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Mournful Movements

One of our first photos of J52, taken on April 7, 2015. He was first seen on March 30th of that year. The first known calf of J36.

Wednesday started like many west coast fall/winter days-rainy and-chilly, except it was way to early in the season to feel as miserable as it did. A friend, who is fortunate enough to live on the Swanson Channel side of Pender Island texted, us to say that she’d just seen two “fins” offshore, heading north. Being rather “whale starved”, we quickly dressed and dashed to Thieves Bay. Given the “two fin’” description, we thought the whales may be Transients and, given this, were unsure whether they would continue on their northbound course.

We waited a few moments and saw the reported fins. They were mid channel and the rain and fog made it difficult to tell who they were. With the aid of binoculars we determined the whales were Southern Residents, so we decided to stay put in hopes of seeing other members of the community.

Within minutes, we sighted more fins. They too were a good distant offshore and, like our few other sightings from shore this year (only four in total), were spread out and travelling in small groups. It was obvious given their surface movements that they were fishing. We were hopeful that they were being successful in their hunt. Our thinking was that the whales we were watching were members of J Pod.

Even though we were soaking wet and freezing cold, we continued to wait and watch.

Fast forward thirty minutes and the scene changed: more whales, behaving entirely different than those ahead of them. They were much more vigorous in their surface activity, bunched up in tight groups and much closer to shore. In fact, some were so close they traveled on the inside of the kelp bed only metres from the breakwater. These whales were easy to identify as members of L Pod.

I couldn’t help but wonder about the dramatic difference in the behaviour of the two pods. It made me wonder if *J52 had died, given the fact we had noticed his health decline over the past few weeks. It seemed like J pods movements were almost mournful in comparison to those of L Pod, who were cohesive and exuberant.

We saw J52 last on September 6 (Encounter 54) and at that time he had severe “peanut head”. During our next and most recent encounter with J pod, J52 was missing and, sadly, we now know he has died


Given their social structure (not taking into consideration record low salmon returns), and looking back over the past eighteen months, it’s small wonder they seemed sad. They have lost so many of their family members during this time (J32, J55, J14, J34, J28, J54, J2, and now, J52).

We are all so very sorry for their loss.

*J52 (Male) first sighted in March, 2015; calf of J36; members of the J16 matriline.

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