Encounter #88 - Aug 23, 2016
Surfs Up
Surfs Up

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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K13, K34 &K27
K13, K34 &K27

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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L103 Turn Point
L103 Turn Point

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Surfs Up
Surfs Up

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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1/12

Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 15569/ DFO SARA 388

Date:

Sequence:

Enc Number:

Start Time:

End Time:

Vessel:

Observers:

Pods/ecotype:

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Begin Lat/Long: End Lat/Long:

23-Aug-16

1

88

1620

1822

Chimo

Ken Balcomb, Gail Richard

K, L Pod

Boundary Pass/Haro Strait

48 43 44N/123 10 50W

Encounter Summary:

                  In the early morning there were reports of many southern resident killer whales up near the Coal Docks at Tsawassen, and they gradually moved down toward Point Roberts as the morning progressed. Ken was in Port Angeles arranging for a boat house for keeping a vessel on the Olympic Peninsula for autumn encounters with the whales when they typically shift to a diet that includes Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) headed for spawning in Puget Sound rivers. There do not seem to be enough King salmon (O. tshawytscha) this year headed for spawning in Salish Sea rivers, particularly the Fraser, to entice all of the SRKWs to come into the region or stay very long, so maybe we will get a chance to get a comprehensive Orca Survey later this year. Readers of our encounter summaries should also keep up with status of eastern pacific stocks of salmon and fishery management in this classic predator/prey drama. We will refer to this subject in special reports, news articles and blogs as time goes on.

                  By mid-day, the whales were reported to be moving south in the Strait of Georgia toward East Point, Saturna Island, so Ken departed in “Chimo” from John Wayne Marina at 1209 and headed across the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward San Juan Island in hopes that they would continue along their traditional route to the west side of San Juan, and maybe linger. The sea conditions were superb – glass calm with no wind – so the only delay was to stop and photograph a black-tailed humpback whale about one mile southeast of Beaumont Shoals before moving on. With a quick lunch stop and photo-download at the Center for Whale Research, we continued on to Boundary Pass where the whales were reported to be heading from Blunden Island toward Turn Point, Stuart Island along their traditional route as hoped. A large “Deep-Sea”, the HS Paris was westbound in Boundary Pass heading directly toward the lead group of whales in the middle of the Pass, so we stopped to witness their reaction to 195 dB of low frequency machinery and propulsion noise approaching them at 25 knots. We have seen this many times before, when they typically pay little attention, but this time the K13s seemed to get excited and began breaching a few hundred yards in front of the ship. As the ship passed within about 40 yards of them, the whales began to surf the bow wave as it fanned out from the side of the ship, and they continued to do so for several hundred yards. That was pretty exhilarating and it seemed to fit the whales’ mood. Breaches and splashes continued as the whales travelled along.

                   A Few Js were apparently in the lead and close along the shore of Pender/Blunden Island before heading toward Haro Strait, and more Ks and Ls were in the middle water before rounding Turn Point close to shore. Not all subgroups of any of the pods were present, leading to a wonder where the rest of the whales might be. Out west? We stayed with several easterly groups that seemed to remain more cohesive in a general pattern of whales spread out across Haro Strait as they continued southeast toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The breaching, splashing and tail thrashing continued intermittently as the phalanx of whales moved down-strait against a flooding tide. We finally left them at Kellett Bluff, Henry Island at 1825 and rushed back to the Center for Whale Research to observe them from shore before sunset. The whales continued to splash and L92 breached in mid-strait as they went by the CWR just before 1900. Not all of this activity could conceivably be initiated by vessel presence as none were anywhere close at that hour. At sunset (around 2009), L92 was still visible in mid-Haro Strait swimming against the tide as it was approaching high slack, and the other whales were spread out miles ahead of him.

                  Post Script: In the night the whales continued going out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and by the afternoon of the 24th August they were off Clallam Bay, Olympic Peninsula on the US side of the border, still heading toward the Pacific Ocean. We were concerned about J28’s physical condition as she appeared emaciated three days ago when seen by Melissa Pinnow from shore, and since we did not see her yesterday we asked Mark Malleson to report if he saw her. Off Clallam Bay he did see her still alive in the group, but we still have concerns that she has apparently lost weight. I hope she makes it back from the ocean trip. We do know now that J14 is definitely missing from our encounters since 31 July and she was last seen 3 August just before J pod’s trip to the Pacific Ocean. In the ‘old’ days before almost instant messaging and Facebook/Twitter, etc., we usually quietly recorded a whale as missing for many months before reporting it as deceased, but now we try to keep more up to date with the census. With considerable help from Microsoft, we will be developing and deploying some APPS for mobile devices to assist with this in the near future. It is important to keep our natural resource managers and legislators informed as this issue develops. We note that nearly one million dollars of ‘new’ money was earmarked by the State of Washington for enforcement and education about issues facing southern resident killer whales, and I personally recommend that most of this should be spent enforcing and educating the state and federal bureaucracies involved. The issue facing the southern resident killer whales is not enough appropriate food!