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“Granny’s Gift” Talk + Witch Hat

The Dorsal Spin
Son T68A, Witch Hat fin, with Mom T68 and relatives in East Passage. Karen Fuller photo, 4/21/17.
Son T68A, Witch Hat fin, with Mom T68 and relatives in East Passage. Karen Fuller photo, 4/21/17.

Help us close out Earth Month with an Indigenous tribute to an Orca Legend. Saturday, April 29, 2:00 PM, at the Ober Park Performance Room, Orca Annie and Odin unveil “GRANNY’S GIFT - J2: A Sacred Matriarch’s Legacy.” Their special guest is researcher Mark Sears. The presenters have decades of experience in local orca conservation, research, and educational outreach. Tickets are $8.00, available in advance at the Vashon Book Shop.

Granny’s death is profoundly consequential to her surviving kin, the endangered Southern Resident Community. Tragically, J2 was one of seven beloved whales and three neonates who died in 2016. Merely 78 J, K and L Pod orcas subsist. “GRANNY’S GIFT” explores dramatic shifts in Southern Resident social and cultural dynamics, caused in part by the loss of Wisdom Keepers such as Granny (J2). Will we witness an extinction or rise to the challenge of doing whatever it takes to preserve Granny’s legacy?

One remarkable change evolving in our waters is the proliferation of Transient (mammal-eating) killer whale visits and the paucity of Resident (fish-eating) orca visits in recent years. On Friday, April 21, a spectacular Transient swarm infiltrated Puget Sound. Two groups circumnavigated Vashon. One group, T90s, went into Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton. Another group, T124As, killed a Harbor porpoise off Three Tree Point and then sauntered into Elliott Bay. The NOAA research boat was busy that day.

Four matrilines have been identified thus far. Some others appear to be in the mix. When Odin and I saw the orcas in Dalco Pass last Friday, I instantly recognized one family: the T101s, regular visitors to this area. Their companions intrigued me, because I have not seen them in Puget Sound previously. To my whale-geeky delight, I gazed upon the T68s for the first time!

The matriarch T68, born 1970 or earlier, and her massive adult son T68A, born 1984, have distinctive dorsal fins. The other six whales with them were presumably some configuration of T68’s daughters, T68B and T68C, and their offspring. The T68s are typically seen off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

In another first-ever during my time on the Island, after they rounded the north end of Vashon, the T68s traveled down East Pass again in the late afternoon. We saw them for the second time in Dalco Pass on the 21st, at 7:00 PM, without the T101s. The T68s milled for 45 minutes, and then they went into The Narrows. For nearly six days, they have been investigating every bay and inlet in the South Sound – what you might expect from newcomers.

Our photos were distant and disappointing, so I peeked at Visual Delights of Vashon to see if other Islanders fared better. Paydirt! Marla Smith’s stunning photos are all of the handsome T101s: lovely matriarch T101, born 1973 or earlier; her known sons T101A, born 1993, and T101B, born 1997; and the big guy, T102, born 1984, likely her eldest son or possibly her brother.

Lucky Karen Fuller got the money shot of the T68s in East Pass, featured as this week’s photo because it clearly shows why Odin nicknamed T68A “Witch Hat.” Look at his pointy dorsal fin! Behind him is matriarch T68, with the notch in the trailing edge of her dorsal. Thanks for sharing your instructive photo on Visual Delights, Karen.

The sour note on the fabulous April 21 encounters was the appalling boating behavior. 1-800-853-1964 is the NOAA Enforcement number for reporting harassment. In this part of Puget Sound, it is the Wild West on the water, with routine violations of whale-wise guidelines. A disturbing trend is evident online, wherein apologists for boat-based whale watching are virtually gaslighting first-hand observers of aggressive maneuvering around orcas. These vessel effects are minimized or sometimes censored. We KNOW what we are seeing in our waters. We did not imagine that Clipper ship in Colvos Pass. NOAA must hear from more of us when we observe egregious boater conduct.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated four decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at Vashonorcas@aol.com.