’ Lynn Shimamoto, meantime, tells us that NOAA is expecting to have a statement about the investigations tomorrow.

P.S. Checking the archives, we’ve covered sea-lion shooting deaths in 2010 and 2012.

ADDED THURSDAY MORNING: Michael Milstein of NOAA confirms that the agency’s Office of Law Enforcement is investigating the deaths; the agency will have more to say later. We asked about laws/policies that would cover this – here’s the reply.

11:35 AM UPDATE: The carcass from west of Seacrest is being towed right now to the necropsy site at Don Armeni.

11:45 AM: On the other side of the bay, Kersti Muul tells WSB, a sea lion carcass has been found near the Seattle Aquarium. She says it might be the same one she spotted on a West Seattle beach recently that wasn’t recovered before the tide took it away.

2:26 PM: A second sea lion, recovered from the 1500 block of Alki SW, has been taken to Jack Block for a necropsy too. Separate followup coming up a bit later this afternoon.

West Seattle whale-watching: Northbound orcas

8:40 AM: Again this morning, you have a chance to watch for orcas off West Seattle shores. Kersti Muul tells us they’re headed northbound and about to emerge from Colvos Passage on the west side of Vashon Island, so watching from west-facing West Seattle might yield a sighting. Rain will hamper visibility to some degree – but on the other side, those dorsal fins are extra-visible against silver water. Let us know if you see them!

10:44 AM: Just talked with Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail, at Constellation Park looking for the whales. Not in view yet, she says, but visibility is improving.

West Seattle whale-watching: Southbound orcas:

(Added: Photo Kersti shared in comments)

9:52 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the news that orcas are headed this way again: Southbound, approaching the mouth of Elliott Bay.

10:41 AM: Kersti reports they’re visible from Constellation Park south of Alki Point.

4:05 PM: Kersti says in comments that they’re off south Vashon now.