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Encounter #80 - Aug 6, 2016

Photos taken under Federal Permits



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Ken Balcomb and guests

Bigg's Killer Whales

Mail Bay, Waldorn Island

48 33 19N/123 10 16W

48 43 02N/123 50 59W

Encounter Summary: 

We heard a report in the morning that Bigg’s Transient killer whales were seen by a whale-watch captain in Speiden Channel heading toward Waldron Island, so Ken embarked in “Shachi” with visiting friends to determine which group they might be. The J and L Residents were reported to be off Sheringham foraging and heading slowly west way out of our reach, and there were several groups of killer whales reported in various parts of the Salish Sea, including down in Puget Sound and up near Porlier Pass. This is definitely a banner year for the mammal-eating killer whales of the region and it is important to know who they are!
When we arrived on scene at 1030 there were several whale watch boats, Soundwatch, and a sport fishing boat on scene as the whales swam right against the southeast shore of Waldron Island. A NOAA Enforcement boat loomed protectively in the distance a half mile to the east of the scene. As the whales came to Mail Bay they moved offshore of the community dock and then back to the shoreline pressing closely against the rocky beach before angling offshore again. They were zigging and zagging, spreading and grouping together again in what appeared to be a hunting pattern for any seals that might be in the area. Two of the whale-watch boats slowly and cautiously repositioned to the north about one half mile ahead and offshore of the whales, and we kept travelling at idle speed one quarter mile abeam of them not knowing where they might pop up next. Behind us, about one half mile, a brief conversation was held between Soundwatch and the NOAA Enforcement boat, and then to our surprise they both picked up speed and came racing toward us. I shut down immediately and we watched the Enforcement boat zoom by and position a few hundred feet behind one of the whale watch boats. The whales then surfaced behind and slightly inshore of us, passing by within photo-identification distance before heading further offshore unscathed by the drama of the situation (and 500 horsepower of propellers that passed directly over them at high speed). Now that we had accomplished our ID mission there was no further need to hang around for additional drama so we motored back to Snug Harbor to confirm the IDs for our friends who were keenly interested in learning how this field work is done.

Notes-Comments:The young whale T75B2 has some very noticeable tooth rakes on its dorsal fin that were not there on 4 July when last seen, so we will have to update the T catalogue once again. With up-to-date catalogues, the PWWA whale watch operators will fill us in on other Bigg’s transient killer whales that were identified in the Salish Sea today, yielding the most comprehensive documentation of this ongoing regime shift of ecotypes of killer whales utilizing the Salish Sea. This documentation is actually important, but we may not be able to utilize the knowledge gained unless resource managers tune in. As Chinook salmon continue to decline in biomass of food available for killer whales, the SRKW population cannot possibly recover and their prognosis is not favorable in spite of millions of dollars spent to ‘protect’ them. On the other hand, as the seal/sea lion biomass continues to be more than sufficient for the transient ecotype whales in the region their population is booming – not only with frequent births, but also with immigration from other areas. By feeding higher on the food chain the transient ecotype whales bio-accumulate a much higher toxic load in their tissues than do the residents, a fact that should give us some clues about metabolic impacts and year-round nutrition needed for population survival. They cannot go for months without food, like the baleen whales do. The underwater sound and vessel exposures to the ecotypes and to all of the marine mammal species in the Salish Sea are equivalent.

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