Apply to Join
Jan 18, 2018

Fall/Winter Sightings: Orcas, Humpbacks & Dolphins

Transients in Seattle 1-13 by Alisa Lemire Brooks
Transients in Seattle 1-13 by Alisa Lemire Brooks

Endangered Southern Resident Orcas

In our previous report, along with hopeful news on humpbacks and other species, 2017 brought forth sad realities of the seriously inadequate prey conditions affecting the Southern Resident killer whales; the dire situation of abysmal 2017 Fraser River chinook runs which resulted in a record low number of days J, K and L pods spent inland in their core summer habitat. Of note too, it has been another long period of no new calves born to this clan. The last surviving birth was over two years ago with L123 Lazuli, born November 2015.

This Fall/winter season has brought the welcome surprise of more inland Puget Sound visits from the Southern Residents than we’ve seen in recent years, of which K pod (see Alisa's video from December) - who was barely seen at all spring/summer 2017 - has been the predominant. These past few months have been a busy time with all three pods coming and going with November being the busiest with some combinations of residents foraging and feasting on salmon from Admiralty Inlet and southward nearly half the days. We do hope they were finding plenty of salmon to help sustain them.

Transient/Bigg's Orcas

Mammal eaters are still finding plenty to eat in the inland waters of the Salish Sea and this fall/winter we have seen many matrilines coming and going in Puget Sound, sometimes in near proximity to the residents. Mid/late October had the T37s inland, they are one of the more resident of the Bigg’s matrilines to frequent our waters. T137s showed up again early November and spent around 10 days here, then were photographed and ID’d on November 30th by one of our volunteers. Mid December brought the exciting news the T137s had been ID’d along with the T36Bs off Mendocino, California! By the end of December they were back in the Salish Sea (see video of T90s and T100s by Alisa) and on New Years day were in Active Pass, BC. Such a wonderful example how through citizen science and cooperation of so many observers we can come to understand how far these apex predators can and do travel.

TWO MORE ID MATCH STORIES

“Google” the Humpback whale:

In early November during some quieter weeks, Alisa made a match with one of the humpbacks who spent over a month in south Puget Sound (Dorsal Dot) to a whale who was first recorded off the NE Coast of Vancouver Island as the 2016 calf of BCX1188. It was through the many photos shared by our volunteers and other contributors a match was possible to that of the calf in the Marine Education Research Society (MERS) catalogue. Researchers at MERS who first documented “Google” with his mom in NE Vancouver Island were thrilled. This is just one instance which highlights the importance of volunteers and citizen scientists and the importance of each contribution. You can read all about this exciting match on the MERS Facebook page.

“Miss” the Bottlenose dolphin:

September 30th one of our volunteers snapped a photo of who turned out to be a bottlenose dolphin. Periodically we get rare visitors who are outside their range. Sightings of several bottlenose continued to come in and by the end of November Cascadia Research in collaboration with their California Colleagues had enough documentation to positively ID an individual known as "Miss". She is part of a California coastal stock and is well known to researchers, first photographed in southern California in 1983! You can read more about this dolphin and ID match on the Cascadia Research website.

We are so grateful for the effort of everyone in helping to document these whales! 

It is through the efforts and cooperation of many individuals that we get a sense of where these cetaceans go and what they are up to, and this information in turn is shared with researchers and natural resource managers who are working to help protect and preserve cetacean species, their prey sources and habitats.

And we are so grateful for your support of Orca Network’s Whale Sighting Network which helps this work continue ~ together we can all work to help the whales of the Salish Sea and beyond.

Residents in Admiralty Inlet by Marilyn Armbruster
Residents in Admiralty Inlet by Marilyn Armbruster
Resident breach, Vashon Island, by Kelly Keenan
Resident breach, Vashon Island, by Kelly Keenan
K21 & Research boat near Kingston, by Sara Frey
K21 & Research boat near Kingston, by Sara Frey
T137 in Agate Pass, Suquamish, by Connie Bickerton
T137 in Agate Pass, Suquamish, by Connie Bickerton
J pod spyhop off Bush Pt. Nov. 1 by Howard Garrett
J pod spyhop off Bush Pt. Nov. 1 by Howard Garrett

Links:

Jan 17, 2018

2017 Year End Report - Porpoise, seals and Ellison

Harbor seal pup, photo by Sandra Dubpernell
Harbor seal pup, photo by Sandra Dubpernell

Harbor seals and pupping season

2017 was a very busy year for marine mammal stranding reports and calls about live harbor seal pups “abandoned” on the beach. We spent a lot of time answering these pup calls and educating the concerned public that this is normal behavior between Mom and a newborn pup, and that the best thing to do is leave the pup alone and stay away so Mom feels safe to come back to nurse her baby. Unfortunately we were unable to reach everybody and several newborn pups died due to human interference.

All told we had 209 harbor seal reports, with 140 in July alone, the peak of birthing season in our part of the Salish Sea.  This is a 14% increase over 2016, which was our second busiest year with 183 calls.

See chart #1 “Harbor Seal Calls 2013-2017"

In the past five years we have received a total of 1,167 reports of dead, stranded, possibly injured and healthy live marine mammals, including harbor seals, California and Steller sea lions, elephant seals, harbor and Dalls porpoises, orcas, and gray and humpback whales. 75% of the calls were about harbor seals, our most prevalent marine mammal.

See chart “Calls By Species 2013-2017”

Our team focuses our limited funds on performing necropsies on Harbor porpoise, as the results of their exams and sample testing help inform us about what our endangered Southern Resident orcas are also being exposed to in the Salish Sea. Many of our recent porpoise necropsies have resulted in interesting results, with samples from one case being sent to the UK for further testing, after testing at several labs in the US could not pinpoint the exact pathogen. More on this interesting case in our next report!

See chart "Harbor Porpoise Strandings by Month, 2013 - 2017"

Ellison is Back!

We’ve told you the story, starting almost three years ago, about our favorite female elephant seal giving birth to a male pup. This was the first elephant seal birth reported on Whidbey Island. We named him Ellison.

Since then, he has returned several times to his favorite spot near where he was born. And he is back again now, photographed in late December looking very handsome (for an elephant seal). We can see that he is beginning to develop a more pointed nose and will eventually grow the large proboscis of a mature male, which would look like a short trunk of a terrestrial elephant (hence the name elephant seal).

We have hopes to find funding to put a tracking tag on Ellison so we can see where he goes when he is not here. Does he go far out to sea or have another resting place nearby? Does he meet up with others of his kind? Where does he feed?

There was a gray whale some years back with a tracking tag. On the computer we could actually see her migration from Mexico, up the west coast of the US, then across the Pacific Ocean to Sakhalin Island.

What an incredible trek. With a similar tag we could learn so much about our “little boy” Ellison, and gather further data on the changes in species we are seeing in the Salish Sea.

We thank all the wonderful donors to the Orca Network/Central Puget Sound Stranding Network via GlobalGiving for financial support enabling us to continue producing educational materials, flyers, displays and lectures for the public so they can learn to appreciate, as much as we do, these beautiful creatures of the Salish Sea. Funds also go toward paying our Marine Mammal Veterinarian, Dr. Stephanie Norman, who helps us investigate the cause of death for porpoise and other priority cases, to inform us about the health of marine mammals and therefore the health of the Salish Sea and all who live here.

CPSMMSN Harbor seal calls, 2013 - 2017
CPSMMSN Harbor seal calls, 2013 - 2017
CPSMMSN calls by species, 2013 - 2017
CPSMMSN calls by species, 2013 - 2017
Harbor porpoise strandings by month, 2013 - 2017
Harbor porpoise strandings by month, 2013 - 2017
Elephant seal Ellison, 12-2017, Jeff Harris photo
Elephant seal Ellison, 12-2017, Jeff Harris photo

Links:

Oct 23, 2017

Only 76 Left

L pod off Whidbey Isl, Sept. 19, Dick Snowberger
L pod off Whidbey Isl, Sept. 19, Dick Snowberger

Only 76 left.

Endangered Southern Resident Orcas ~

It is with such heavy hearts we pass along the very sad news that since our last report, matriarch K13 Skagit and 2-1/2 year-old J52 Sonic (one of the "baby-boom" calves) have been confirmed deceased by the Center for Whale Research. These devastating losses bring the official count of the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas down to just 76 members.

Orcas will go where they can find food, they go where the salmon are. As mentioned in our last update, the Fraser River Chinook salmon runs were abysmal this year. Of the three pods, J pod and L87 spent the most time inland foraging for what scarce Chinook was to be found in their core summer habitat, members of L pod came and went less often, and K pod hardly showed up at all. To further highlight the extreme decrease in prey availability, October 15th marked the first time the L54s, L84, and L88 were documented inland in 2017, meaning they spent ZERO time in their core summer habitat. 2017 was the worst on record (by a huge margin) for the number of days spent inland by the three pods during the late spring and summer months. Every sighting of this fragile community of orcas this summer felt like a rare gift, their presence in our Salish Sea waters on a consistent basis no longer being taken for granted.

Enjoy this video of J and L pods off Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island, filmed July 23, 2017 by Alisa Lemire Brooks

In the Pacific Northwest, this time of year brings the rains and the Chum salmon which feeds the Southern Residents during the fall and early winter months. True to their instincts they showed up after our first significant rains, and on September 18th in several spread out groups, Js and Ls showed up (much to everyone’s surprise) for their first documented Fall 2017 foray into Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound. 

Bigg's/Transient Orcas ~

The summer so void of Southern Resident orcas was filled with the mammal eaters. The past several years an abundance of seals, sea lions and porpoise means Bigg’s/Transient orcas have had plenty of food available to them to maintain a steady presence throughout the Salish Sea year round, this summer was no exception. Summer of 2017 brought unprecedented numbers of Transients often in large groups on a consistent basis. What once was a summer rarity in Puget Sound turned out to be a full summer with weeks-long stays by some matrilines and individuals.

Here are two wonderful videos of Bigg's/Transient orcas off Whidbey Island filmed by Alisa Lemire Brooks:

T65As and T137s in Admiralty Inlet, August 30, 2017

T100s in Holmes Harbor/Saratoga Passage, August 31, 2017

Humpback Whales ~

Humpbacks continue recolonizing their historical home waters. New individuals are showing up each year along with those who have been returning consistently for several. One humpback who showed the most fidelity to Puget Sound again this year is CS631/CRC16017 known affectionately as Two Spot. He has been documented around Puget Sound for the past three years, typically for prolonged stays. Prior to this week he was seen daily for nearly two months in primarily North Sound around the Kingston/Point No Point/Edmonds/South Whidbey area. It is hopeful to see the return of a native species who was hunted to near extinction and extirpated from the Salish Sea. Their return has increased people's enthusiasm, offers many opportunities to educate the public, and also increases the need for volunteers to help document their comeback. Sadly, their recovery and increase in whales also means an increase in the number of entanglements we will see. Our co-founder Howard Garrett observed and photographed a humpback entangled in gill netting on October 6th off San Juan Island. Working closely with the Stranding Networks and Large Whale Entanglement Team led by NOAA Fisheries, we put our volunteers on alert and did so again when the whale showed up two days later in Admiralty Inlet. Unfortunately the Entanglement Team was not able to reach this whale on either of those days, and our Sighting and Stranding Network volunteers continue to look for sightings of this whale.

Volunteer/Citizen Whale Sightings help us help the whales ~

One of our Whale Sighting Network's priorities is to track the Southern Resident orcas during the fall and early winter months when they enter Puget Sound in search of Chum salmon, and gather reports we forward to local researchers and organizations, as well as alerting and educating other citizens who are eager to line the shores to watch and learn. As you can see, whales have a year-round presence now in Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea basin. We are more grateful than ever for our Whale Sighting Network Volunteers who are great allies and so helpful in documenting the Southern Residents and all the other whales, and who have been at the ready to go out in times such as the entangled humpback. We are so grateful to you for your support that helps keep our Whale Sighting Network going!

To learn more about Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network and the whales of the Salish Sea, please visit our website Sightings Page.

J & L pods, Whidbey Island, Sept. 19, Susan Berta
J & L pods, Whidbey Island, Sept. 19, Susan Berta
Transients near Ft. Casey, Aug. 14, Rachel Haight
Transients near Ft. Casey, Aug. 14, Rachel Haight
Transients, Bainbridge, Sept. 16, Connie Bickerton
Transients, Bainbridge, Sept. 16, Connie Bickerton
Humpback with gill netting, Oct.6th,Howard Garrett
Humpback with gill netting, Oct.6th,Howard Garrett
Humpback breach "Two Spot", Oct. 15, Janine Harles
Humpback breach "Two Spot", Oct. 15, Janine Harles

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.