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Jammin’ with J, K and L Pods

The Dorsal Spin
Cappuccino (K21) off Point Robinson. VHP/Odin Lonning photo, 11/6/15.
Cappuccino (K21) off Point Robinson. VHP/Odin Lonning photo, 11/6/15.

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.”

On November 6, the odds seemed unfavorable that we would arrive at Point Robinson in time to witness the orca procession. To optimize on–the-water research time for Mark Sears, we stayed a bit too long at Chez VHP monitoring sighting calls. Mark informed us that the whales were milling just a half mile north of the point. Maybe, if we could get there in 20 minutes we would see them -- oh, and good luck finding a place to park.

My “Granny (J2) sense” - like Scooby sense - told me to go for it, regardless. After all, the orcas might change direction. I could still do identifications in the field, and Odin might get some useful ID photos. Much to our delight, blessed Granny had our back – or should I say dorsal?

At Point Robinson that afternoon, we documented a gorgeous coalition of Southern Residents. This data answered a number of my persistent questions for the week about precisely which matrilines were present. Various configurations of orcas have traveled through our waters since early November. Different K Pod families were here on November 3 and the 6th. Some L Pod matrilines – including Baby L122 with Mom Muncher (L91) -- came in on November 10.
I marveled at the pageantry of Granny (J2) and her companion Onyx (L87); the J11s with handsome Blackberry (J27); the J17 matriline with weeks-old Baby J53; the J19s with months-old Baby J51; the J22s or Cookies; and, surprise, a few Ks – the K14s and K16s with Cappuccino (K21)!

Many orcas were close enough to shore for me to identify with binoculars. Seeing the oldest Southern Resident, Granny (J2), traveling with their youngest relative, J53, was a joyful privilege. Absent from the mix were the J16s, who have two babies. I later learned from another researcher that the J16s were frolicking solo, just the six of them, in Haro Strait off the west side of San Juan Island.

This week’s photo is one Odin snapped of Cappuccino (K21) at Point Robinson. Cappuccino, born 1986, was intriguingly close to the J17s, which prompted me to speculate fancifully about the paternity of Baby J53. After Mega (L41), K21 is the second oldest Southern Resident male. Genetic studies indicate that Southern Resident females prefer older males for breeding. Perhaps Cappuccino is a baby daddy – just sayin’.

Granny and her kin continued south into Dalco Pass on the 6th, and then they ventured north into Colvos Pass late in the afternoon. A word to the Dalco Pass boaters who converged on these endangered orcas for a better photo opportunity: Washington State law prohibits vessels from approaching any killer whale within 200 yards, and prohibits vessels – that means you, too, kayaks and SUPs -- from intercepting or parking in the path of the whales. The orcas took a long dive to evade you. The cumulative impact of behavioral disturbance generated by thoughtless boaters compromises the survival of our precious orca babies. Do not chase them by boat in order to obtain photos.

We are grateful to all of the Islanders who call in sightings. Keep up the good work -- your reports benefit our research effort. Chez VHP’s whale hotline was abuzz before 7:30 AM on November 3, with sightings of orcas from Dockton and Burton – say what?! I had a lovely chat with Sarah at the Beachcomber regarding the rarity of Resident orcas entering Quartermaster Harbor in recent decades. You can read about that in the November 11 edition.

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 three decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at Vashonorcas@aol.com and check for updates at Vashonorcas.org.