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Can Southern Resident Killer Whales be saved from extinction? Optimism surfaces on The Whale Trail

(November 2018 photo by Trileigh Tucker – resident orcas being observed by licensed researchers)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Many point out that Earth Day isn’t really about saving the planet – it’s about saving those who live on it, ourselves included.

Some are in more imminent danger than others. In particular, the Southern Resident Killer Whales, whose plight was the focus of this month’s Orca Talk, presented by The Whale Trail.

Their population remains at 75, only four above their historic low of 71. “If they go below 71, no one can say whether they’ll come back.”

That was the somber reminder from both TWT founder/executive director Donna Sandstrom and the Thursday night event’s featured guest, retired marine-mammal expert Dr. Tim Ragen. He opened with toplines on his background, including working on the Marine Mammal Commission in D.C. 2000-2013. More recently – in “retirement” – he’s spent time focusing on other species in danger,from Hawaiian monk seals to Florida manatees.

Addressing the status of the SRKWs, Dr. Ragen explained that the number 75 doesn’t tell the whole story.

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FOLLOWUP: Local participation in investigation of Elliott Bay gray-whale death

Back on Monday, we mentioned that a juvenile gray whale was found dead in Elliott Bay. We found out last night that local observers were part of what happened next. The photos and update were subsequently shared by David Hutchinson of Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network:

It was reported to Sno-King Marine Mammal Response, our partner network to the north. WDFW Enforcement towed the whale up to a site on Whidbey Island, where a necropsy was performed that afternoon. While the whale was not found in Seal Sitters’ West Seattle territory, we were present to observe the procedure.

The necropsy team included participants from Cascadia Research, WDFW Marine Mammal Investigations, SR3 and World Vets. Measurements were taken and samples of the blubber, baleen (photo below), and various organs were collected for later analysis.

No food remains or plastics were found in the whale’s stomach.

Please see Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog for additional details and a link to the preliminary report by Cascadia Research.

Archives note: It’s been exactly nine years since a young gray whale stranded and died in West Seattle.

WHALES: Dead gray in Elliott Bay today; Orca Talk on Thursday

Two whale-related notes:

DEAD GRAY WHALE: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip on this – a dead juvenile gray whale was found near the Coast Guard station on the downtown waterfront and towed away. Cascadia Research Collective will do the necropsy to determine the cause of death.

ORCA TALK THURSDAY: The Whale Trail‘s next Orca Talk is 7 pm Thursday at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor). The announcement, if you haven’t already seen it in our calendar:

(Spyhopping Southern Resident, 12/18, Mark Sears, Permit 21348)

Recovering the Southern Residents: lessons learned from other populations
Presentation by Dr. Timothy Ragen

With just 75 individuals in the population, the southern resident orcas are in danger of going extinct. Is it too late? What will it take to recover the southern residents, and what can we learn from similar efforts with other populations?

Dr. Tim Ragen will review the status of the southern resident killer whale population and then review conservation efforts for other marine mammals to highlight lessons learned and relevant to killer whale conservation.

Whale Trail Director Donna Sandstrom will also give an update on orca legislation, and Governor Inslee’s Task Force on SRKW Recovery.

Buy tickets now to reserve your seat.
$5 suggested donation; kids free.

Donna also sent word today that TWT has just been spotlighted in this KNKX Radio feature.

For the orcas, for us all: Volunteer for Duwamish Alive! on April 20th

(WSB photo from spring 2018 Duwamish Alive!)

Are you registered yet to volunteer for the spring Duwamish Alive! event – multiple locations on Saturday, April 20th? This time, the focus is on how your help can assist in saving Puget Sound’s endangered orcas. Here’s the official announcement:

One of the key elements identified by the Governor’s Task Force in saving our Southern Resident Orcas is not just saving our salmon runs but also increasing the vitality and abundance of salmon runs, especially Chinook Salmon. They are the primary food source, almost exclusively, for Southern Resident Killer Whales. The Green-Duwamish Watershed is home to all 5 species of salmon, including Chinook. The Task Force identified restoring and increasing salmon habitat as one of the 3 primary actions required to save our orca and where individuals can make a positive difference in the orca’s survival and in improving the overall health of our watersheds. Orca are among many wildlife that are dependent on salmon for their survival. Volunteering throughout the year to improve salmon habitat with the many organizations dedicated in improving salmon health in the Puget Sound region will make a difference for the orcas’ survival.

Duwamish Alive! is a watershed-wide effort in improving the health of our salmon by restoring their habitat which provides food, shelter and cool, clean water that salmon need. Starting at 10:00 am Saturday, April 20th, volunteers will be restoring native habitat in multiple urban parks and open spaces from Seattle to Auburn in the ongoing effort to keep our river alive and healthy for our communities, salmon, and Puget Sound. Proving that many individuals working together can make a substantial difference.

Duwamish Alive! is a collaborative stewardship effort of conservation groups, businesses, and government entities, recognizing that our collective efforts are needed to make lasting, positive improvements in the health and vitality of the Green-Duwamish Watershed. Twice a year these events organize hundreds of volunteers to work at multiple sites in the river’s watershed, connecting the efforts of communities from Auburn to Seattle. Volunteers’ efforts include, a river cleanup by kayak, shoreline salmon habitat restoration, and native forest revitalization.

To volunteer, visit www.DuwamishAlive.org to see the different volunteer opportunities and RSVP to the contact for the site of your choice, or email info@duwamishalive.org

P.S. Even if you can’t volunteer, consider stopping by Roxhill Bog on Duwamish Alive! day, 11 am-1 pm – a special event there will help advance long-running efforts to fix hydrologic problems that threaten its future.

ORCA ALERT: ‘Small group’ passing West Seattle

10:01 AM: Just in from Kersti Muul – orca alert! She says a small group, probably transients, is headed southbound, off Alki. Let us know if you see them!

11:11 AM: David Hutchinson saw them – from Constellation Park – and sent the photo we just added above.

1:55 PM: Kersti reports in comments that they are headed back northbound!

2:25 PM: Update from Kersti – they’re “just north of the Fauntleroy ferry, NB on the east side of the channel.” Research boat headed that way, too.

PHOTOS: Orcas off West Seattle, headed southbound

(Added: Photo by Gary Jones)

8:18 AM: We’ve just received multiple reports of orcas in the area right now! Five seen headed southbound, south of Alki Point. Please let us know if you see them!

(Added: Photo by Gary Jones)

8:50 AM: Thanks to Jim, Kersti, and Betsy for the alerts. Jim was first to call and subsequently has reported multiple groups.

(Added: Photo sent by Lori)

9:37 AM: Still in view if you look toward Blake Island, we’re told. Kersti says they’re transients. Adding more photos – thank you, everyone!

FRIDAY NIGHT: Thanks for the photos added in comments! Also, Jim Borrow caught this view of the Vashon Water Taxi Sally Fox whale-watching:

West Seattle whale watching: Orcas in the area

Just got a text from Kersti Muul – orcas are passing West Seattle! Off Blake Island, midchannel, southbound right now.

Fauntleroy Creek gets new native plants – just in time for fish!

Big news from Fauntleroy Creek steward Judy Pickens: “(Volunteer) Dennis (Hinton) just spotted six fry zipping around in the lower creek – our first sighting of home hatch from the fall spawning!” That’s two days after volunteers’ “snow-postponed planting party” – here’s Judy’s report:

(Photos by Kersti Muul)

A dozen volunteers came out over the weekend to install 200 native plants on city-owned property in lower Fauntleroy Creek.

The work party was part of a multi-year Green Seattle Partnership project to improve water quality, eliminate invasive species, and benefit wildlife. A contractor has been weeding the 12,550 sf open-space site adjacent to the fish ladder and planting the steep slope.

Forest steward Peggy Cummings organized the planting party for the Fauntleroy Watershed Council.

Back to the salmon: Volunteer creek-watchers counted 18 last fall.

Yard work? Be careful, for hummingbirds’ sake. Here’s what to look for

Kersti Muul sent that hummingbird photo with the note, “Little Anna’s on the last stages of building her nest. A welcome reminder for people to check before the zealous spring pruning!” Since the weekend sunshine may have many outside pruning, as well as cleaning up what the February snows brought down, we asked her if there was more to say and show about what and who to watch for. She shared this, photos included:

Anna’s hummingbirds start nesting as early as December and can go through June. They love yards that have bright flowers (this one is in a camellia bush). They also nest where there are feeders because of the reliable, safe and close food source.

Look for tiny nests (see photo of my finger with an old nest for scale) usually on slightly downward facing [often forked] branches over an open space that have cover, but are also accessible to the fast-flying beauties. The nests are very delicate; they are constructed of spider webs, lichen, moss, feathers, and fluffy soft material (this one has dog-toy stuffing). This particular bird has been building this nest since around February 18, and is still perfecting it; now she is deepening the bowl by building up the rim.

The snow storm was catastrophic to many plants and I know people are anxious to get pruning.

Just take a peek around the borders of plants and maybe one to two feet back. They are really well camouflaged, especially before the last stages when there is usually some visible white fluff inside it. Anna’s are extremely territorial and if you are near a nest, they usually will have something to say to you, or may dive at your head. If you see hummers in the area, pay attention to where they travel, perch, feed etc. They just may lead you right to the nest.

Another clue is fuzzy nesting material stuck to their often-sticky beaks, as well as cleaning the beak back and forth on twigs. I watched this one take lichen off a nearby tree trunk to add to her nest.

Remember; it is illegal to tamper with an active nest. If you knock a nest down, try to put it back as close as possible to where it was.

But, Kersti – a community naturalist and conservation specialist – stresses that “if the tree is presenting a hazard, then of course safety should come first.”

West Seattle wildlife sighting: Coyote in Upper Alki

Thanks to the texter who shared that photo of a Saturday morning coyote sighting in Upper Alki. After a long time without sighting reports, we’ve had an uptick lately – including one featured in our second gallery of photos taken during the recent snow. We feature them not as warnings but as FYIs, opportunities to remind people that they live among us. This infosheet from state Fish and Wildlife includes helpful info such as how to scare them away if you see one (which is considered to be the best way to react, so they maintain their wariness and keep their distance).

YOU CAN HELP! Become an Urban Nature Guide

(Recent Lincoln Park sunset scene photographed by Jonathan Shipley)

So much natural beauty in West Seattle – particularly in our parks. Want to help others learn about and enjoy it? This opportunity is for you!

Seattle Parks and Recreation is accepting applications for our Seattle Urban Nature Guide program. Up to 50 applicants will be accepted into this unique program that includes training on how to be a naturalist and interpret the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.

The program is entirely free, and those accepted into the program make a one-year commitment Training, includes 5 weeks of classes and outdoor instruction in which new volunteers learn naturalist programming and the natural and cultural history of the Puget Sound area. Higher priority will be given to volunteers interested in guiding school programs in West Seattle.

Volunteers will have access to an excellent natural-history library, develop and hone communication, public speaking and group management techniques; and promote conservation and stewardship of natural resources.

“The people who enter this program have a chance to share fun, fellowship and community with others who enjoy nature and appreciate parks,” said professional Seattle Parks and Recreation Naturalist Penny Rose, who oversees the program.

Volunteers who complete the training are then asked to commit to at least one year of volunteering, including guiding 8 programs for school groups or public programs. Continuing education is offered throughout each year.

Successful applicants will enjoy working with children and the public, have the physical ability to lead group walks over rough terrain, feel comfortable working outdoors and would enjoy volunteering in West Seattle at Camp Long, Longfellow Creek or other parklands.

Applications for the volunteer program are due on Thursday, March 21st. Training begins at the end of March and continues through April.

For more information, and for a complete application packet, please visit our website, or contact Penny Rose at penny.rose@seattle.gov.

FOLLOWUP: NOAA offers $20,000 reward in hopes of solving sea-lion shootings

The poster was sent by Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, who explains:

NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) is offering a $20,000 reward for information about the recent sea lion shootings, a confirmed total of 12 shot dead (9 in West Seattle alone). It is our hope that this will prompt someone to come forward and provide valuable leads. Seal Sitters’ hotline (206-905-7325) received numerous calls reporting shots heard along the Elliott Bay waterfront during the time period the animals were shot (September to early December). There is undoubtedly someone in the public who knows something about the shootings. It is time to get some justice for these remarkable, gregarious animals.

We reported on the shootings multiple times in the fall; the backstory is summarized in this post on Seal Sitters’ website, which also includes a higher-resolution version of the poster shown above, for anyone interested in printing and displaying it.

KNOW SOMETHING? As the poster says, call 206-526-4300, or go here.

VIDEO: Coyote sighting in Fauntleroy Park

One more wildlife sighting before we move on to other news: David Spry shared the clip, reporting, “I managed to get some footage of a coyote this morning. It was just outside of my fence in Fauntleroy Park.” We used to get and publish relatively frequent coyote reports, but haven’t heard much about them for a while, and we get the occasional reader note saying the same thing. Nobody officially tracks them, though a new Woodland Park Zoo/Seattle University project is aiming to do so.

P.S. If you’re new – here’s info on coexisting with coyotes.

West Seattle whale-watching: Humpback sighting

SATURDAY REPORT: Thanks to the texter who reports a humpback whale sighting off Jack Block Park, headed northbound, a while ago. Not sure how to tell what kind of whale you’re looking at? Here’s The Whale Trail‘s page about humpbacks.

ADDED SUNDAY: Thanks to Colin for sharing the photo, added above, via a comment.

West Seattle whale-watching: Orcas return!

(Photo by Monica Zaborac)

12:05 PM: Another orca alert from Kersti Muul: Whales have been spotted in the Bainbridge Island ferry lanes, southbound, so are likely to be within view from West Seattle soon. As always, please let us know if you see them!

12:29 PM: An update from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales – seven to ten orcas, closer to the Bainbridge side but coming into view off Constellation Park south of Alki Point and likely visible from Emma Schmitz Overlook/Me-Kwa-Mooks within half an hour.

ADDED SATURDAY EVENING: Thanks to everyone who provided location updates in comments. Adding a photo sent by Monica Zaborac.

West Seattle whale-watching: Residents, inbound – and more!

3:01 PM: Earlier today, transient orcas passed West Seattle southbound. Right now, Southern Resident Killer Whales are inbound, north of Elliott Bay and headed this way, according to a tip just in from Kersti Muul. Let us know if you see them!

3:30 PM: Off Beach Drive, according to commenters.

3:56 PM: Mel just tweeted about seeing them from the Southworth ferry.

4:18 PM: Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales just called. He says there are three groups of wildlife out there – the orcas traveling through the Fauntleroy ferry lanes and a humpback with them, a “large group of harbor porpoises” near Lowman Beach, and a bottlenose dolphin off Me-Kwa-Mooks (Emma Schmitz Overlook)!

Learn about SR3 @ Thursday’s Alki Community Council meeting

January 16, 2019 6:45 pm
|    Comments Off on Learn about SR3 @ Thursday’s Alki Community Council meeting
 |   Neighborhoods | West Seattle news | Wildlife

(Photo by David Hutchinson)

Maybe you’ve noticed that distinctive vehicle in and around West Seattle. Find out more about the organization behind it at tomorrow’s Alki Community Council meeting. Here’s the announcement:

The next regular monthly meeting of the Alki Community Council will be held Thursday (1/17) at the Alki UCC Church, 6115 SW Hinds, 7–8:30 pm.

Included on the evening’s agenda will be a presentation by Casey Mclean, Executive Director and Veterinary Nurse of SR3 (SEALIFE Response, Rehab and Research). The group’s mission is to improve the health and welfare of marine wildlife in the Pacific NW, and one of the ways they are doing that is by building the first rehab center dedicated exclusively to marine animals in this region. Current plans are for the facility to be located on Harbor Avenue south of Salty’s.

Casey assisted with and performed necropsies on a number of the shot California sea lions that washed ashore in West Seattle late last year.

SR3 is online at sealifer3.org. Also on tomorrow’s ACC agenda: Two HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability items affecting Alki.

No, that’s not a marine mammal in distress

Again this week, Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network received reports of what someone thought was a marine mammal in distress – but wasn’t. David Hutchinson as a result shares information we’ve published in the past about “a typical behavior of sea lions that causes concerns each year,” known as “sailing.” He sent the photo, too, to help explain:

Every fall and winter, Seal Sitters’ Hotline receives calls from folks out walking West Seattle beaches who are concerned about marine mammals offshore that they feel are in distress or entangled. These reports typically turn out to be California sea lions who are regulating their body temperatures by raising flippers out of the water, referred to as “thermoregulation.”

When a single animal does this, it is called “sailing,” while if a group of sea lions is involved, it is called “rafting.” For more details on this behavior, please see the 2010 story in Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog at this link: “Sailing” sea lion sparks concern.

It is also normal behavior for a resting sea lion to just float and drift on the water’s surface without raised flippers, occasionally lifting the head to take a breath. For more information on California sea lions that visit our area during this time of year, see: About California sea lions.

Each year, marine mammals are killed by entanglement in derelict fishing gear. If you see an animal entangled in visible fishing line or net or with obvious injuries, please report this to our Hotline at 206-905-SEAL (7325).

Puget Sound’s orcas have a baby: L124!

If you haven’t heard the promising news yet: The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales that visited central Puget Sound on Thursday had a brand-new visitor with them – as announced by the Center for Whale Research, L-Pod has a new calf, L124, born to 31-year-old L77. This is the third calf known to have been born to L77; the first one died in 2010, same year it was born, and the second one is L119, born in 2012. As CWR somberly points out, many calves don’t survive their first year, so everyone is watching and hoping for the best. The Southern Resident population is now at 75.

West Seattle whale-watching: 2 groups of orcas in the area

(Added: Photo by Gary Jones, from Alki Point)

1:30 PM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the tip! Southern Resident Killer Whales – K-Pod, to be specific – are headed this way, northbound from Burien’s Three Tree Point. They passed here southbound earlier in the day and have now turned around. Please let us know if you see them!

2:01 PM: Another texter says they’re in view from south of Alki Point.

2:54 PM: Turns out there are TWO groups of orcas in the area – southbound transients, northbound residents. And a TV helicopter (according to FlightRadar 24‘s tracker, the one channels 4/5 share) is buzzing them right now off Fauntleroy.

3:16 PM: Thanks for the updates in comments! NB whales are off The Arroyos now.

4:17 PM: As dusk nears, they’re between Fauntleroy and Vashon, per comments as well as a call from Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail.

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.

Read More

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.