On May 26th, the Odyssey encountered the T86As, T100s, T100Bs, and the T124As in Boundary Pass aiming toward Flattop Island. The four matrilines were in a very social mood with many tail slaps, breaches, belly flops, spy hops, and lunges observed. T124A4’s breaches had a new twist, literally! T124A4 would lunge high out of the water as if a porpoise was being chased and then twist at the last second and turn it into a breach.
On May 27th, the Odyssey spent time with the T100s off of Stuart Island. The family was stalled out and playing with detached kelp and eelgrass at the surface in between long dives. It almost seemed like they were just killing time and waiting for other transients to show up. The T100Bs had been with them earlier in the day so perhaps they were waiting to see if they would catch up.
On May 31st, the Odyssey had the T86As, T101s, and T124A2s milling near Spieden Island. They were in the process of killing a harbor seal when we arrived and made short work of it. T86A spy hopped in celebration, showing her previously damaged jaw, and T101A tail slapped multiple times. The T124A2s split off during the celebration and headed into Spieden Channel before turning around and rejoining the others.
On June 9th, the Odyssey encountered many transients in San Juan Channel. They had all entered the channel through Cattle Pass and the T65As were in the lead mid channel off of Turn Island. Paralleling them closer to the Lopez Island shoreline were the T37As. Trailing behind them were the T49As, T75Bs, and T75Cs. In close to Lopez Island were males T49A1 and T65A2. The two were socializing instead of sticking close to their families further ahead. The transients then split, with the T65As, T37As, T49A1, and T65A2 taking Upright Channel while the T49As, T75Bs, and T75Cs continued up San Juan Channel and past Friday Harbor. This was my first time seeing T65A’s new calf, T65A6, who was born in April of 2018. So tiny!
On June 10th, the Odyssey saw the T49As, T75Bs, and T75Cs again, but this time they were near Patos Island. They were milling about and acting like they were on a kill. At one point, T75B lunged high out of the water and it was apparent with her huge belly that she is very well fed. She is a very robust and chubby. I wish I could say that about the southern resident orcas.
On the morning of June 11th, J and L pod (minus the L54s) returned to San Juan Island after a nine week disappearance. Sadly, Crewser L92 did not return with them and is considered deceased, bringing the southern residents down to just 75 individuals. But it may be 74 soon. Scarlet J50 (the first of the baby boom calves) is emaciated.
You may be wondering why the southern residents are so low in numbers and why they disappeared from their core summer habitat for nine weeks. The answer is the lack of their preferred prey in our area: Chinook salmon. Fraser River Chinook/King numbers are at a historic record low and that has caused southern resident orca attendance to hit a historic record low as well. Since April 1st, 2018 and as of today (July 2nd), only 33 Chinook salmon have been counted up at the Fraser River. That is not enough to support the 75 southern resident orcas, who, as a community, need over 1000 Chinook salmon a day to survive. You can find the daily Fraser River Chinook/King test fishery numbers here.
Reducing agricultural runoff into the river and banning Atlantic farmed salmon in Canada are just two things that could help increase Fraser River Chinook. Until then, the southern residents will spend increasingly less time here. We can only hope that they are finding salmon elsewhere off the outer coast of Washington, Oregon, California, and Vancouver Island but my guess is that they are just barely getting by. We have not had a surviving calf born to the population since November 2015 and miscarriages/stillbirths rates are extremely high when salmon is not plentiful.
Since their return on June 11th, J and 18 members of L pod (all of L pod minus the L12s and L54s) have made several more visits back to check out San Juan Island and the Fraser River but are quick to leave each time. They will stay if/when there is enough salmon for them.
On June 13th, the Odyssey met up with the 18 members of L pod off of Stuart Island as they headed toward San Juan Island. They were very spread out at first but eventually almost all of them came together into their family groups. Ballena L90 (aunt to recently deceased Crewser L92) was trailing behind everyone.
On June 14th, the Odyssey spent some time with J pod off the west side of San Juan Island. Most were spread out in search of salmon while a few were in a social mood. Males Se-Yi’-Chn J45 and Notch J47 were goofing off together. Mike J26 and his sister Alki J36 were messing around too.
On June 17th, the Odyssey encountered the T65As in Haro Strait. The family was traveling toward San Juan Island from Hein Bank but was in no rush to get there. New calf T65A6 sure is getting the grand tour of the area. It has been to almost all the major straits and channels in the area since its birth.
On June 20th, the Odyssey joined up with J and the 18 members of L pod off the west side of San Juan Island. We saw Princess Angeline J17 and her son Moby J44 looking for salmon off of Eagle Point. We then moved further up the island to Pile Point and found the J16s, Tsuchi J31, Mako J39, Se-Yi’-Chn J45, and Suttles J40 spread about the area. The J16s then all came together and were joined by Se-Yi’-Chn J45 and Suttles J40 for a social gathering. Breaches, tail slaps, pec slaps, and spy hops ensued.
Then the L47s, the L72s, and Ballena L90 in their own tail slappy social group arrived from further up island and joined the J16s, Se-Yi’-Chn J45, and Suttles J40. Magic L122 then proceeded to behave in a way I had never seen before. He laid at the surface, lifted his head up a little, stuck his tongue out for a few seconds (which was curled up on the sides), and then slipped back underwater. Maybe someday we will know what that means or perhaps he was just doing it for fun.
On June 21st, the Odyssey got to spend more time the T65As, this time off of Waldron Island. The family traveled past Sandy Point and had just entered Boundary Pass when the 18 L pod members were found just to the north of them by other whale watching boats. Transients and residents prefer to steer clear of each other and it was fascinating to see the moment the T65As realized the Ls were close by. They really picked up the pace, started going down on long deep dives, and veered toward Stuart Island. Still in L pod’s path of travel, they turned back toward Saturna Island, and quickly moved out of the way. We then joined up with the Ls, who seemed unfazed. They were continued traveling along in a few tight groups, with young males Takoda L109 and Midnight L110 goofing off together.
On June 23rd, the Odyssey encountered the T137s off of Waldron Island. They were just finishing up with a kill and the big male of the family, T137A, spy hopped just after we arrived on scene. The family then switched to travel mode, headed down between Orcas and Jones Island, and into San Juan Channel.
On June 24th, the Odyssey had the T49As and T65As slowly traveling up San Juan Channel toward Spieden Island. The youngsters were in a very playful mood, with calves T49A5 and T65A6 constantly breaching, belly flopping, tail slapping, and rolling around. Young males T49A3 and T65A3 were also full of breaches, belly flops, cartwheels, and tail slaps.
On June 27th, the Odyssey had J pod and the 18 Ls off the south end of San Juan Island. The orcas very spread out and working hard to find salmon. They had just arrived at the island for another short visit and it appeared that Shachi J19 (who seems to have taken up the lead role that Granny J2 had) wanted to go north. After milling about like everyone else, she pointed north, tail slapped three times, and then breached three times. We had our hydrophone down and were able to hear what breaches sound like underwater. We heard the explosive slaps from her breaches on the hydrophone before we heard it in the air even though she was only 200-300 yards away from us. The slaps were instantaneous underwater because sound travels faster in water than in air. Eventually, Js and Ls headed north and were checking on the Fraser River the next morning.
On June 29th, the Odyssey encountered the T124As and T124A2s in San Juan Channel. They were traveling slowly along in a tight group, with calf T124A6 surfacing abnormally high out of the water to take a breath. It has been doing that ever since its birth in late 2016. They did not make any obvious kills while we were with them.
Later that day, my friends and I headed to Deception Pass to meet super rare transients known as T175 and T176. Two other super rare juveniles were with them, as well as the T36As and T99s (who we know very well). We arrived on scene off of Hope Island and found the orcas in a celebratory mood with multiple breaches and tail slaps. It appeared that they had recently made a kill. After a bit more milling and splashing, the group headed back out through Deception Pass, formed a resting line, and turned up Rosario Strait toward Allan Island.
Once they reached Allan Island, the orcas woke up and became very social. Everyone tail slapped or pec slapped at some point. T36A1 breached at least twice, T36A3 breached many times, and T99 spy hopped at least twice. This flurry of activity went on for quite a while until they were in line with the Burrows Island Light House. That is when they settled down and continued up Rosario Strait. It was an honor to see T175, T176, and the two other exotic transients. T175 in particular is an impressive male and a large wonky dorsal fin. We may never see them again so I am glad to have met them. What will happen next?!
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