Gray Whale Tours Begin in March!

gray-harles

Gray whales will soon slowly start making their migration north (if they haven’t already) from Baja, Mexico to Alaska, but not before a small group of them make a stopover in the waters of Puget Sound to feed on the abundance of ghost shrimp! Once these whales have eaten their fill, they will begin to continue their migration north.

Of the estimated 22,000 gray whales that inhabit the North pacific ocean, we get to have our very own “resident” gray whale population of about 12 animals right here in Puget Sound for a few months! How lucky are we?! They usually start arriving in March and are generally here through late April/early May. This is the time to see gray whales in Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula. 

The one everyone hopes to see is an adult male designated as #53. He has been given the nickname “Patch” because of the large white patch that can be seen on his back. He’s been coming into these waters for at least 25 years in a row now!! That’s dedication! Don’t miss out on seeing the grays that are only here for a short time and book your trip now!

Photo by Janine Harles: Gray whales have a very mottled skin pigmentation that is mostly gray, as shown here. The mottled pattern on their skin is how we and scientists can tell them apart.

Welcome to the 8th Baby Orca of 2015!

j54

2015 is set to be remembered as an all-timer for the Southern Resident Killer Whales! The Center for Whale Research has just announced a new baby orca in J Pod – J54!

We don’t know the sex of the young orca, but its mother is J28, a twenty-two year old female Southern Resident Killer Whale in the Pacific Northwest. The mother had a previous baby designated J46, a female, born in 2009 and still surviving. This brings the known births of Southern Resident orcas to eight since last December, and the total population of the population as of now to 84 known individuals. 1977 is the only previous year in the past forty years in which as many baby killer whales were born into this community of whales, and there were nine in that year. From calculations accounting for all reproductive age females, we estimate that typically up to nine babies could be produced each year, but there is usually a high rate of neonatal and perinatal mortality, and we have seen only three babies annually on average. In the years immediately following poor salmon years, we see fewer babies and higher mortality of all age cohorts.

The new baby, J54, was first seen on 1 December 2015 by several whale-watchers near San Juan Island, and photographed with J28 by Ivan Reiff, a Pacific Whale Watch Association member. However, the 1 December photographs were not conclusive in that they did not reveal distinct features of eyepatch and “saddle” pigment shape that could unequivocally rule out that it was not another baby being “baby sat” by J28. Today’s photographs in Haro Strait between San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island confirm the distinct features required for alpha-numeric designation. The new baby is estimated to be two and a half to three weeks old as of now. The family, including mother and sister, grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousin, and other J pod members continued North in Haro Strait and Swanson Channel by sunset. Presumably, they are destined for the Strait of Georgia where J pod spent an extended amount of time last December.

It is clear that the Southern Resident population (in particular J pod) is investing in the future, and that survival of all of the new calves and their mothers and relatives depends upon a future with plentiful salmon, especially Chinook salmon, in the eastern North Pacific Ocean ecosystem. This may be problematic with pending and unfolding Climate Change that is anticipated to be detrimental to salmon survival, in the ocean and in the rivers. Warmer ocean waters are less productive, and rivers without continual water (no snow melt – rains runoff too quickly) and with warmer water are lethal to salmon. The Pacific Salmon Foundation and Long Live the Kings are non-profit organizations concerned with the declining survival of juvenile salmon in the Salish Sea, and the Center for Whale Research is a non-profit organization concerned with the survival and demographic vigor of the Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea and coastally from Vancouver Island to California.

PHOTO: Dave Ellifrit, the Center for Whale Research.

Give the Gift of Whale Watching!

T077A breaching. Photo by PSE naturalist Renee Beitzel
T077A breaching. Photo by PSE naturalist Renee Beitzel

The 2015 holiday season is upon us! If you want to give a truly life-changing gift, consider a gift certificate for whale watching with Puget Sound Express. We offer gift purchases on all of our 2016 tours, and making it happen is as easy as clicking “purchase gift” directly below.

 

Purchase Gift

 

Welcome L123! New Orca Calf Makes 7 in 2015

L123-photo-by-Mark-Malleson

The endangered Southern Community continues to rebuild its ranks.

The Center for Whale Research announced this weekend that a new calf has been spotted, the seventh born into the population since December 30th, 2014, and the third born into L-Pod this year. The baby, dubbed L123 by the Center, was born to L103, the 12-year-old’s first known calf.  The calf was first spotted on November 10th, 2015 off Seattle, WA and then again on November 22nd near the Jordan River in B.C.

The announcement comes almost exactly a year to the day after the tragic loss of J32, or “Rhapsody,” the beloved member of the Southerns who died from an infection while trying to give birth to a full-term fetus.

“Losing J32 was like losing two on one day from this population,” remembers Michael Harris, Executive Director of Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA).  “That also dropped their numbers to 77, down one from when we got them listed under the Endangered Species Act 10 years ago.  And that brought us all down.  Many of the most optimistic among us started to really wonder if we could save this population.  Some gave up — but not us.  And then true enough, they surprise us with seven beautiful, healthy calves within a year.  It goes to show that you never can give up on these orcas.  They’ve been around for about 10,000 years, and if we make sure we have salmon out there, they’ll be around for thousands more.”

Scientists believe that the baby boom this year is directly correlated to a healthy Chinook salmon run last year.  But coming off a regional drought and other problems, the next few years are expected to be challenging for the population.

“We are very excited about the SRKW baby boom, but it is now more important than ever to remember that the more whales we have the more salmon they will need,” said Dr. Deborah Giles, Director of Research for the Center for Whale Research. “With all these new mouths to feed it is crucial to focus on Chinook salmon habitat restoration. Removal of the lower Snake River Dams is just one of the many ways to address the issue.”

(Photo by Mark Malleson under NMFS Permit #15569 and/or DFO license #2013-04 SARA-272 “3”.)