Apply to Join
Mar 30, 2020

Gray whales brighten our days; A fond farewell

Friendly Gray - San Ignacio Lagoon; John Gussman
Friendly Gray - San Ignacio Lagoon; John Gussman

First, we want to thank you all for your support over the seven years Orca Network has been a part of GlobalGiving, raising funds for our Whale Sighting Network and Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

We TRULY appreciate your interest and donations, which have helped us educate, advocate, and conduct important research for the whales and marine mammals of the Salish Sea. But our board has decided to focus on our other online fundraising efforts, where our reports reach a wider audience and where more of each dollar donated comes directly to us and enables us to keep doing the work we are doing. We have enjoyed being a part of the GlobalGiving Family, and the connections and support services they have offered us over the years have been very helpful. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to reach out to each of you, and for the donations you have made on behalf of our programs.

As we all face this sad time of fast-spreading illness and isolation around the globe, we send our love to you all, and our hopes you and your families are safe from the COVID 19 pandemic.  We have had to close down our Langley Whale Center, where we educate tens of thousands of visitors each year, with spring being one of our busiest times. We've also cancelled our Welcome the Whales festival and parade - one of our favorite annual events where we educate and celebrate the gray whales returning to our waters. We worry about keeping our staff employed during these times, but thankful they can work at home, and that they are helping us be creative in finding ways to continue the work we do online, via our Orca Network and Langley Whale Center Facebook pages, and our Orca Network website. And we are planning an all new VIRTUAL Welcome the Whales Festival and Parade - watch our website and facebook pages for more detials - as the fun thing about doing it online, is that ANYONE from around the world can be in our parade! We are working to find ways to reach families struggling to educate their kids at home, to become involved in learning about whales and marine mammals through Orca Network and our Whale Sighting Network via online videos, learning activities and resources.

We are very fortunate that during these days of lockdowns, working and schooling at home, those of us here in the inland waters of the Salish Sea have been able to watch the annual spring return of our Gray whales, along with visits from several Transient orca pods during this past month. For those who live in waterfront neighborhoods where they can see whales from their homes or nearby streets (while maintaining social distancing and staying in home/yard/car to stay safe), whales have been the bright spot among all the dark news of recent weeks.

Ten of our North Puget Sound Grays, or "Sounders" have returned to Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound: 21, 22, 44, 49, 53, 56, 185, 383, 531, 2246, and there have been sightings of several other yet to be identified gray whales in Puget Sound and Hood canal. We are thankful the whales are here and hope they are eating a lot of ghost shrimp, as it has continued to be a rough year for Gray whales all up and down the Pacific Coast, and the Unusual Mortality Event continues as they make their migration back north. 

While our local grays are returning to our waters in early March, Orca Network migrates south for our annual Gray Whale Trip to San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, to visit the Grays in one of their mating/birthing lagoons at the southern end of their migration. Moms and their young calves linger there longer, so the calves can gain strength before making the long trek back north to the Bering Sea. We were so fortunate this year to have filmmaker John Gussman on the trip with us, and he made this GREAT VIDEO of our Baja trip - so you can all enjoy a bit of what this life-changing experience is like for the ~24 lucky participants who join us each year!

Nearly 30 years ago, some of the gray whales in this lagoon began approaching the small boats or pangas of Mexican fishermen, seeking interaction. This behavior has continued and been passed down to the calves of the "Friendly" Moms - and a small percent of the whales in the Lagoon each year love to come up and be rubbed and petted, or rub their backs on the bottom of the boats. This friendly behavior has saved San Ignacio Lagoon from a once planned salt factory, and the very well regulated Whale Watch Ecotourism results in the lagoon having no other boats, swimmers, snorkeling, kayakers, etc. in the entire lagoon as it is designated part of the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. There are only a little over a dozen small pangas licensed to be in the Lagoon, they are allowed two 90 minute whale watches per day and only in the designated portion of the lagoon, and only so many boats at a time. It is a wonderful model for how to regulate whale watching in this amazing region, and we are so thankful to have John's wonderful video so we can share this experience with everyone, especially in these times when travel is at a standstill. Enjoy the video, and to learn more and see photos from prior years, click here , and email info@orcanetwork.org if you are interested in being on our next trip (if things are back to normal by next spring - at this point we do not have dates set, but usually go in early March).

We hope you have enjoyed our reports, photos and stories about the work our Whale Sighting Network does, and that our video and photos lift your spirits! We thank you again for all your support over the years, and we will keep our GlobalGiving pages active for a bit longer (~a month), and hope you will continue to support us, and follow us into the future on our website and facebook pages.

Susan Berta and Alisa Lemire Brooks

Orca Network/Whale Sighting Network

Heart shaped Gray whale spout, by Jill Hein
Heart shaped Gray whale spout, by Jill Hein
Gray whale #531 off Everett, WA; R.Snowberger
Gray whale #531 off Everett, WA; R.Snowberger
Curious Gray whale in Baja, by Jill Hein
Curious Gray whale in Baja, by Jill Hein
Gray whale mom & calf snuggle - Baja; Cindy Hansen
Gray whale mom & calf snuggle - Baja; Cindy Hansen
Two Gray whales & Cascade Mountains, R Snowberger
Two Gray whales & Cascade Mountains, R Snowberger

Links:

Mar 26, 2020

Elephant seal family grows by 1! Our last Report - thanks for your support over the years ~

Ellie and her new pup, hours after birth, 3-20-20
Ellie and her new pup, hours after birth, 3-20-20

First, we want to thank you all for your support over the seven years Orca Network has been a part of GlobalGiving, raising funds for our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network and our Whale Sighting Network. 

We TRULY appreciate your interest and donations, which have helped us educate, advocate, and conduct important research for the marine mammals of the Salish Sea. But our board has decided to focus on our other online fundraising efforts, where our reports reach a wider audience and where more of each dollar donated comes directly to us and enables us to keep doing the work we are doing. We have enjoyed being a part of the GlobalGiving Family, and the connections and support services they have offered us over the years, and are thankful to have had the opportunity to reach out to each of you, and for the donations you have made on behalf of our programs.

As we all face this sad time of fast-spreading illness3333334 and isolation around the globe, we send our love to you all, and our hopes you and your families are safe from the COVID 19 pandemic.  We have had to close down our Langley Whale Center, where we educate thousands of visitors each year, with spring being one of our busiest times. We've also cancelled our Welcome the Whales festival and parade - one of our favorite annual events where we educate and celebrate the gray whales returning to our waters. We worry about keeping our staff employed during these times, but thankful they can work at home, and that they are helping us be creative in finding ways to continue the work we do online, via our Orca Network and Langley Whale Center Facebook pages, and our Orca Network website. And we are planning an all new VIRTUAL Welcome the Whales Festival and Parade - watch our website and facebook pages for more detials - as the fun thing about doing it online, is that ANYONE from around the world can be in our parade! And we strive to find ways to reach families struggling to educate their kids at home, to become involved in learning about whales and marine mammals through Orca Network and our Marine Mammal Stranding Network via online videos, learning activities and resources.

So given the dark times we are currently living in, our last report from our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network is one of joy and life ~ as we bring you the exciting news that Ellie the Elephant seal has just had a new pup! We have previously reported on Ellie and her two previous pups, both born on Whidbey Island, WA, and both coming back to the area each year (right now both her older pups, Ellison and Elsie Mae, are also on Whidbey Island, at other locations from where their mom is with her brand new pup). 

Not only does this Elephant seal family bring us all a lot of joy, observing and tracking their travels collects important information for biologists and researchers as this species becomes more numerous in our inland waters. Here is what we heard back today from Jeff Harris, a pinniped specialist with NOAA Fisheries (he has helped us monitor this family, and tagged Elsie Mae so we can better track her): 

"These animals are really doing something unusual. The rest of the population is pupping on southern rookeries from late December to late January. There are NO pups being born down there at this time (late March) and all the females have already weaned their pups and returned to the sea. Whatever (Ellie) is doing that causes her to pup later in the year, must be a necessity for her very different lifestyle and benefits her pups' survival. I was working with a Mexican biologist the last two weeks and he is documenting elephant seals declining on the established southern rookeries at an impressive rate due to increased temperature. It appears that Elsie-Mae has adopted her mother's altered schedule, this species appears to be more elastic in their ability to cope with a changing environment than I ever would have guessed. Lets keep that little baby safe from dogs and people while he/she (I hope its a girl!) puts on weight before weaning. What an uplifting event!"

We hope you have enjoyed our stories about this elephant seal family and the other work we do, and that these wonderful photos lift your spirits! We thank you again for all your support, and will keep our GlobalGiving pages active for a bit longer, and hope you will continue to support us and follow us on our website and facebook pages. 

Susan Berta and Sandy Dubpernell,

Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network/Orca Network

New pup snuggled next to Mom, by Jill Hein
New pup snuggled next to Mom, by Jill Hein
Ellie and sleeping pup, 3-21-20, by Jill Hein
Ellie and sleeping pup, 3-21-20, by Jill Hein
Elsie Mae, Ellie's 2nd born, Whidbey Island 3-22
Elsie Mae, Ellie's 2nd born, Whidbey Island 3-22
Ellison during molt, summer 2019 by Paul Shapiro
Ellison during molt, summer 2019 by Paul Shapiro

Links:

Dec 17, 2019

Who's Minding the Kids?

Newborn Elsie Mae, March 2018, Alisa Lemire Brooks
Newborn Elsie Mae, March 2018, Alisa Lemire Brooks

Who’s Minding the Kids?

Lots of Stranding Network volunteers and local residents it seems!

By “kids” we're referring to the young elephant seals born right here on Whidbey Island, in the Salish Sea region of Washington State.

Ellison, our first known elephant seal pup to be born on Whidbey Island, will be five years old; and sister Elsie Mae will be two years old in March 2020. Both were born to "Ellie" a female elephant seal who has been coming back to Whidbey every spring to molt and give birth on the same westside island beach and observed by our Stranding Network staff and volunteers for years. 

The two offspring have distinctly different personalities, and as they grow, will look quite different as well. Ellison, being the male, is already quite large with the notorious "big nose" of male elephant seals beginning to show. They both have become quite famous, as the neighborhoods they visit are filled with citizens who love and watch over them to make sure they are not being harassed.

Ellison seems to be a “homebody” spending a great deal of time on his favorite beach on a very small island just off Whidbey Island, surrounded by much smaller harbor seals where he is relatively safe from human interaction.  He has been recorded on the beach for 138 days from January through October so far this year. A recent photo of him shows that he is beginning to develop the large proboscis (or inflatable nose) of an adult male elephant seal - at adulthood his nose will overhang his lower lip by about eight inches! He is getting larger too - fully adult males can reach up to 13 feet in length and a weight of 4,400 pounds. Male Elephant seals have a lifespan of ~13 years, and at about age nine or ten, males typically form "harems" of females in areas where large numbers of elephant seals haul out. It will be interesting to see if Ellison continues to remain in his more solitary life on Whidbey, or travel further south in search of females to mate with as he gets older. 

Elsie Mae, on the other hand, is a “party animal” and seems to love people (not usually a good thing for a marine mammal). She has been tagged by WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife shortly after she was born, with tag #1285, so she is easy to track. She has been observed and confirmed on at least four different islands in our region during her first year and a half, and attended at least one wedding on each of those islands! She spent several weeks in a marina community attending weddings, parties and picnics and becoming a constant concern to our pup sitting volunteers who had to maintain safe distances between her - a wild animal - and eager visitors, for the safety of all. 

With the help of WDFW, our stranding network finally had to relocate Elsie from that busy location, between the large number of people there and the nearby road she kept waddling into, stopping traffic. But she immediately left the remote beach she was relocated to, and shortly afterward showed up on a neighboring island where she attended public events at one state park before moving on to another, causing the same concerns.

We credit Elsie Mae with being an “ambassador for her species” giving the excited public a once in a lifetime chance to observe and learn from such an unusual and entertaining animal. A recent photo of Elsie Mae posing in one of her yoga positions at the last park she visited is included - she is so cute, we can't help but have our hearts melted by her face and antics!  We are all very fortunate that CPSMMSN volunteer Sammye watched over Elsie and educated park visitors during her recent stay, and captured a video of Elsie finally departing the park, after struggling to get over the logs on the beach (see video link below). As Elsie continues to grow, she will reach a length of about 10 feet and a weight of 1,300 pounds at adulthood. Female elephant seals have a lifespan of about 19 years. 

Thanks to your support, our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has been able to track and document this first known family of elephant seals on Whidbey Island, and each year we get to know them better, and in the process educate hundreds of people and collect data useful for agencies such as NOAA Fisheries and WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Our staff and volunteers are working on a book about this elephant seal family, and each year we are provided more wonderful photographs and stories to add to the tale. As people learn more about these individual elephant seals, they also learn about the species, and about the changing ecosystem which has brought about changes in species present in our local and regional waters. We hope you too have enjoyed getting to know Ellison and Elsie Mae!

Mom Ellie, who started it all! by Nicole Luce
Mom Ellie, who started it all! by Nicole Luce
Ellison on his island April 2017, by Jeff Harris
Ellison on his island April 2017, by Jeff Harris
Ellison in 2019, probiscus growing! Kelly Post
Ellison in 2019, probiscus growing! Kelly Post
Elsie Nov.2019 posing at a State Park, C. Buchanan
Elsie Nov.2019 posing at a State Park, C. Buchanan
Ellison the Elephant Seal, by Kelly Post
Ellison the Elephant Seal, by Kelly Post

Links:

 
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.