Whale Gumbo

The Dorsal Spin

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Throughout October and into the first week of November, a number of distinguished cetacean visitors have graced Vashon-Maury waters. A single Humpback whale named Vivaldi has been here for three weeks, often foraging near Point Defiance and into the Narrows. Vivaldi’s occasional breaches and emphatic lobtailing are most impressive – splashy and loud!

On November 1, as I searched for Vivaldi’s tall blows, I spied a cluster of blows and dorsal fins at the Clay Banks. Ten Transients in two families, T46s and T46Cs, were creeping along the shore – surprise! Three imposing males in this group have distinctively nicked dorsal fins — T46D, T46E and T46C1.  In addition, the orcas sheltered an adorable new relative: still peachy T46C4. At Loop deadline, the Transients remain in the neighborhood, roaming between Dalco Pass and Henderson Bay, or thereabouts.

Historically, Southern Residents (SRKW) ventured into central Puget Sound in October, sometimes even in September. Not so this year. On November 4, our friends and research partners Mark and Maya Sears had their first encounter with J Pod and L87 just north of Seattle. The widely scattered SRKW foraged on chum salmon. Cookie (J38), b. 2003, had a fish in his mouth.

On November 5, J Pod slowed the evening commute when the orcas paused to eat salmon dinner in the Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry lanes. From WSF’s Twitter feed: “Faunt/Va/SW – Update-Sealth & Kittitas 20 minutes delayed due to Orca pod.” Splendid!

For several days, these SRKW concentrated on an area between the Possession Triangle and our “Faunt/Va/SW” ferry lanes, roughly. Based on where Mark and Maya found the orcas on November 6, we surmise they traveled north again on the night of the 5th. We did not expect them to journey farther into East Passage. We suspect this is in part because the Transients and the Humpback are to the south.

Dear readers, the sight of a solitary dolphin – presumably a Bottlenose – in the nearshore waters of Fern Cove or Dockton should prompt a call to your Vashon stranding responders. Thus far, we have not heard from y’all. Circling in shallower water could be a sign of distress, though not necessarily. I have an idea who this dolphin might be, but I need conclusive ID photos.

Our Humpback friend has artfully dodged Transient killer whales as well as clueless humans on boats, kayaks, and paddleboards. Kids, don’t try this at home: this week’s photo of Vivaldi breaching was obtained by a Gig Harbor tour boat. I debated about using it, as I am not certain that the boat was observing Be Whale Wise guidelines. However, it presents a teaching moment. Every year, enormously powerful Humpbacks inadvertently injure or sometimes kill humans who get too close. Like all Humpbacks, Vivaldi surfaces in unpredictable places, frequently shifting direction while s/he is foraging. Please respect Vivaldi’s space and allow him/her to rest, travel and eat in peace.

November is Native Heritage Month. Recently, this column has focused on the dire plight of our fellow First Nation of the Salish Sea – the endangered Southern Residents. November 6 was a frenzied day, with whale visitors, a SRKW Task Force meeting, and a wee Mid-term Election. The word DISENFRANCHISED comes to mind, but that is a thorny subject for another time.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS & STRANDINGS ASAP TO 206-463-9041. Tell us if you see Vivaldi, a wandering dolphin, Transient orcas, or commute-stopping J Pod! When reporting a sighting or stranding, be specific: date, time, location, travel direction, species description, number of whales/seals/etc., and behavior observed. We prefer phone reports, but if email is the only way to coax you to report to us, send sightings and photos to Vashonorcas@aol.com. Your photos of marine mammals are valuable for ID purposes. Do not assume we will randomly find stuff posted online. We are grateful to everyone who reports directly to us.