Encounter #25 - April 7, 2019
Encounter Number: 25
Enc Start Time: 13:21
Enc End Time: 16:24
Vessel: No Name
Observers: Ken Balcomb and Sabryna Bach
Pods or ecotype: J Pod
Location: Admiralty Inlet
Begin Lat/Long: 47.89104/122.44467W
End Lat/Long: 47.94496N/122.52016W
The day began with a plan to travel to Port Townshend by automobile to move our recently refurbished boat to a berthing slip at Point Hudson, strategically very near the Admiralty Inlet to Puget Sound. My very first encounter with J pod was in Admiralty Inlet in April 1976, long before their current popularity, and I hoped for a repeat of a pattern that we have observed with J pod traveling the waters of the Salish Sea in late winter/early spring. K and L pods mostly travel the coastal waters with occasional forays to inland waters when Chinook salmon migrate to their natal rivers to spawn. L pod was off the coast of central California last week, feeding upon Sacramento River Chinook salmon that were aggregating from Monterey to Half Moon Bay. K pod is yet to be located, but no doubt they are either looking for or finding salmon. I expected them all to potentially be coming this way any day soon. Unbeknown to me, J pod had slipped into the Admiralty Inlet during the previous afternoon/evening and in the morning was reported between Kingston and Edmonds, very spread out and not going anywhere. The salmon fishing for winter blackmouth (Chinook) had been pretty good lately, with most fish being 6-8 pounds and big ones up to 13 pounds, so I hoped to see if the whales were also getting in on the “bite”.
My plan thus quickly changed from simply moving the boat to breaking in the new engine – running at various speeds for several hours, and attempting to encounter J pod for a quick check on J17. We left Point Hudson at 1220 and headed down the Inlet at various medium speeds, and encountered the first whale one hour later near the northwest edge of the Possession Point “Bar”. The whale, L87, and a fishing buddy that I took to be J49 were taking very long dives and travelling hundreds of yards up and down the Inlet, with gradual progress to the northwest. For half an hour, I saw no other whales before spotting another male fin briefly about a mile south of us. Long dives, changing directions, and brief no-saddle appearances at the surface were the pattern of the day for the whales for the next hour and a half – uneventful, except that a group that we found included J17, J44, J46, and J53, that I had hoped to see. J17 has improved and showed little sign of the “peanut-head” condition that had us very worried during an encounter with her on New Year’s Eve. At 1538, J42 appeared in the vicinity of this group, and gradually more whales began to show up spread out and travelling very slowly up the Inlet toward Double Bluff. By 1608, most of J pod was in an area of about six square miles in the middle of Admiralty Inlet, with many whales at the southerly end of the assemblage engaging in social contact and occasionally (and lazily) lobtailing as they moved gradually up the Inlet. A half a mile or so up the Inlet a few whales were also lazily lobtailing at the surface as they gradually moved down the Inlet. The assemblage gradually coalesced and then headed back down the Inlet toward the Possession Bar. After they surfaced and dove again, I checked out a few of the swirls of whale “tracks” looking for prey remains and scale samples, but saw none. A few small glittery specks were deep in the water column, and I presume any feeding was done near the bottom where blackmouth salmon are usually caught ten feet above the bottom in this region. We left the whales at 1624 as they headed back toward the Bar where the sport fishing fleet was working the incoming tide.
On the morning of 8 April, 2019 J pod was observed heading up Haro Strait passing Lime Kiln lighthouse on San Juan Island as they continued their widely spread foraging expedition in the Salish Sea (the report of J pod in Puget Sound was sent to me by Alisa Lemire-Brooks). Judging by the time they spend in these inland marine waters, this habitat is a more important feeding area to them than it is to K or L pods that now rarely venture into the region. We will continue to keep track of all of the SRKWs that come into these core waters, and we also photo-document the Transient groups that now increasingly frequent the Salish Sea. Between Orca Network and their public sighting system, the marine naturalists of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, and our Center for Whale Research will document the whale distribution and condition in a changing world climate that will have a huge effect on the Pacific Northwest. Already, the effects are being felt with temperatures unfavorable to their salmon prey, and ocean acidification destroying the food chain due to excessive atmospheric CO2 from burning fossil fuels. These iconic animals are the canaries in the coal mine for the marine species that our life depends upon, and it is only common sense that we humans do whatever natural salmon recovery is necessary for their survival, rather than wasting money and concern over ephemeral noise issues and government agendas that are impossible to honestly evaluate. We absolutely know that SRKW survival is directly correlated with Chinook salmon abundance, and we also know that native wild salmon will ultimately provide the only path to salmon recovery. The only question is will we remove the dams blocking their natural lifecycle and restore habitats necessary for native salmon recovery,… before it is too late?
Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 21238/ DFO SARA 388