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Orca Sting

The Dorsal Spin
Transient male T128 in Puget Sound. Maya Sears photo, 5/21/16.
Transient male T128 in Puget Sound. Maya Sears photo, 5/21/16.

During our six-day stay on San Juan Island in June, Southern Resident orcas were nowhere to be found. The west side of the island was a lonely place without J, K and L Pods. Sure, Transient killer whales and a few Minke whales swam by, but June is customarily the time when Residents do the West Side Shuffle. Except for kayaks and commercial shipping traffic, Haro Strait looked empty. Researcher Bob Otis logged an unprecedented number of zeroes on his June whale days chart – a dubious distinction in 27 years of data collection.

Usually, we return from Friday Harbor feeling mildly reassured that Granny (J2) and her extended clan are feasting on salmon returning through the Straits to the Fraser River. Not so this year. We pray the Southern Residents found an abundant Chinook stash elsewhere.

Odin, Nashoba and I went to San Juan to partake of the 17th annual Orca Sing at Lime Kiln Point State Whale Watch Park. Orca Sing is a free concert for whales, but humans and dogs enjoy it, too. Moreover, Orca Sing is non-partisan and park rules discourage profiteering on the Southern Residents’ suffering. June 25 was a picturesque summer evening; the park was packed. A Minke whale made an appearance for the concert.

Anticipating that orcas would be scarce, Odin and I directed more effort this year to an art project/statement for the event. Our art statement is extremely colorful; regrettably, a black and white photo will not do it justice. We will display it at some point on Vashon.

Suffice it to say the Orca Sing piece has blackfish on it and embodies First Nations values of compassion, tolerance, and respect for diversity. Kéet can teach the inept two-leggeds about these values. We created the piece, in part, as a response to numerous and far-too-frequent public tragedies.

The City Cantábile Choir is always fabulous at Orca Sing, but this year’s program really resonated. An amazing cellist, Gretchen Yanover, performed. Last year, I was tempted to ask Fred West, the choir director, for “Ave Maria” in honor of my mother, but I thought it might be presumptuous. To my tearful but grateful surprise, a soloist sang “Ave Maria” this year -- on my parents’ anniversary, as a bonus.

Compounding my sorrow over not seeing Residents on our Orca Sing trip was awful news that my last remaining aunt – my favorite of her generation – died unexpectedly on June 24. My family tree resembles that of J, K and L Pods, with all of our “tombstones” and matrilines going extinct. For me, being aunt-less induces a singular loneliness. That’s another story for another time.

This week’s photo by Maya Sears is of Transient male T128, from a May 21, 2016 encounter off Bainbridge. Had we been on Vashon instead of at Orca Sing, we could have seen T128 with his brother, T125A, from Chez VHP. Apparently, other Transients, Humpbacks, Common Dolphins, and -- aargh! – a commercial whale watch boat were spotted in Island waters in late June. Vashonites, is this what you want to see from our shores, boats pursuing whales around Vashon-Maury?

Throughout a gimmicky month purportedly focused on raising awareness about why Salish Sea orcas are endangered, nary a peep was uttered regarding disturbance from whale watch boats. As a reminder, from NOAA’s ten-year review of Southern Resident killer whale research:

 “Our studies documented particularly high noise levels experienced by whales in close proximity to certain types of vessels such as small recreation and commercial whale watch boats.”

“Research we funded demonstrates that killer whales spend a greater proportion of time traveling and less time foraging in the presence of vessels, including kayaks.” To be continued . . .

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS and STRANDINGS 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 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.