• Encounter #36 - April 25, 2016 •
Photo by Ken Balcomb
Photo by Ken Balcomb
Photo by D. Giles
Photo by Ken Balcomb
Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 15569/ DFO SARA 288
1 & 2
Orcinus and Shachi
Ken Balcomb aboard Shachi, Dave Ellifrit,
D. Giles, and Julia aboard Orcinus
J pod and L87
All members of J pod and L87 were photographed either from CWR's porch or from the boats. J2 was the only whale we did not see from the porch while we could not find J17, J44, J53, J37, and J49 from the boats.
Encounter Zero is when we take ID photos from the porch, and we do not usually share them unless we subsequently have a vessel encounter during which much higher resolution photographs can usually be taken at a distance of about 50 to 150 yards under NMFS research permit authorization. In this morning’s case, because we wanted to get a comprehensive inventory of J pod that was very spread out, we launched two vessels after the whales had passed, hence the 1 and 2 numbers following the encounter number. The morning began with J pod calls on the Lime Kiln hydrophone around 0630 and a distant visual sighting by Jeanne Hyde a short time later of several dorsal fins and a breach east of Beaumont Shoal on the Canadian side of the border in Haro Strait. It took a little more than two hours before the whales came slowly past the Center for Whale Research headed northwest bucking an ebbing tide. Dave readied the ‘new’ boat “Orcinus” at Snug Harbor while Giles and Ken splashed “Shachi” at Roche Harbor – the boat had been hauled out two days ago for pressure washing of the bottom in lieu of coating with toxic bottom paint.
As things turned out, a fairly complete inventory of all J pod whales except J 2 was accomplished from the porch at the Center, and she was seen later from the boats – hence all of J pod is still alive and well, including the new calves J50-54. Actually, the porch encounter was more comprehensive than the vessel encounters wherein five of the whales seen from the former were not seen in the latter. This situation of very spread out whales is something we are going to have to get used to as the whales must adjust their foraging patterns to find fewer fish, a situation we have observed in past winters between ‘runs’ of migrating salmon which are typically between Spring and Autumn. As you all know by now, the preferred species of salmon is Chinook for the large size and high nutritional value of each fish. What you may not know is that hatchery Chinook are inferior in size and survival to wild Chinook, and this misguided management approach to meeting human harvest goals with great quantities of them is driving the superior wild Chinook to extinction due to overwhelming competition at sea and genetic dilution on the spawning grounds. We are not taking a very ecological or sensible approach to salmon management on either side of the US/Canada border – we taxpayers are literally subsidizing the extinction of wild salmon, to be followed by the probable extinction of the Southern Resident Killer Whales in due course. We think that is a terrible shame and that is why we are calling upon our government, indeed our President, to strategically and immediately breach the ill-conceived dams on the Snake River that made no accommodation for salmon passage in either direction, and the reservoirs behind the dams are overheating due to global warming and killing the few fish that have assisted passage. Billions of dollars have been wasted in taxes and utility rates for band-aid measures that cannot sustain these fish anywhere near as well as a free-running river can.
Orcinus left Snug Harbor at 1100 and found the J16’s right off Kellett Bluff. J16, J36, J42, J50, and J52 along with J51 were in a tight active group heading slowly north against the tide a little off Kellett Bluff. J26 was also traveling slowly north nearby. This group broke up some after several members began surfing in the wake of a freighter. When Ken arrived on scene in Shachi, Orcinus moved to the other side of Haro Strait where other whales were moving up Sydney Island’s eastern shoreline. These whales were the J11’s, J22’s, and J45. J14 and J40 were foraging by themselves to the east but came together and moved west to join the J11’s and J22’s. J38 and J45 moved to the east of the larger group to fool around with each other. There were a few other singles and small groups (including the J28’s) to the southeast but still well on the Canadian side of Haro Strait and all the whales seemed to be moving west-northwest. After checking out a few stragglers who we had already seen, Orcinus went ahead to see if we could find the leaders and a couple of the whales we had not seen from the porch in the morning. We found J2, L87, the J19’s and the J35’s to the southwest of Tom Point near Gooch Island. There was a strong outflowing tide ripping through the narrow gap between the Tom Point light and the east tip of Gooch Island and the whales hung in the current for a few moments before committing and passing through to the other side. This group spread out and J2 and L87 moved even farther west.
The trailing group must have split up since we next encountered the J11’s by themselves moving slowly north just a little south of Gooch Island. Behind them we saw some of the J16’s again on the Canadian side across from Turn Point and we ended the encounter there at 1418.