Jul 9, 2018

New Stranding Volunteer Coordinator Hired - THANKS to YOU!

Newborn Harbor seal pup July 1st, Garry Heinrich
Newborn Harbor seal pup July 1st, Garry Heinrich

Dear Global Giving Givers,

We want to thank you for your generous donations that have allowed us to finally hire a Stranding Network Volunteer Coordinator. This has become a monstrous task through the years due mainly to the volume of calls and responses for harbor seal pups during the summer birthing season, as well as increased Harbor porpoise strandings and other stranding calls throughout the year.

Last year we received a total of 314 reports of stranded marine mammals resulting in many hours of acknowledging phone calls and emails, and organizing volunteers for on site responses. So far this year we have received 138 calls, with the busy summer and seal pupping seasons still to come.

Hiring a volunteer coordinator to handle these calls both incoming and outgoing, and following up on these marine mammal strandings has allowed Orca Network Executive Director Susan Berta time to more efficiently coordinate the numerous functions of the Orca Network (projects besides the CPSMMSN include the Langley Whale Center, Whale Sighting Network, Campaign to retire Lolita/Tokitae the orca, and Education/Outreach programs); and the Stranding Network Coordinator/Archivist (Sandra Dubpernell) to complete the records and database in a more timely manner, providing information to NOAA Fisheries for the National Marine Mammal Stranding database.

Our new Stranding Network Volunteer coordinator is Garry Heinrich. Garry has many years experience on the high seas as Master of an historic tall ship traveling the Pacific Coast and has learned much about the creatures that inhabit the ocean. He is also a retired Middle School Teacher, and has spent several years serving as a volunteer for our CPSMMSN. He is well qualified to organize our volunteers to respond to strandings, and to assist in response to strandings and providing education and reassurance to the general public.

Garry has already been busy with our resident Elephant seal and her pups - especially Ellison, the two year old male who hauls out on a small island and has seen a little too much human interaction this season. Garry has been meeting the neighborhood folks, and Sandra will be speaking at their Home Owners Association meeting to educate them about Elephant seals, since Ellison has adopted their neighborhood as his home and returns for several months each year. 

Garry has also been busy handling seal pup calls, and a dead stranded Harbor seal and sea lion during his first month of work. We are so thankful to have his help, and to have YOUR help in supporting and enabling us to hire some part time help!

We have also continued our investigations into dead stranded Harbor porpoise, with two porpoise being necropsied in June, on the 1st and the 8th. These were fresh specimens which is helpful in detecting cause of death and any diseases or pathogens. Both were males, and thus far the samples collected and tested show they both had some serious health issues, but we are conducting further tests to determine the exact causes of death for each case, and to identify what appear to be some unique findings among the samples collected. We will report more on these porpoise in our next report.

Your funds help us to conduct these necropsies (paying our excellent Marine Mammal Veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Norman), and pay for the testing of samples, which can be over $1000 per sample for some of the tests. But the results of these porpoise investigations help us better understand the health of all cetaceans living in the Salish Sea, including the endangered Southern Resident orcas, of whom only 75 remain.

Please consider making an extra contribution this next month or so, to help us conduct the further testing needed to identify new pathogens/diseases that provide important information about the health of the Salish Sea and all of us who live here.

Thank you again for your continued support!

Male two year old Elephant Seal, by Garry Heinrich
Male two year old Elephant Seal, by Garry Heinrich
Seal pup on Mutiny Bay, July 4th
Seal pup on Mutiny Bay, July 4th
June 7th Harbor porpoise stranding
June 7th Harbor porpoise stranding

Links:

Apr 12, 2018

Life and death in the Salish Sea ~

Ellie and newborn pup, Allie Hudec
Ellie and newborn pup, Allie Hudec

ELLIE HAS DONE IT AGAIN!

Ellie is the Northern elephant seal that we’ve told you about before. She has come to a local beach for many years to go through her annual molt. Then three years ago on March 18, 2015 she gave birth to a male pup we named Ellison. Ellison has also returned several times to the island since then and hangs out for a few days at a time with a bunch of harbor seals on the opposite side of the island as his mother's favorite haulout. He is now three years old and is just beginning to get his elongated nose, although he still has a few years to go before he develops the huge body and big proboscis of a mature male.

This year on March 10, Ellie gave birth to another little black pup. This one is a female we named Elsie May. Ellie nursed her pup for about four weeks and then went back out to sea leaving her very fat, healthy little girl to fend for herself (see photos included in this report of the pup at just two days old, one week old, and four weeks old; as well as Alisa Lemire Brooks' wonderful video of the pup at about one week old).

Elsie May will remain here for a few more weeks living on her fat reserve until she has learned to forage for herself and has slimmed down to a streamlined elephant seal shape before she also goes out to sea.

Elephant seals are quite rare on Whidbey, although we do get a few here resting during their annual molt. But Ellie is the first Elephant seal that we know of who has been giving birth to new pups on Whidbey Island, and it is so exciting to now witness her second pup born here!

There are some tagging possibilities being investigated by WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (attaching a small ID tag to the webbing of the flipper). If tagged, the animals can be tracked to discover where they go when they leave our island, providing valuable data about habitat use and changes in range for these marine mammals who are fairly new to our region. 

 

DECEASED/STRANDED GRAY WHALE

On April 3rd, a dead gray whale was reported washed up on a local beach.

A necropsy was performed by researchers from Cascadia Research Collective (our regional large whale experts), assisted by WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and members of Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network  and other volunteers. The whale was a juvenile female who was in poor nutritional condition with only wood debris in her stomach, internal parasites and skin heavily infested with whale lice. The preliminary cause of death was attributed to starvation. Tests on the tissues collected may give us more information as to why this little female died.

Since 2002, when we became an official Stranding Network, there have been ten gray whales that died in our response area. Two were not examined, six others died of malnutrition and two from severe trauma caused most likely by ship strike.

The majority of these animals, both male and female of all ages from juvenile to adult, washed up during the spring months, which would be when they are migrating north to their rich feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas of Alaska. Gray whales feed in the cold waters all summer before starting in late November/December on their 5000-6000 mile southward migration to the warm mating and birthing lagoons of Baja Mexico. They remain there for a few months, not feeding, until they make the long return trip back to the northern seas. Some whales may not have sufficiently “filled the tank” before migrating south and desperate to find food on their way north turn right at the Strait of San de Fuca along the Olympic Peninsula and travel approximately 100 miles to our inland sea. We do have some prolific ghost shrimp beds (food favored by gray whales, and discovered by a community of about a dozen grays who come in each year to feed) on the eastside of Whidbey, but it appears that these whales don't know about them, or die before finding them. 

Thus is the cycle of life and death, and the joys and sorrows experienced by our CPSMMSN staff and volunteers. Most of the work we do and strandings we respond to are not stories with happy endings. However, the data we collect, the results of testing the samples taken, and examination of each lost marine mammal gives us insight into the health of the Salish Sea and all who live in it. This knowledge can be used by researchers and resource managers to better care for our ocean, and understand the changes we are seeing.

We are thankful this month for the story of Ellie and her second pup, and to have something fun to share with you, along with the sadder stories and important work we do to investigate the reasons behind marine mammal deaths.

Your support is important to us, to help us continue to learn about the marine mammals of the Salish Sea, and the health of the ocean we all depend on.

Ellie & week old pup, Alisa Lemire Brooks
Ellie & week old pup, Alisa Lemire Brooks
Ellie's elephant seal pup, 4 weeks old, Jill Hein
Ellie's elephant seal pup, 4 weeks old, Jill Hein
Ellie's first pup, Ellison, 12-17, by Jeff Harris
Ellie's first pup, Ellison, 12-17, by Jeff Harris
Deceased gray whale, Whidbey Isl., by Allie Hudec
Deceased gray whale, Whidbey Isl., by Allie Hudec
Gray whale necropsy, April 5th, by Allie Hudec
Gray whale necropsy, April 5th, by Allie Hudec

Links:

Apr 11, 2018

Southern Residents, Transients, Grays and Dolphins

Gray whale heart-shaped spout, by Bonnie Gretz
Gray whale heart-shaped spout, by Bonnie Gretz

SOUTHERN RESIDENTS

While prepping this report (April 7th) we and our Whale Sighting Network volunteers are tracking members of J pod who have come in search of salmon in Saratoga Passage. It was around this time in April 2016 Js spent four of their 10-day Puget Sound stay in Saratoga Pass/Holmes Harbor feasting on what locals reported as Black mouth salmon. Hopefully they are finding enough this year to stay around at least a few days! 

As has been typical, Js & L87 have been spending much of the winter in the inland waters around the San Juan Islands and BC waters, primarily further north in Georgia Strait between Nanaimo and Campbell River area. Ks and Ls spend most of their winter months off in the Pacific so we receive fewer reports on their whereabouts during this period each year. We did receive reports of members of L pod off the Washington Coast on February 13th and again off Depoe Bay, Oregon on March 19th. It is not unusual to have even fewer to no reports on K pod at this time of year. 

NORTH PUGET SOUND GRAY WHALES  

The return and presence of the North Puget Sound (NPS) gray whales each year piques our interest and warms our beings. On a beautiful, sunny, and very warm March 1st, one gray whale was observed for much of the day engaged in typical 'Sounder' feeding behavior in the Snohomish Delta just off Jetty Island, Everett. Two days later (March 3rd) four grays were in North Puget Sound including confirmed IDs for three whales: #’s 53, 56, & 723. A fourth gray was feeding off Jetty Island as that trio of known whales were well to the south off Possession Point. March 4th beloved gray #49 Patch was confirmed. And so they came, one by one by two by three to feast on ghost shrimp in the tidal flats primarily around Whidbey, Camano, and Hat/Gedney Islands, and along Everett and Tulalip.

March 16th brought reports to us of an unknown gray who was not one of the returning Sounders, but appeared to be traveling with them. We forwarded photos to Cascadia Research Collective (CRC) who knew this whale well and ID’d him as PCFG CRC-185, a member of the Pacific Coast Feeding Group. PCFG185  has been documented on at least 7 other days since his arrival feeding with or in close proximity to the others.  Another unknown gray also found his/her way to that area and has been seen on a couple of occasions along with the known Sounders and 185. 

Another exciting and welcome sight was seeing images of #22 Earhart who arrived on March 21st. She is the whale who was struck by a boat last year. By all reports she seems to be feeding normally and appears to be in well enough health. She is seen most days traveling and feeding alongside #21 who arrived on the 15th of March. 21 and 22  have a long standing relationship and history with this area, they are the first grays documented in North Puget Sound back in the early 90’s by CRC. 

Reports of NPS grays feeding and traveling together come in daily. Such a special time of year when we get to spend our spring days in the presence of these gentle giants. To date here are the grays who have been recorded feeding in North Puget Sound: (excludes 2 other unknowns who showed up in Edmonds in February)

        - 9 Sounders: 21, 22, 44, 49, 53, 56, 383, 531, 723

        - PCFG CRC-185

        - Unknown

Check out wonderful videos to two sightings of these Gray whales from March 3rd and 4th in the links following this report.

DECEASED GRAY

Sadly a deceased young female gray stranded on a Whidbey Beach on April 3rd: A team led by Cascadia Research which included our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteers, examined this young girl on the 5th and found that she was malnourished, and “The unique markings on this whale did not match any of the more regular individuals that are typically seen in this region and cataloged by Cascadia Research and was likely one of the more than 20,000 gray whales that migrate past Washington each year in spring.” - Cascadia Research

BIGG’S/TRANSIENT ORCAS

Over the past few months since our last report many families of Bigg’s/Transient orcas (mammal eating type) have frequented Puget Sound Waters. Our Whale Sighting Network volunteers have been invaluable getting IDs and photo/video documentation which we continue to forward to researchers and include in our Whale Sighting Reports.

Recently a family named the T2Cs has spent many weeks around the San Juan Islands, and mid March they spent two days in and around Admiralty Inlet. On March 17th they spent many hours just outside of Admiralty Inlet with the  T37As and T99s then all headed south traveling most the length of Admiralty Inlet reaching Double Bluff by nightfall.  Watch this great video of these orcas, taken by Alisa Lemire Brooks. The T2Cs then showed up by themselves off Port Townsend the next day, headed to the San Juans overnight, and traveled over to BC waters across Haro Strait. Much gushing was had over this unique family who cares for and travels at the pace of T2C2, a son who has severe scoliosis. 

In early March a large gathering of many matrilines powered their way swiftly through Puget Sound with purpose. Such a comanding and beatuiful presence with so many families present. Here is video of the T77A, T87, T101s, T124As, & T124Ds on March 7th in Puget Sound. 

Mid to late February had a group of Bigg’s, T124A2s, T124C, and T87, who stayed around for much of the week. These four days with these inland Bigg's was exhilarating and afforded much land-based viewing for so many.  Hundreds of people were able to get out and enjoy the presence of these apex predators, often times during snowfall, high winds, and overall biting cold conditions which is for some a magical way to spend snowy winter days! 

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHIN

Collaboration between Orca Network’s Whale Sighting Network and Cascadia Research has yielded  a 2nd ID on one of the bottlenose dolphins who is currently living in Puget Sound, far from her waters of more temperate climes. Photos sent to Orca Network were used along with contributions by others to confirm the identity of an individual known as Stump, a well know female from a California Coastal population. Read more about her at this link to Cascadia Research.

It would be impossible to document and keep track of all the whales and cetaceans without the help of our volunteers. Your support helps enable us to keep our Whale Sighting Network active, engaging, and current. Thank you for supporting the work we do and will continue on behalf of all the beings of the Salish Sea.

J pod & scoters, Saratoga Psg, Apr. 7th, Jill Hein
J pod & scoters, Saratoga Psg, Apr. 7th, Jill Hein
Grays #49 Patch & 53 Little Patch, by Jill Hein
Grays #49 Patch & 53 Little Patch, by Jill Hein
Gray #22 flukes, March 31st, by Bonnie Gretz
Gray #22 flukes, March 31st, by Bonnie Gretz
Gray # 22's head, March 24, Richard Snowberger
Gray # 22's head, March 24, Richard Snowberger
Bigg's orcas T101B and T101A, by Kelly Keenan
Bigg's orcas T101B and T101A, by Kelly Keenan

Links:

 
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