The Exeter Team at CWR
The Exeter Team at CWR

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Percussive behavior
Percussive behavior

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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The Exeter Team at CWR
The Exeter Team at CWR

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Encounter Summary: 

The University of Exeter (UK) team and I watched miscellaneous small groups and individuals of J and K pod spread out and forage in Haro Strait in front of CWR all morning, travelling slowly northwest with the incoming tide. The whales made several changes of direction and occasionally engaged in percussive tail slaps, etc., but for the most part seemed very relaxed in a casual foraging pattern, while whale-watchers casually observed them at a respectful distance. By 1130 AM the trailing whales had passed the CWR house and disappeared from our view. I was eager to show the team what precisely is involved in our observation and identification studies called Orca Survey, so at 1211 we departed from Snug Harbor in “Chimo” and motored up Haro Strait. The whales must have picked up speed considerably after they passed CWR, because they were already past Turn Point by the time we found them at 1232. The first whale we saw was K25, having travelled more than ten nautical miles since we had seen him an hour and a half earlier off the house. The whales definitely travelled at more than their leisurely 3.75 knots and back and forth after leaving our view.

The K group had gathered together by the time they reached the Pender Island bluffs, and they surfaced in a slow travel pattern, so I took the opportunity to demonstrate to the Exeter team  how we ID whales and determine the social arrangement at any given time. Each time the whale group surfaces we take a series of photographs beginning with the first whale to breathe and continuing until the last whale to breathe. Thank goodness for fast digital cameras and terabyte storage. We now have literally hundreds of these sequences archived evidencing the social arrangement at a given time; and, lo and behold there is a consistent pattern to the arrangement. That information, together with the precisely known age and matrilineal relationship we have determined over the past forty years, overlaid with the molecular evidence of genetic relationship, including paternity, as determined from fecal sampling, etc. provides an unprecedented window into the biology and sociobiology of this Endangered population of whales. We provide the demographic information of relevance to our government (and Canada) for consideration in management, but the other data we gather is of broader value for modelling biological and evolutionary features of significance. This is where the Exeter team comes in, by providing state of the science statistical techniques and eager graduate students for this unprecedented query.

While our Living Marine Resource managers are fixated on management of humans, the laws of nature are seriously at work in the interactions of individuals and ecotypes of the remarkable suite of marine predators lumped in scientific jargon as Orcinus orca. It is really fascinating that the Salish Sea ecosystem has so much to offer us in terms of obtainable knowledge; and, it is disappointing that our own social and political systems are so myopic and self-centered that they literally never see the forest for the trees. Patience is required, as knowledge is slowly gained over lifetimes of men and whales. Hence, collaborating with academic institutions is important for the future.

Returning from the K group, we encountered the J 16’s spread out heading northeast in Boundary Pass. By nightfall, the K’s had transited through Active Pass and had proceeded to Point Roberts, and the J’s were off Alden Bank. Transients were off near Matia island working at their ecological job of removing some of the competition for the salmon resources, i.e., eating seals. Little do any of them perhaps know that the dearth of SRKW prey is largely due to human misunderstanding of how things work in ecosystems, and how much to conserve. We hope to remedy that.







Ken Balcomb,

Exeter Team


K's, J's

Haro Strait





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Encounter #57 - June 28, 2015

Photos taken under Federal Permits