What Happens When Orcas Reach Menopause

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Our friends at the Center for Whale Research, and the University of Exeter, the University of York have just published results after examining 35 years’ worth of observational data from our Southern Resident Pod of orcas. After looking at more than 3 decades’ worth of photographs capturing whales on the move, they noticed an interesting pattern: post-menopausal orca females, the oldest in the group, typically swam at the front and directed the pod’s movements.

Why is that the case? Smithsonian Magazine has the whole story and we strongly encourage you to read the entire article (the study results were published in the journal Current Biology).

However, the upshot is that “with age, comes wisdom!”

Orca females stop reproducing at around 50 years old, which is also the age when most male orcas are nearing the ends of their lives. Many post-menopausal females still have another 40 years to go, however.

“One way post-reproductive females may boost the survival of their kin is through the transfer of ecological knowledge,” says Lauren Brent of the University of Exeter. “The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing.”

So far from retiring, orca females that are past their child-bearing years go on to become group leaders with valuable survival skills!

Another Baby Orca in J-Pod!

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Newborn J51 with her mother J19 off San Juan Island. Photo: Dave Ellifrit, The Center for Whale Research.

Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) crews are reporting the sighting of another new calf among the endangered Southern Resident Community of orcas – confirmed tonight by Ken Balcomb and The Center for Whale Research. With the recent inclusion by NOAA Fisheries of the captive orca Lolita, in Miami Seaquarium, the population now stands at 80 individuals.

“This is about the best Valentine’s Day present you can imagine,” explains Michael Harris, Executive Director of the PWWA, which represents 32 operators in Washington and BC. “We always try to be cautiously optimistic when he hear about babies, as wild orcas have a high rate of infant mortality. About half don’t make it through their first year. But still, this is wonderful news. J-Pod continues to do all it can to help bring this population back.”

The Center reports that after spending the past two weeks near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, J-Pod finally returned to the interior Salish Sea waters, a brand new calf in tow. Center researcher Dave Ellifrit and naturalist Jeanne Hyde first heard the whales on the Lime Kiln hydrophone this morning, and then embarked on the Center‘s research vessel Chimo while Balcomb watched from shore and managed communications.

Tonight they confirmed a calf that they estimate to be about one week old. The presumed mother is 36-year-old J19. Her 10-year-old daughter, J41, was also in attendance. Both were reported “swimming protectively” on either side of the baby, which The Center says appears healthy. It will be designated J51.

This brings the number of J-Pod whales to 26, making it the most viable pod in the population. K-Pod has 19 individuals, and L-Pod has 34.

2015: New Tours & Whales Are On The Way

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Welcome to 2015! This is our family’s 30th anniversary of taking folks out into the waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea to visit orcas, humpback, whales, seabirds, and more. We’re very excited to announce that all of our tours  – including our new Seattle/Edmonds Whale Watching Tour are available for reservation – take a look below to find the trip that best suits your plans, be sure to plan and book your trip today!

Gray Whale photo by Merrill GoshoGray Whale Tours

Each spring, migrating gray whales pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, providing an excellent opportunity to visit and learn about these amazing mammals. We run half-day whale tours March 15-April 30, 2014 to see the grays. This tour is a guaranteed whale watching experience.

3 Day Audubon Birdwatching Cruise

The Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and Puget Sound Express invite you to take part in an amazing three-day birdwatching and wildlife cruise in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, April 12-14, 2015.

Tour Naturalist Bob Boekelheide (formerly Director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center) will be pointing out all the birds for us. In addition to wildlife and bird watching, we will visit and stay overnight at the historic Roche Harbor Resort, tour fascinating sites on San Juan Island, as well as Deception Pass near Whidbey Island.

eagles-smith-island3-Day San Juan Islands Wildlife Cruises

Join Puget Sound Express May 7-9, 2015 and October 5-7, 2015 for exciting 3 day cruises through the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Selected by National Geographic as one of the World’s Top 3 destinations, the waters around the San Juan Islands are home to orcas (killer whales), minke whales, gray whales, humpback whales, stellar sea lions, porpoise, otters, and a dizzying array of seabirds.

Seattle/Edmonds Whale Watching Tour (NEW!)

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See the majesty and beauty of orcas and humpback whales with Puget Sound Express’ new Seattle Watching Tours out of Edmonds! Ride the Chilkat, our high speed foilcat, at speeds over 40 mph to the San Juan Islands. This is the fastest whale watching boat in the Northwest, and when you combine that with three generations of dedication and experience connecting Seattle visitors with the great outdoors – we guarantee you’ll see whales or your next trip is free! Tours begin May 23, 2015. We leave at 9:30am and return at 2pm In July and August, we add a 2:30pm departure that returns at 7pm.

Port Townsend Four Hour Whale Watching Tour

Hello OrcaThe perfect trip for visitors and travelers with a busy schedule! Departing in the morning, our fast and comfortable 40-seat Red Head seeks out orcas, minkes, humpbacks, and gray whales to give you a guaranteed whale watching experience in the San Juan Islands.

Trips run May – October, 2014, and feature an on-board naturalist. If the whales are “singing,” you’ll be able to hear them with our hydrophone.

Port Townsend – San Juan Island Whale Watching Tour

San Juan Islands photo by Robert Demar PhotographyOur signature tour, this daylong cruise on the Glacier Spirit combines orca watching with an on-board naturalist, and a tour of the beautiful San Juan Islands. We visit the popular town of Friday Harbor for shopping, island cuisine, and sightseeing.

This San Juan Islands trip is also the official passenger ferry route between Port Townsend and San Juan Island, and in addition to seeing killer whales, we often see minke whales, Stellar and California sea lions and Dall’s porpoises.

Protection Island Bird Migration Cruises

Bird MigrationProduced in partnership with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, our three-hour Spring and Fall Bird Migration Cruises coincide with annual migrations of  loons, phalaropes, mergansers, merlins, bald eagles, oystercatchers, harlequin ducks, murrelets, auklets, and more.

Naturalists from the Marine Science Center serve as on-board interpreters and provide commentary on local birds, mammals, geology, history and weather.