Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network

by Orca Network
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Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
Orca Network - Whale Sighting Network
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

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J pod off S. Whidbey Island in Sept, M. Armbruster
J pod off S. Whidbey Island in Sept, M. Armbruster

Just days after sending out our last update J pod & L87, and part of K pod, made their first fall foray to the inland waters of Puget Sound chasing after fall salmon returning to their natal rivers to spawn as they do each year.

Over the next few months J pod was in Puget Sound for 14 days in November, 7 days in October, and 9 days in September. The chum and coho salmon that were reluctant to go upstream due to low flows may have provided some sustenance for Js and occasionally K pod as well. Two wonderful videos of Southern Resident orcas by Alisa Lemire Brooks can be found at the links below, so you may enjoy watching these beautiful whales along with all the others lined up on the shoreline to witness their passing

During one of their stays, one human mother took her children on a journey following along with the whales from shore until there was light no more:

…The kids were bathed and in PJ's in their stroller for a truly Magical moment. We could see them under moon light and really hear their blows…

Orca Network provides a place for humans to connect to the whales and learn about their needs and the issues they face. The connections people feel toward the Southern Residents are so strong and deep. Through these connections people gain a strong stewardship ethic and become advocates for this struggling population of orcas which gives hope Js, Ks, and Ls have a fighting chance.

In this time of conflict and concern for the future, it is hard to find accurate, truthful sources of information and impactful courses of action for the environment. Founded in 2001, Orca Network has evolved into a respected world-wide hub of information with programs that generate true progress. Your gift has made an impact on our citizens, whales and all inhabitants of the Salish Sea.

Because of you, our message grows stronger and has greater impact each year. 

You have made it possible for Orca Network to expand our outreach and provide more staffing to keep up with our growing Whale Sighting Network. We can reach out to and involve more people in observing the whales and taking action to protect them, and gather increasing amounts of sightings data for researchers and agencies, all of us working together to provide a brighter future for the next generation of whales, and humans ~

J pod breach - Clinton, Whidbey Isl. R. Snowberger
J pod breach - Clinton, Whidbey Isl. R. Snowberger
J41 & 51, Pt. Robinson, WA in Nov. Jami Cantrell
J41 & 51, Pt. Robinson, WA in Nov. Jami Cantrell
J38 off Clinton, Whidbey Isl in Nov. R. Snowberger
J38 off Clinton, Whidbey Isl in Nov. R. Snowberger
Nov. whale watchers, Vashon Isl A. Lemire Brooks
Nov. whale watchers, Vashon Isl A. Lemire Brooks
J pod breach off Kingston, WA in Oct, by Sara Frey
J pod breach off Kingston, WA in Oct, by Sara Frey

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J pod orca kelping, San Juan Island, Cindy Hansen
J pod orca kelping, San Juan Island, Cindy Hansen

SOUTHERN RESIDENTS

Traditionally members of the Southern Resident orcas come inland and forage on Fraser River Chinook April through September and into October. This spring/summer with very low salmon returns, Js, Ks, & Ls stayed away, spending most of their time foraging off the coasts of Washington and Vancouver Island, BC. This year most of May and all of June passed before any of the residents returned to what historically has been their late spring/summer habitat. It wasn’t until July 5th before residents made their way all the way in, finally making the west side of San Juan Island for the first time this summer. Vocals from all three pods could be heard via the hydrophones by us, volunteers and others listening in, but as is sometimes the case, L87 Onyx was the only L pod member present along with Js and Ks. Hearts swelled meeting the newest member J56. The group shuffled up and down the island, then headed north, and the next day headed back out west indicating there wasn’t food to keep them here. Another six weeks would pass before any Southern Residents returned to the inland waters.

In the interim, the Center for Whale Research announced on August 6th the heartbreaking news that one member from each pod, J17 Princess Angeline, K25 Scoter, and L84 Nyssa, was missing and presumed deceased, bringing the total population back down to just 73 members.  CWR’s News release with beautiful images of J17 Princess Angeline, K25 Scoter, & L84 Nyssa can be found HERE.

Mid August J pod ventured in again making Haro Strait sometime the evening of August 14th. Over the next week some came and went, then on the 21st the J16s, along with Ks, and part of L pod came in from the west while the rest of J pod was coming down from north. Some of our staff, volunteers and many others waited at Lime Kiln and other places along the west side of San Juan Island in hopes of what was looking like a potential superpod, but the meet up took place further south after dark and wasn’t a true superpod since all members were not present.

Fall is approaching - the time Southern Residents begin their forays even further inland to feast on Puget Sound chum salmon and the time we gear up, hit the bluffs and beaches in hopes to see our orca friends while we gather data on their foraging & socializing behaviors and travel patterns. For over two decades, our Whale Sighting Network has been a vital tool in helping track the fall/winter inland movements of our beloved endangered Southern Residents and the shifts the pods have made in hunting the now scarce salmon once so abundant.

BIGG’S TRANSIENTS

In contrast, an abundance of prey (marine mammals) means Bigg’s Transient are doing very well. Hundreds of individuals have traveled these inland waterways in family units and larger groups throughout the spring and summer. These mammal eating type orcas can be found and have been documented throughout the Salish Sea everyday.

Some special individuals of note:

          A pale calf was born to T46B1. This rare whale has been given the designation of T46B1B Tl’uk (see photo below),

          T60 showed up with a new calf designated T60G, the first G in the Salish Sea that we know of (see photo below)

          T137A: Late August word that this 17-year-old son of T137, had been behaving abnormally and was struggling to keep up with his family (but who kept a nearby presence, circling back to be with him). Everyone in the whale community was put on alert to keep an eye our for this family, T137A especially. We put our WSN volunteers on alert when he and his family showed up inland Puget Sound. With the help of PWWA, Orca Network staff & Whale Sighting Network volunteers, naturalists and researchers were able to collect images over a two week period which eventually uncovered a gaping wound to his peduncle (see photo below). Much to everyone’s relief, T137A is showing signs of healing both at the wound site and in increased beahvioral activities (tail lobs, keeping up with family, etc). We all hope he his recovery is to an optimum.

GRAY WHALES

Several 2019 new gray whales stayed around Northern Puget Sound into summer and one is still around! 2019 newbie 2253 has been keeping a presence off West Whidbey as recently as late August. 2252 and 2256 also kept a presence well into the summer months.

Sadly in early July another gray whale succumbed and died in our inland waters. After spending several weeks mostly keeping to the upper areas of Case Inlet in southern Puget Sound, an adult male moved south where he died in Budd Inlet, Olympia. Over a three-week period Cascadia Research, NOAA Fisheries and the West Coast Stranding Network team were able to monitor this gray in large part due to our forwarding near daily updates from neighbors and volunteers, sightings which streamed in through our Whale Sighting Network. We were saddened this being lost his life, but relieved his suffering came to an end. Appreciation to the residents, guests, and WSN volunteers who kept an eye out for him and who privately provided updates on his whereabouts which we could pass long to the stranding team. You can read Cascadia Research’s report HERE (warning - this report is about a dead stranded whale and contains graphic photos).

We continue to keep up to date on the Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event (UME) at NOAA’s Dedicated UME Website (warning - this website contains photos of deceased gray whales, but is the only site with complete and constantly updated info. about this issue). Also, see our report on the Gray Whale UME in our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network Global Giving Report HERE.

HUMPBACK

Herds of humpbacks gather out west in Juan de Fuca and others in smaller groups throughout the inland waters of the Salish Sea, including a much beloved whale named Two Spot who shows fidelity to Puget Sound. “Two Spot” first showed up in 2015 and has returned each year since. Lately he has been found hanging out in the northern part of the Sound around Edmonds/Kingston, often in the company of at least one other, this week there has been an unknown juvenile and several others coming and going.

With all the population declines, growths, deaths, births, habitat changes, entanglements, strandings, etc., we simply could not do this work and be as effective getting word out, training volunteers and educating the public, without your contributions which help keep this Whale Sighting Network moving forward.

For the whales we extend our deepest gratitude for whatever you can contribute at this time ~

J31 & calf J56, San Juan Island, Dave Ellifrit CWR
J31 & calf J56, San Juan Island, Dave Ellifrit CWR
Pale Bigg's calf T46B1B/Tl'uk, Sara Hysong-Shimazu
Pale Bigg's calf T46B1B/Tl'uk, Sara Hysong-Shimazu
New little Bigg's calf, T60G, Sara Hysong-Shimazu
New little Bigg's calf, T60G, Sara Hysong-Shimazu
Bigg's T137A injury, Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries
Bigg's T137A injury, Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries
T137A, close to Marrowstone Island, Desiree Suave
T137A, close to Marrowstone Island, Desiree Suave

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New J pod calf-Tofino BC, May 30th, by John Forde
New J pod calf-Tofino BC, May 30th, by John Forde

This update brings a mix of joy and heartbreak…you might need a hankie ~

 

SOUTHERN RESIDENT ORCAS

Just a week after sending out our last report, news that L pod had showed up in Monterey Bay, California reverberated through the community! No word since on their whereabouts, but with no inland sightings it is safe to say still out in the Pacific somewhere, same with K pod who hasn’t been seen since January when in Puget Sound.

Hopeful and heartwarming news came in late May which is the last confirmed sighting we have of any of the Southern Residents:

The Center for Whale Research has received photographs taken by the Tofino Whale Centre of a calf accompanying J pod off of Tofino, British Columbia on May 30, 2019.

Researchers at the CWR have confirmed that the calf is a new addition, and based on its coloration and body condition was likely born some time in the last 1 to 3 weeks. The calf was photographed in association with several J pod females, including J31, J46, and J40. More field observations are needed to confirm the identity of the calf’s mother.

Prior to 2019, the Southern Resident killer whale population had no documented successful births since 2016. This calf marks the second birth of 2019, following L124 in January.

Orca Network looks forward to meeting and helping document the life and travels of this new little one when J pod returns to inland waters of the Salish Sea. Prior to their travels out to the Pacific, Js spent winter/early spring in the upper Georgia Strait with time in the lower Gulf and San Juan Islands, and two April days in Puget Sound, one of which they spent feeding on Blackmouth Chinook one sunny Sunday in glassy calm seas in the great wide open between Edmonds, South Whidbey, and the Kitsap Peninsula

 

BIGG’S TRANSIENT ORCAS

In this last period, dozens of matrilines of Bigg’s Transients (mammal eating type) have been traveling the inland waters feeding on the smaller cetaceans of the Salish Sea. As I write this report one of the more resident families, T137s, a mom and her three offspring, are on their fourth day in Puget Sound.

Another more resident family, the T65As spent several weeks accumulatively over April and May in Puget Sound. They were here around this same time last year for stays with a new calf, the now one-year-old T65A6. The excitement meter rose one April afternoon when one of the males traveling with this family turned out to be T63 aka Chainsaw (named so due to his distinct dorsal fin), presumed to be the older brother of T65A. While seen in the San Juans within the past two years, it had been many years between sightings in Puget Sound proper.

 

GRAY WHALES

Of the “Sounders” (North Puget Sound grays) 10 of those known prior to 2018 showed up this year along with two of the 2018 newbies who hung around. We don’t yet have an accurate picture of how many of the 2019 newbies were feeding regularly around North Puget Sound, but at least five to six. Numerically there are 10 new whales in 2019, but not all found the bounty this far inland. Along with the healthy whales, a large number of whales are showing up in poor condition and as a result many have died. These numbers all up and down the migration route are well above the norm.

We have been helping track the arrivals and deaths of the grays this year during what has now been declared by NOAA Fisheries as an Unusual Mortality Event (see links below), some one time sightings, and others who were in poor condition when they arrived and died in our inland waters.

The Sounders and at least several of the new grays by all accounts were looking healthy and well fed during their stay here this spring. As of writing this update (mid June) it appears at least all of the old-timers have exited Puget Sound except #21 Shackleton who on most days can be found in Port Susan feeding and traveling about. Along with Shackleton we are still receiving reports of others around Puget Sound proper and in the eastern reaches of Juan de Fuca Strait off west side of Whidbey Island.

We’ve no idea what effect so many new grays in search of food will have on the ghost shrimp resources that feed our returning population of grays. The reason for the influx of grays is in response to a shortage of food at the northern end of the gray whale migration. In response to the increase in deaths NOAA declared an Unusual Mortality Event. 

NOAA Fisheries declares elevated West Coast gray whale strandings an Unusual Mortality Event

“NOAA Fisheries is declaring an unusual spike in strandings of gray whales along the West Coast an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) providing additional resources to respond to the strandings and triggering a focused scientific investigation into the cause….”

NOAA has also created a Dedicated UME website

 

HUMPBACK HIT BY WSFs

Happily humpbacks are streaming in in good numbers throughout the Salish Sea. Sadly, at the end of May a young humpback whale was struck by a Washington State Ferry in Elliott Bay, along the downtown Seattle waterfront just minutes after the ferry left the dock. By all accounts the whale was unaware of the presence of the ferry and surfaced just feet in front of the bow. Many entities, including Orca Network, are working to take measures to lessen the impacts of boats on all of the whales with whom we share these waters. You can read more on this heartbreaking story as whale strikes could get more common as humpback numbers grow.

A recent sighting submitted is a great example of the value of our Whale Sighting Network and the Whale Sighting Report: a gray whale who was observed, photographed, and reported to Orca Network feeding in western Juan de Fuca Strait early June turned out to be a match to a gray whale who was in Sooke Harbor, BC mid May. Because this was a repeat sighting and provided information the whale was hanging around the area for a length of time, Cascadia Research gave her/him the ID of CRC2257.

As more people become aware of and concerned for the needs for healthy food and clean habitats, especially in times of births, deaths, UME’s etc, the work of the Whale Sighting Network increases. Orca Network simply could not provide the resources and accomplish all the work we do without support like yours to this ever growing Whale Sighting Network. We are grateful to you and thankful for whatever support you can contribute at this time.

J38 Apr. 7, Useless Bay, Whidbey Isl, Bonnie Gretz
J38 Apr. 7, Useless Bay, Whidbey Isl, Bonnie Gretz
"Chainsaw" Apr.17, Admiralty Inlet, Howard Garrett
"Chainsaw" Apr.17, Admiralty Inlet, Howard Garrett
Friends Shackleton & Earhart, Mar.31, by Jill Hein
Friends Shackleton & Earhart, Mar.31, by Jill Hein
Deceased Gray, Everett, WA May 5, A. Lemire Brooks
Deceased Gray, Everett, WA May 5, A. Lemire Brooks

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L124 & L25, youngest & oldest SRKWs, D. Ellifrit
L124 & L25, youngest & oldest SRKWs, D. Ellifrit

Welcome to new Southern Resident Orca calf L124!

Since we are in the throes of gray whales feeding in North Puget Sound this update is primarily about the gray whales, but one wonderful and hopeful piece of news for the Southern Resident orcas since our last report is the welcoming of a new calf! L124 was first seen on January 10th swimming alongside L77 Matia and was confirmed by the Center for Whale Research on January 11th.

See CWR’s encounter report with many beautiful photos of new calf L124 and her/his mom L77 and other SRKWs at Center for Whale Research Encounter 2

Gray Whales

2018 was an unusual year for the North Puget Sound Grays (NPS grays) with the addition of three new gray whales (PCFG CRC185, CRC2246 or Unknown #1), CRC2234 or Unknown #2) who found their way to the feeding areas in the north end last spring and fed with the other known NPS grays. As reported in previous reports, these three newcomers stayed over; 2234 stayed into late fall, 185 and 2246 throughout the winter and are still present.

2019 started out unusual as well. Typically we expect the first arrivals of the known North Puget Sound (NPS) grays mid/late February to early March. In 2019 the first old-timer NPS gray was confirmed in Possession Sound on January 11th, 4-6 weeks early! It would be another 7 weeks before the next old-timer was confirmed when on March 2nd #49 Patch was ID’d as the whale feeding off the Snohomish Delta. The others have been arriving in fairly quick succession; 383, 56, 531,44, and 22. It has been interesting getting reports of newbies 185 and 2246 being seen regularly feeding and socializing with the others. We have not had a confirmed sighting of the 3rd newbie, 2234, since late November, but we hope s/he finds her way back.

We appreciate your support and contributions greatly. Whale sightings through our Whale Sighting Network (WSN) provide critical information about the travels of the whales, and timely reports enable Orca Network to alert researchers who can then obtain photo identification and prey and fecal samples from the whales during their visits into Puget Sound. When researchers are not on the water Orca Network WSN staff, volunteers, contributors, and collaborators are able to at least obtain IDs, travel patterns, and behaviors, which all contribute important information on this small population of grays who have been coming inland Puget Sound to feed since the early 1990’s. As of this update nine whales have been accounted for in 2019: 22, 44, 49, 53, 56, 185, 383, 531, 2246.

Included below are a few words regarding the North Puget Sound Grays from John Calambokids, Cascadia Research, and here is a link to an article which includes other quotes by John on the situation with the grays along the migration:

This is certainly an interesting new development this year. I suspect this may say something about prey resources elsewhere (or difficulties there). There have been some big changes in PCFG (Pacific Coast Feeding Group) distribution and numbers in some of their regular areas the last two years as well. It continues to be of great value where anyone gets good ID shots of the NPS gray whales especially in these unusual times since may be key to interpreting what happens going forward.

John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research

Also see this KING 5 TV Story about the North Puget Sound Grays. 

Thanks to your support, and the thousands of people who submite whale sightings to Orca Network, we are able to continue providing this important data for researchers for all cetacean species in the Salish Sea and Pacific Coast. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, and would like to learn more about the whales of the Salish Sea, stop in and visit our Langley Whale Center on Whidbey Island, and join us for our annual Welcome the Whales Parade and Festival April 13th - 14th in Langley, to learn about and celebrate our local gray whales!

Gray whale #185 spyhopping, by Jill Hein
Gray whale #185 spyhopping, by Jill Hein
Newbie Gray whale #2246's head, by David Haeckel
Newbie Gray whale #2246's head, by David Haeckel
"Patch"/Gray whale #49 flukes, by Sandra Pollard
"Patch"/Gray whale #49 flukes, by Sandra Pollard
Alisa watching Dubknuk, #44, by Marilyn Armbruster
Alisa watching Dubknuk, #44, by Marilyn Armbruster
Heart shaped blows, Grays #44 & 56, Rachel Haight
Heart shaped blows, Grays #44 & 56, Rachel Haight

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Orca Network

Location: Freeland, WA - USA
Website:
Twitter: @orcanetwork
Project Leader:
Susan Berta
Freeland, WA United States

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