LOCAL NEWS

Biologist: Typical for Southern Residents to spend early summer elsewhere

Jul 30, 2021, 4:00 PM
New orca calf, orcas, Southern Residents...
Orca calf L125 swimming with its mother, Surprise. (Center for Whale Research)
(Center for Whale Research)

The last few months have been marked by a noticeable disappearance of Southern Residents in the Puget Sound and San Juan Islands.

For more than 100 days — up until a brief sighting this week in the San Juans — the J-pod of orcas was not seen in the area.

But Dr. Michael Weiss, a biologist at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, says this is not as drastic as it sounds — it actually follows the whales’ more recent movements.

“This is pretty typical for their pattern for the last few years, really,” he said. “You don’t really start seeing Southern Residents in the Salish Sea until late July or maybe even into August.”

New orca calf inspires hope that Puget Sound orcas could be recovering

Over the past few years, the orcas haven’t spent much time in the sound during this time of year because of the lack of salmon coming out of the Fraser River in Lower British Columbia. The whales, whose numbers have been dwindling in recent decades due to starvation, have had to go elsewhere to find the salmon they need to survive.

“The salmon supply within the Salish Sea, at least in early summer and late spring, has kind of crashed. Those stocks in the Fraser River have really declined,” Weiss said. “They’re spending a lot more time during that part of the year on the outer coast of Vancouver Island.”

On the outer coast of Vancouver Island, the supply of Chinook — the orcas’ favorite dish — is more bountiful.

Scientists didn’t get too close of a look when all three pods of orcas were spotted this week, so Weiss said they need more time to assess the whales’ health before giving a very accurate report of how they are doing.

“The general sense was that most of them looked fine,” Weiss said. “We did see one of the newest calves, L-125, we have photos of her. And she looks alright. She’s around, she’s with her mom, and she looks normal.”

One of the ways scientists measure how well a pod is doing is by how the newest babies are faring. The first year of an orca’s life generally has a high mortality rate; in 2018, J35, or Talequah, lost her baby just after its birth, and carried its body with her for weeks. A healthy new calf, however, may indicate that the Southern Residents are finding enough to eat in their new choice of Canadian waters.

The hope is that as the summer goes on, they will start showing up more frequently, as has happened in recent years.

“I suspect that by mid-August and through September, we’ll have fairly regular appearances,” Weiss said.

Helping the orcas out are the feds. The National Marine Fisheries Service has added nearly 16,000 square miles of orca habitat along the West Coast to fall under its umbrella of critical habitat protection.

This protected coastline stretches from the Canadian border all the way down to Point Sur in California, covering areas where the orcas are known to find salmon — such as the mouths of rivers where salmon migrate.

In total, more than 18,000 square miles of habitat will be legally protected.

Local News

fireworks...
KIRO Radio Newsdesk

New rules for Fourth of July fireworks in unincorporated Pierce County

Starting in 2023, unincorporated Pierce County will move from five days of being able set off Fourth of July fireworks to just one. 
9 hours ago
Seattle single family zoning...
Nick Bowman

Councilmember: Seattle bid to end single-family zoning label designed to ‘reflect reality’

Seattle City Council's Land Use Committee met Wednesday to discuss a proposal to do away with the city's "single-family zoning" label.
9 hours ago
1400 S 320th St, Federal Way, WA 98003 (courtesy of King County)...
MyNorthwest Staff

King County to repurpose homeless hotel to house Afghan refugees

King County will invest $500,000 to assist Afghan refugees in the form of temporary housing and community services at Federal Way’s Extended Stay America.
1 day ago
Dow Constantine, King COunty vaccine mandate...
Nick Bowman

King County reaches deal with ‘majority’ of unions on vaccine mandate

Officials say they have reached an agreement with a "majority" of unions on a vaccine mandate for King County employees.
1 day ago
Sound Transit Northgate light rail...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Three new light rail stations to open in North Seattle next month

Commuters will soon be able to ride underground from downtown Seattle to Northgate traffic-free when three new Link light rail stations open next month.
1 day ago
capital gains, legislative districts...
Nick Bowman

Washington Republicans, Democrats spar over redrawing of state’s legislative map

The redrawing of Washington state's legislative districts already has Democrats and Republicans at odds, with less than two months to come to an accord.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...
By Alaska Airlines

Calling all football fans: follow Russell on the road

Take your Northwest spirit that we’re known for on the road this season with Alaska Airlines.
...
By Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
Biologist: Typical for Southern Residents to spend early summer elsewhere