After returning to the island on June 17th, my first orca encounter for the summer took place on June 21st aboard the Odyssey of San Juan Excursions. It was two marine mammal-eating transient orca matrilines known as the T75Bs and T77s. As they headed north in Rosario Strait, they paused and killed what was likely a harbor seal along the shoreline of Blakely Island. T75B spy hopped twice in celebration.
On the 22nd, the Odyssey encountered another transient matriline called the T65As off of Saltspring Island as they slowly traveled toward Satellite Channel. They did not appear to make any kills while we were with them.
On the 25th, I woke up very early in the morning and headed out to the west side of San Juan Island to scan for orcas. As I stepped out onto the rocky coastline near my old house, salmon-eating southern resident orcas were suddenly within a few feet of me as they headed north. It was all of J pod and one matriline from K pod known as the K14s. It was great to see them again but were they going to find enough Chinook/King salmon to sustain themselves here like they did historically? After spending a few days at San Juan Island and making a few trips up to the Fraser River, J pod and the K14s left on June 30th. They have not been back since.
This summer will likely be very hard for the southern residents unless something changes up at the Fraser River. Much like the summer of 2013, Fraser River Chinook/King numbers have been very low so far and that likely means that J, K, and L pod will spend less time in the inland waters than they did historically. Since January of 2017 and as of today (July 14th), only 43 Chinook/King salmon have been counted up at the Fraser River. That is not enough to support the 78 southern residents, who, as a community, need over 1000 Chinook salmon a day to survive. While we all miss the J, K, and L pod very much, the best thing for their health is to stay away from here until there is enough Chinook/King for them. You can find the daily Fraser River Chinook/King test fishery numbers here.
Without abundant Chinook/King salmon, the southern residents will not be able to grow as a population, as shown by their abnormally high rates of miscarriages and stillborns during times when the salmon runs are low. Anything that helps improve Chinook/King runs in the inland waters as well as off the outer coast will in turn help save J, K and L pod. Here are some websites with more information and how to help:
While the southern residents have been away, the marine mammal-eating transient orcas have been in the area nearly every day. With a huge supply of marine mammals, the transient population is growing fast with new calves observed each year.
On June 30th, the Odyssey encountered a large social group of transients that was made up of T36, the T36Bs, the T37As (including T37A1), T51, and the T99s. They were all headed north in San Juan Channel and at one point, the T99s spooked and scattered a large group of harbor seals that were hauled out on a large rock. Almost all the seals flew into the water as T99 and her three offspring passed by close to the rock.
On July 1st, the Odyssey spent some time with the T49As as they headed north in San Juan Channel. The sprouter male of the matriline, T49A1, has grown so much since I last saw him. His dorsal fin is quite impressive.
On July 2nd, the Odyssey encountered the T34s, T37, the T37Bs, and the T46s as they headed north in Rosario Strait. And there was a surprise! Make that two surprises! Both T34 and T37B had new calves with them!
On July 6th, the Odyssey got to see the new calves again as the T34s, T37, the T37Bs, and the T77s headed toward Rosario Strait between Sinclair and Lummi Island.
On July 13th, the Odyssey was with the T34s, T37, the T37Bs, and T51 again as they headed south in Rosario Strait. Who will we see next?
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