CWR's Dave Ellifrit and Michael Weiss taking photo-ID shots of orcas
(photograph by Gary Sutton)
This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of the WHALE Report (CWR Member's exclusive quarterly newsletter). This newsletter is full of compelling information and magnificent photographs of the whales. If you aren't already a CWR Member, you may want to consider becoming one. Your financial support helps us continue our studies and speak out on behalf of the Southern Resident orcas.
Q: Could you tell us a story about something you've seen that really blew your mind?
A: Oh, boy, I must admit, I've been extremely lucky to have been able to have hung around as long as I have, and the whales have been everything … a little kid who wants to see whales, there everything you could ever want them to be. Yeah, the whales, they're good fun to be around on most days.
I've had lots of really [amazing experiences], no spiritually, crystally, sort of moments. But, I've had - "Well that was pretty fun"- sort of moments. And, yeah, there's ... Oh, jeez, for variety of a couple ones… it's not even the best of them; I remember I had one of my few birthday encounters, where we [CWR] had a trimaran at the time, a motor trimaran, that was a great boat to walk around the deck on.
We were somewhere down the westside [of San Juan Island], had
J Pod down there. It was like all the mothers, at the time we had a lot of young calves; we had a day where all of the mothers parked their kids near the boat and said: "Stay here, and we'll come back later for you." And the mothers went off to forage [for food], and we had these kids; it seemed like a long time. I can't remember. This was 20 years ago now. But, ah, we just had the kids circling our boat, goofing around, playing around. Like, we were the playground, they were told to stay in until their moms came back. You know, that was kind of fun.
No matter how long you're around, if the whales are under the boat and you can look them in the eye, you still go [wave] and say: "Hi!" You can't help it.
A little different. One of the coolest things I've had, I had a phosphorescence encounter years ago where we went out, perfect night: no moon, flat calm, there wasn't a lot of wood [driftwood] in the water. The whales were heading in the right direction, so it was a relatively safe night to go out; little inflatable. Having a whale that is totally aglow swim under your boat, and every time they pump their flukes, they're leaving behind a trail of green. And, every time they pump their flukes, there's this wash of green coming up, and sparkles. They just looked cartoon-like as they were [swimming]. The first time we had a whale swim right under our boat, and all aglow, we all just fell on each other. Babbling, babbling idiots: "There… Did you see that…"
Wow! You just don't see things like that very often.
Dave Ellifrit has been with the Center for Whale Research since 1990. He is responsible for the curation of the killer whale photographic ID library and associated database. He can identify on sight almost every Resident and Transient killer whale in the Pacific Northwest. Hence, he is affectionately known as the "fin guy." Some people think Dave has a photographic memory; he does not. He does, however, have a remarkable ability to learn, and has put in an inordinate amount of time mastering identifying each whale by its distinctive look.
An interview with Dave Ellifrit about how he got his started with CWR