For many years J pod contained three very iconic males - J1, J3, and J6. J6 was estimated to have been born in 1956 and was already a mostly full-grown adult male when CWR's Orca Survey began in 1976.
By Katie Jones, CWR ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center Manager
J6 and J3 in 1976 (Center for Whale Research)
During the early days of the [Orca Survey] study, when the whales' family trees were largely unknown and guesses had to be made as to who was related to whom, it was thought that J6 could have possibly been the brother of J8 as they spent a lot of time together.
J6 was nicknamed "Ralph" in honor of former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro. Ralph Munro has long been a champion and protector for orcas. He was a first-hand witness to the horrific orca capture in Budd Inlet in 1976, and his actions not only helped to free the whales of the Budd Inlet capture but also helped to stop orca captures from ever happening again in Washington State. He has been a tireless advocate for Southern Resident killer whales, and it's only fitting that a whale is named after him.
I asked Center for Whale Research Senior Staff / Photo Identification Specialist Dave Ellifrit for stories about J6. I've heard some people refer to J6 as "the babysitter." Around the time when J19 and J11 were just little ones, apparently, J6 would spend time playing around with his little pod mates. As he grew older, though, his behavior became very much like many of the older males in the pods: the pods would be foraging, and J6 could often be seen way offshore from everyone doing his own thing. Despite this behavior, Dave said he was definitely a very social whale and could often be seen right in the thick of good rolly-poly social behavior.
CWR Senior Scientist Ken Balcomb recalls an encounter while watching the whales come into Haro Strait from Discovery Island - J6 was going from whale watch boat to whale watch boat checking everyone out. Ken said he seemed to be saying hello to everyone!
J6 breaching in 1992 (Photograph by Dave Ellifrit)
Dave Ellifrit also recalled one story where High Spirits (CWR's old research trimaran vessel regularly used in the 1990s, especially for the Earthwatch teams that would volunteer for CWR) was following along with J6. During this encounter, J6 was being harassed by Dall's porpoise. The little porpoises zipped and buzzed around him at high speed, and he seemed to be so annoyed with his little hitchhikers that he began to ooze closer and closer to High Spirits. Dave recalled that Dall's porpoise really loved riding on the bow of the trimaran, and it seemed like J6 was trying to pawn off his annoying little companions on the research boat! If this was his tactic, it didn't seem to work, but it was good thinking if that's indeed what he was trying to do.
J6 with Dall's porpoise in 1998 (Photograph by Dave Ellifrit)
CWR Community Relations Coordinator Lodie Budwill also has a very special story about J6 that she shared:
My favorite memory of J6 "Ralph" took place almost 30 years ago! I would spend the entire day observing resident whales from land or by boat whenever my schedule would allow. I had three favorite "boys" at that time, J6 "Ralph," L38 "Dylan," and J1 "Ruffles." Any and every moment of time with them was extra special to me!
On this particular day, I was on a small metal boat with Captain Darrell Roberts, who knew these whales and understood my passion for them. It was summertime, and the water was flat like a mirror. All of J Pod was present on the north side of Henry Island, somewhat spread out, traveling from west to east. We sat still in the water with the engine cut to watch the whales approach off the stern of the boat. Most of the whales had passed by when I spotted J6 at a distance, swimming solo. There he was, his massive dorsal fin cutting through the smooth water like a knife. He was aiming directly toward us.
In my excitement to connect with J6, I leaned over the back of the boat, reached my arms out about 1-2 feet above the clear water. I clapped my hands and called to him as he swam towards us. He remained close to the surface the entire distance, as the tip of his tall dorsal fin never fully submerged! He swam straight as an arrow right up to the boat, and almost as if in slow motion, he glided directly under my hands. He was gorgeous from rostrum to fluke! I remember Captain Darrell at this point telling the others on the boat that Ralph was one of my "boyfriends"! J6 will always hold a very special place in my heart.
J6 is definitely one of the most iconic whales of yesteryear, and it's always a pleasure to bring these stories to new generations of orca lovers who may not have had the opportunity to meet or get to know these special individuals.
J6 at Turn Point Lighthouse in 1980 (Photograph by Ken Balcomb)