Once again, our venerated Southern Resident killer whales provided much material for this news cycle. Prospective subject matter for this column included “Resident orcas penetrate Quartermaster Harbor for the first time in recent memory,” or “Late breaking: L Pod matrilines off West Seattle.”
Our cherished orcas, both Residents and Transients, are certainly newsworthy of late. With six babies and an extraordinary journey up to Springer’s homeland, or Northern Resident traditional territory, the Southern Residents have generated a plethora of news. I will start locally, however, with a remarkable Transient encounter.
This morning, I watched a seal pup casually floating on her back, with hind flippers flexed, drifting gently in a Salish Sea current. A few gulls kept her company. On Vashon-Maury, we can expect to see Harbor seal pups – newborns and “weaners” --into early October.
Granny (J2) perpetually blows my mind. Granny, of course, is our supreme Southern Resident orca matriarch. Previously, J2’s birth year was estimated to be 1911, but recent genetic testing shows she is more likely of the same vintage as fellow elder matriarch Ocean Sun (L25), born circa 1928.
The weeks around Mother’s Day, the first one after my mother’s death, bordered on unbearable this year. Distraught and preoccupied were the operative modes. On May 18, I was on a major bummer -- profoundly sad and missing my mother intensely.
This Earth Month, we have four Southern Resident orca babies to celebrate -- cautiously. Technically, the calves are not included in the census until they have survived one year. With roughly 50% mortality in the first year, not all four newborns may survive.
Matriarchy and mortality are recurring themes in my Loop articles. Typically, I attempt to decipher the potential ramifications of births and deaths in Southern Resident orca matrilines. I fret most about the impact on surviving podmates when mature, elder females die.
Mother Slick (J16) is an exceptional J Pod matriarch. 1972 is her estimated year of birth – that is significant because she could be slightly younger or even older. A preponderance of photographic evidence shows that Slick is the Southern Resident Baby Mama of precious newborn female J50. In four decades of field studies, J16 is the only known Southern Resident female to give birth to a thriving calf at age 43-ish.
On December 26, 1995, Mark Sears spent the day tracking an elusive J Pod. With his own children in tow, Mark and the Sears Pod circumnavigated Vashon-Maury. Near Blake Island, the Sears Pod finally caught up with J Pod.
Raven was building a PowerPoint slide show when all hell broke loose. It seems that Raven offended the little helpers who keep the lights on and the email sending smoothly. At the last minute, Raven invited Rabbit and Coyote, his Trickster compadres, to the shindig.
In observance of Native American Heritage Month, we -- Orca Annie and Odin Lonning -- will present “THE SACRED WHALE: Requiem for Ruffles (J1),” on Thursday, November 20, at 7:00 PM in the Vashon Land Trust Building.
Our endangered Resident orcas brought a glorious October Surprise to Vashon when about 60 of them graced us with a visit on October 17. They traveled south to Point Robinson in the morning and then, as is typical in early fall, they did the East Passage shuffle and turned north again by afternoon.
At Chez VHP the other day, we heard loud bleating through an open window. We popped outside to ascertain who the unhappy camper was. A few feet from shore, a newborn Harbor Seal pup paddled frantically and yowled for Mom. Mama was away from Baby, and l’enfant did not like that at all.
Since the Southern Residents left us in January, Vashon-Maury waters have been drearily devoid of tall dorsal fins. That changed on April 4, when ten or more Transient killer whales blazed down the Sound from Edmonds. In East Passage, NOAA researchers clocked one male in the group
Mustelid mania overcomes our Jack Russell terrier, Nashoba, when she detects Ono the Otter scampering under our deck with a juicy flounder or other succulent prey item. Nashoba whimpers and snorts at the floor above the spot where the river otter hides. This can be challenging when it happens at 3:00 AM.
I write this on the sorrowful anniversary of Tsu’xiit/Luna’s death. Hail pounds the roof, as it did on the day Luna died. Tsu’xiit left his earth swim during a freaky, powerful thunderstorm. Killed on March 10, 2006 at the tender age of 6½,
Chez VHP had a fortuitous and nostalgic encounter with J Pod on January 18. I fretted that we might miss our beloved Kéet, but the orcas’ leisurely pace allowed us to find them as they cruised up the west side of Vashon in dispersing fog.
The first daughter of matriarch Skagit (K13), she was born in 1986. She has three siblings and a nephew: brother Scoter (K25), born 1991; sister Deadhead (K27), born 1994, and her son K44, born 2011; and brother Cali (K34), born 2001.
An expression of gratitude is in order to everybody who attended our "Killer Whales in Peril" event. As we stated at the talk, we owe it to our endangered orcas to stay informed about the serious threats they face.
Another J Pod orca is missing and presumed dead. The loss of venerable, lovely Spieden (J8) is the latest in a disturbing and dismal trend of vanishing matriarchs and elder females. With Spieden’s death, the Southern Resident population drops to 80. How do we save our cherished orcas?
Southern Resident orcas – arguably the most studied killer whales in the world – are vanishing before us. Despite recovery efforts by the federal government, our endangered Southern Resident population is in an alarming slump