Encounter #95 - Sept 6, 2016

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photos taken under Federal Permits



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Ken Balcomb

J,K,L pods

Sooke Point to Race Rocks

48 19 35N/123 40 50W

48 17 56N/123 27 55W

Encounter Summary:

A large group of whales was reported in the morning inbound near Sheringham on the Canadian side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That is about fifty miles from Snug Harbor, so Ken waited until mid-afternoon before heading out in "Chimo" to do a little photo-documentation of what is now becoming an unusual event - i.e., large groups of whales. The seas were flat calm and permitting of a comfortable magic carpet ride at 30 knots in the boat for an hour and ten minutes before reaching the "leaders" a little east of Secretary Island and the development at SookePoint where we hope to ultimately base a field crew. Although the resident orca used to come all of the way into the Salish Sea in large groups with complete pods, they now typically spread out over a large expanse of water by the time they pass by Race Rocks. I surmise this spread is due to a spread or low density of prey (Chinook salmon) in recent years as compared to decades ago. After all, there were 1.5 to 1.9 million Chinook salmon caught per year by humans (WDF Technical Report No. 76, 1983) from stocks utilizing the Strait of Juan de Fuca in those early years of Orca Survey, and the average fish was 15-17.5 pounds; whereas most of those stock are now Endangered or extinct, many fishery regions are closed, and the average fish caught weighs perhaps ten pounds. Fifteen pounders win derbys! The world has changed dramatically for these "resident" Chinook eating whales, and it has not been for the better. You already know that, and the forecast is not good. So what shall we do? My recommendation is and has been to find them a good source of abundant and large Chinook salmon somewhere within the whales' foraging range in the eastern North Pacific ocean watersheds and dedicate it to the whales. You may already know that by far the biggest bang-for-the-buck on that would be to restore the Snake-Columbia River stocks of Chinook salmon to a resemblance of their former abundance of many millions of returning adult fish per year. A simple Executive Order to remove the earthen berms of four obsolete Snake River dams would go a long way toward that restoration, and it would be timely for the Endangered SRKW population that is simply not recovering due largely to insufficient prey resources. It is a no-brainer, but it seems to be a political non-starter,... a leftover from pork-barrel politics and boosterism that flourished in the 1960's and seems now ingrained in human habit that is misinformed or non-informed. The whales indicated to me that the fish were getting pretty sparse by the time they passed Race Rocks at the end of my day of enough light for photography, and they spread out in the sunset, so I ended the encounter and headed for Port Angeles for the night.