Forty-eight-year-old J pod matriarch, J16, leads her son, J26, in search of scarcely available Chinook salmon. Like the mature female leaders in K pod and L pod, J16 is responsible for Navigating a NEW Course in search of nourishment for her family members and the other orcas in
J pod. (Photograph by CWR's Dave Ellifrit.)
the WHALE Report
June // 2020
CWR Member News // Published Quarterly
Homo sapiens. If and when the scary part is over, I then hope that we live up
to our self-proclaimed title sapiens and start really taking care of Mother Earth.
Some serious adjustments of human activity are in order
when the worst of the virus is over,
not just a return to business as usual.
- Ken Balcomb, CWR Founder
An excerpt from Ken Balcomb's April 22, 2020, Earth Day message to
Centre for Whale Research members, supporters, and followers.
2020 Encounter summary:
29 Encounters through May 31, 2020
Southern Resident killer whale encounters: 8
Transient/Bigg's killer whale encounters: 21
Encounters with killer whales in inland waters since March 1. Encounter #14 - #29, are marked on the map: SRKW Encounters with blue numbered dots and Transients/Bigg's with black numbered dots. These locator dots are active links to the full Encounter Summary (desktop version only).
CWR Member photo DOWNLOAD
For personal use only.
See whaleresearch.com 2020 Encounters for a complete description of encounters.
Salish Sea Transboundary Ecosystem
Click map to enlarge
Salish Sea: Measures 17,000 sq km with 7,470 sq km of coastline; 37 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, 247 species of fish, and over 3000 species of invertebrate inhabit the region (119 of these are at risk); eight million people make their home in the area (Source: SeaDoc Society).
Southern Resident Killer Whale Population: 73*
J pod = 22, K pod = 17, L pod = 34
The official Southern Resident orca population is 73 whales. With L41 missing and presumed deceased, the SRKW population count is provisionally 72.
CWR has documented 29 killer whale encounters through May 31 (8 Southern Resident sightings, 21 Transient/Bigg's sightings). During the five years before 2020, CWR staff observed and documented SRKWs in the first five months of the year as follows: 2019 - 11, 2018 - 10, 2017 - 18, 2016 - 17, 2015 - 13.
For the third year in a row, CWR field researchers did not see SRKWs in May.
*The official annual count of Southern Resident orcas is reported July 1 and December 31 of each year.
SRKW Births and Deaths (1975-2019)
Click chart to enlarge
© 2020 Copyright Center for Whale Research.
Created by Jane Cogan.
Derivative use requires written approval.
Navigating a NEW Course
Southern Resident orcas have practiced physical distancing for several years!
Out of necessity in their search for food
The matrilines in the Southern Resident orca population are spending less and less time together in the inland waters of the Salish Sea, searching for fewer and fewer Chinook salmon. On some days in the summers of 2018 and 2019, the only SRKWs present in the islands were the J16s and/or J17s.
"In recent years, we’ve noticed a lot of changes with the killer whales [SRKWs], especially with their social structure. Even without analyzing it with masks and networks as I do in my work [Ph.D. thesis], just anecdotally, we see that the pods are splitting up more and more, especially J pod. They had a few years where they were forming into two really distinct groups. That was never the case before. J pod was always a cohesive group. They’re spending a lot more time spread out, and traveling, and foraging in small groups, or on their own, and a lot less time socializing; this is all probably due to a lack of food.
We know that [the SRKWs] being in the San Juan Islands is correlated with prey abundance, with salmon abundance. But also we understand how connected their social networks are correlated with salmon abundance. And there’s every reason to think that how much time they spend socializing is dependent on how much food there is. So, there’s a lot of changes in how their society works. It really all comes down to a lack of food and the deaths of some key individuals probably. And it’s probably going to continue until there’s enough food for them."
In 2019, Friday Harbor High School classmates Blake Budwill and Luke Erickson produced FADING SOUND;
a documentary focused on the challenges facing the Southern Resident orca community.
Where do the Southern Resident orcas spend their time when not in the Salish Sea?
Since compiling this data in 2012, the physical distance the SRKWs travels in search of food has expanded even more. And the orcas are spending more and more time outside their core Summer habit.
Click chart to enlarge
© 2020 Copyright Center for Whale Research.
Derivative use requires written approval.
getting to KNOW THEM
In each issue of the WHALE Report, we feature one or more members of the Southern Resident orca community.
J16 // Matriline
Estimated born in 1972
One of the oldest females in the SRKW community (only L25 is older)
Three living offspring: J26, J36, and J42
Three deceased offspring: J33 (fathered by J1), J48, and J50
Gave birth to her daughter, J50, at the advanced reproductive age of forty-two (2014)
J16 is easily identified by her right side open saddle patch with tic-tac-toe pattern of scratches and a long finger on her left side saddle patch (see Orca Survey ID Guide on CWR Member homepage).
Born in 1991
Father was J1 (for genetic test results read: Inferred paternity and male reproductive success in a killer whale (Orcinus orca) population)
Only mature male in J pod with an open saddle patch, left and right side (see Orca Survey ID Guide on CWR Member homepage)
Tall dorsal fin with a wavy trailing edge like his father, J1 (Est. born 1951-2010)
Nicknamed "Mike" because he was the first male born into the SRKWs after the death of Dr. Mike Bigg in October 1990.
Born in 1999
Her only calf, J52 (male), was born in 2015, died in 2017
Identified by closed saddle patches (left and right side) and a wide, pointed dorsal fin (see Orca Survey ID Guide on CWR Member homepage).
Born in 2007 (video of J42 during the first days of her new life)
The only member of J pod with distinctly open right and left side saddle patches; she also has a rounded tip to her dorsal fin (see Orca Survey ID Guide on CWR Member homepage).
About J26's namesake: Dr. Mike Bigg
Dr. Bigg was among the first biologists to use photo-identification to document population size and structure of free-swimming whales. He suffered ridicule in parts of the scientific world for maintaining that virtually all individual killer whales could be known. He passed away too young in 1990.
Tail Lob - An orca lifts its tail flukes above the water and brings them down with force. See photographs and descriptions of orcas "performing" different physical maneuvers or behaviors. The list provides 1) a name for each of the physical actions, 2) a description of the movement, and 3) in some instances, explains why.
What's J26 doing?
Photo Gallery - J16s
J16 Half Breach
Photograph by Dave Ellifrit, 2018.
Photograph by Dave Ellifrit, 2015.
J42 Kiss the Sky
Photograph by Ken Balcomb, 2016.
J36 being playful with J16 and J42
Photograph by Dave Ellifrit, 2013.
Photograph by Ken Balcomb, 2014.
J2 and J16 Swimming in the Rain
Photograph by Erin Heydenreich, 2014.
J26 Half Breach
Photograph by Mia Reynolds, 2019.
J26 and J16
Photograph by Dave Ellifrit, 2019.
J36 with J52
Photograph by Ken Balcomb, 2016.
J16 and J42
Photograph by Melisa Pinnow, 2018.
J36 and J26
Photograph by Dave Ellifrit, 2018.
getting to KNOW US
CWR's Dave Ellifrit, the "fin guy"
Dave Ellifrit in WANT TO STUDY ORCAS IN THE WILD?
and busy working on the Orca Survey
database in the Centre for Whale Research office.
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 killer whale in the Pacific Northwest. Hence, he is affectionately known as the "fin guy." Some people think Dave has a photographic memory; he doesn't. 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.
In Episode 2 of The Salish Sea School's "Students and a Scientist" lecture series, WANT TO STUDY ORCAS IN THE WILD? Dave was asked, among other questions:
"What led you to the special work you are now doing?"
"What does a normal day in the field look like for you?"
"What is your favorite part of the job?"
"What is your least favorite part of the job?"
Meet the entire Center for Whale Research team.
from the SCIENCE Desk
Since 1976, the Center for Whale Research has been conducting observation-based studies of killer whales in the Salish Sea. CWR staff continue to collect detailed demographic data about the Southern Resident killer whale population for the 2020 Orca Survey, including: photo-identification images of members of the SRKW community; observations of births and deaths; and information about the behavior and ecology of the animals, including where the animals are in geographic location and time, and their social behavior and foraging patterns. This dataset provides unprecedented insights into killer whale biology and ecology that can inform management decisions to assist in the recovery of the population.
Field staff documenting SRKWs
(note the yellow flag, signifying the organization has a research permit).
Aerial Observation Study
In 2018, the Center for Whale Research, working with a research team from the University of Exeter, launched a research study using drones (i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles/UAVs) to study the behavior of the Southern Resident killer whales from a new perspective. This study helps understand their complex lives better, revealing factors that influence survival, reproduction, social structure, and the evolution of this unique life-history.
In 2019, the CWR-University of Exeter SRKW Aerial Observation Study expanded. It became part of a large international project funded by the National Environmental Research Council in the United Kingdom to look at how family life influences rates of aging. CWR Scientific Advisor (Animal Social Networks) and Professor of Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter, Dr. Darren Croft, summarizes the project: The Evolution of Sex Differences in Mammalian Social Life Histories.
Read more about the SRKW Aerial Observation Study and CWR's drone pilots. See aerial footage of the orcas on a big screen and have your questions about the Southern Residents answered at the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island.
RECENT Published Studies
Weiss, M. N., D. W. Franks, K. C. Balcomb, D. K. Ellifrit, M. J. Silk, M. A. Cant and D. P. Croft (2020). Modelling cetacean morbillivirus outbreaks in an endangered killer whale population. Biological Conservation 242: 108398. Full Text.
Nattrass, S., Croft, D. P., Ellis, S., Cant, M. A., Weiss, M. N., Wright, B, M., Stredulinsky, E., Doniol-Valcrozef, T., Ford, J. K. B., Balcomb, K. C., & Franks, D. W. (2019). Postreproductive killer whale grandmothers improve the survival of their grandoffspring. PNAS. Full Text.
Visit Research Publications at WhaleResearch.com for a list of publications where the Center for Whale Research has had involvement.
CWR Outreach & Education
The Center for Whale Research works tirelessly and relentlessly advocating for immediate action by politicians and government agencies to reverse the dramatic decline of Chinook salmon stocks in Southern Resident killer whale habitat. At every opportunity, CWR team members speak out boldly in the media concerning the sick and starving SRKWs. We reach out to as many people as possible with focused educational and Take Action messages, through speaking engagements, social media channels and WhaleResearch.com, targeted advertising campaigns, and face to face discussions with visitors to the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center in Friday Harbor.
Read some of CWR's Recent Accomplishments
made possible by your financial support.
Read Ken Balcomb's April 22 Earth Day message to
CWR members, supporters, and followers.
CWR Outreach ACTION: Broader AWARENESS
DAMMED TO EXTINCTION (download or disc) - With involvement by the Center for Whale Research and support from the Ruth Foundation, Steven Hawley and Michael Peterson produced the film DAMMED TO EXTINCTION. It offers a reasonable justification for removing the Lower Snake River dams to the benefit of Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident orcas.
At the TEDxBigSky event in January, Hawley and Peterson make a further compelling case for the immediate removal of the four Lower Snake River dams.
CWR Education ACTION: ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center
CWR's ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center is TEMPORARILY CLOSED DUE TO COVID-19. It will reopen when it is determined to be safe for visitors, volunteers, and employees.
The ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center opened in Friday Harbor in the Summer of 2018. Since then, close to 14,000 people from across North America and around the world have visited and learned from knowledgeable CWR staff and volunteers about killer whales and how they can help the struggling population of Southern Resident orcas.
The mission of the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center is to educate and give back to the public the information and knowledge that CWR, and our colleagues, have gathered during 44 years of research of killer whales (orcas) in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands.
Member's ACTIONS: Here's what you can do
ORCA ACTION MONTH
June is Orca Action Month
The past few months have been trying for everyone. It's been easy for us to be distracted from the environmental issues facing our world. Like extinction hanging over the melons of our beloved Southern Resident orcas.
In February 2020, a supporter of the Center For Whale Research wrote a letter to Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, NOAA, and the other government entities that we suggest on the Take ACTION page. Senator Cantwell's reply.
Learn why the four Lower Snake River dams should be immediately removed by watching DAMMED TO EXTINCTION (download or disc).
There is no more important issue facing the future survival of J, K, and L pods than ensuring that they have enough salmon to survive and reproduce. Restoration of the Snake River system to normative flow is essential for this to happen on a scale that is meaningful for the salmon and the whales, and for the fishermen.
- Ken Balcomb, CWR Founder and Senior Scientist
The Southern Resident orcas inhabit ocean waters managed by the United States and Canadian governments.
Recovery actions announced by the Government of Canada on May 10, 2019, are meant to enhance Chinook salmon stocks for the SRKWs, as well as improve foraging conditions. Read Whales Initiative: Protecting the Southern Resident Killer Whale and 2019 management measures to protect Southern Resident killer whales (Canada's Marine Mammal Regulations). The Canadian government renewed these fishing and boating regulations for 2020. You can comment on these new rules:
Send a letter, phone, or e-mail the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Bernadette Jordan, and the Minister of Environment & Climate Change, Jonathan Wilkinson.
Canadian organizations making real progress on the issues of salmon and orca health and recovery:
CWR MEMBERS & SUPPORTERS
We cannot stress enough how much we appreciate your financial gifts. Honestly, we could not do what we do without you. See examples of your money in action by visiting CWR's Recent Accomplishments page.
We understand these are challenging times. PLEASE give what you can to help us continue our essential work and advocacy for the Southern Resident orcas.
Looking toward the future
One of the immediate goals of the Center for Whale Research is to generate operating security for the organization. An essential aspect of this is financial planning. It includes fundraising in the areas of membership and donation, and self-driven fundraising efforts for CWR by caring individuals, businesses and product sale donations. Achieving our financial goals will ensure that CWR is around to study and advocate the Southern Resident orcas for at least another forty-four years.
Here's one way that you can help toward our goal of increasing membership. If you know someone you think would like to learn more about the Southern Resident orcas, send them the link to this page via email. We hope that they will read, learn, and decide to be like you and support our recovery efforts on behalf of the local orcas.
For those of you who have encouraged others to become a CWR member: THANK YOU.
SHOP in support of the Southern Resident orcas!
When you are shopping on Amazon, start at smile.amazon.com, and the massive online retailer will donate 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases.You will be supporting the Center for Whale Research without it costing you a penny!
Buy a couple of pairs of The ORCA SOCK by Seattle-based Kavu. They are generously donating 20% of the profits from sales of these socks to CWR! Buy the ORCA SOCK at Kavu.com and other Kavu retailers. The socks are also available for purchase at the ORCA SURVEY Outreach & Education Center in Friday Harbor.
Purchase Photo Cards by Lodie, and 100% of your purchase goes to support CWR orca research! Stock up on these cards at your local PCC Community Markets. The photographs of whales in these cards are stunning!
Raise money by organizing an Online Fundraiser
Whether you are one person, a couple, a group, or a company/organization, there are lots of great ways to raise money in support of the Southern Resident orcas and Center for Whale Research:
Facebook Fundraiser. Several people have set up Facebook Fundraisers as part of celebrating their birthday, click here to set up your own Facebook Fundraiser.
Crowdfunding. Visit several of the better-known crowdfunding platforms to get some ideas on how you might raise money for CWR and the orcas! Maybe an initiative to honor a hero?
Workplace Initiative. Supporting meaningful conservation efforts is a great way to show your commitment to a healthier planet. Consider an employer-matching donation program or donating the proceeds of a percentage of sales or recognizing a milestone achievement.
a look BACK to May 2007
A tiny, pink calf joins the J16s
CWR’s Dave Ellifrit and Katie Jones first observed J16’s new calf, J42, on May 7, 2007. She was tiny. The J16s of the time included: J16, J26, J33 (now deceased), J36, and J42. During the CWR Encounter, the five whales rolled around together, having a tactile family moment. J26 was also spunky, launching himself into several spectacular breaches. Other members of J pod were grouping up off South Beach, San Juan Island. They were vocalizing (heard off-camera). When the bonding interaction ceased, the J16s and the rest of J pod proceeded up San Juan and Upright Channels. When the CWR research vessel left the whales, they were pointing east toward Obstruction and Peavine Passes.
Video of the J16s with new calf, J42,
shot by CWR field staff in Haro Strait on May 7, 2007.