Encounter 4: The Release of T13 &T14, April 26, 1976
The infamous Budd Inlet capture occurred in February of 1976. Sea World collector Don Goldsberry captured six orcas in Budd Inlet, Puget Sound hoping to supply whales to marine parks. It was an ill timed venture to say the least, with the whales captured in nets only a few miles from Evergreen State Collage where a whale conference was taking place. Cessation of live captures in WA State was a central theme for the conference. Due to the public outcry and media response all the whales were eventually released, and and a Seattle district court ordered Sea World to give up its permit-granted right to collect killer whales in Washington. Since then, Washington state waters became an unofficial sanctuary for killer whales. Two of the whales captured, T13 and T14 (likely mother and son respectively), were not released until much later. At the time, they were known as O5 and O4.
T13 and T14 were taken to the Seattle Aquarium, where researchers with the University of Washington designed "radio-packs" to carry VHF tags for tracking each whale after release. The tags were fitted to the leading edge of the dorsal fin of the whale and held in place by five stainless-steel surgical pins, each 4 millimetres in diameter. Each pin was drilled through the fin and fitted with corrosive nuts, so that the radio-pack would fall off in about a year. The radio-tags weighed about 1.5 kilograms (over 3lbs) each and were designed to transmit for several months, receivable at ranges of up to 5 nautical miles from boat, or 18 miles from aircraft.
In preparation for release, T13 and T14 were moved from Seattle to Kanaka bay on San Juan Island. They were finally released with radios operating on April 26, 1976, about seven weeks after capture. The whales were then tracked almost continuously by boat for the next 10 days, after which the signals were lost due to radio interference. The radio signals were picked up periodically over the next five months, then the whales disappeared. When the whales were next encountered three years later, they had lost their radio packs, but the surgical pins remaining in the fins had caused a build-up of scar tissue that was clearly visible, especially in T14.
Below is Ken's log book entry from the day T13 and T14 were released with their radio tags, 40 years ago today.
Over the 10 days of continuous tracking, the radio tags provided data on the dive times and travel speed. T13 and T14 travelled an average of 68 nautical miles per day, at an average speed of 2.8 knots. They reached a maximum speed of 16 knots on occasion, but only for short periods of time. The whales had pattern of 3-4 short dives for an average of 21 seconds in duration, followed by longer dives averaging 5.77 minutes. The longest dive recorded was 17 minutes.
Both whales are now deceased. T13 was last seen in 1998. T14 was tagged again on May 18, 2010 by NWFSC. This is last photograph we have of him was on October 8, 2010. We know of no further sightings of him. He was born around 1964, and therefore would have been about 46 when he died.
Photos courtesy of Rebecca Partridge, and Washington State Archive provided by Kimmy Vengeance, via CWR volunteer Stephan Jacobs web page: Orca Home.