Four years after Tahlequah’s journey, the legal and ethical debates over orca protection continue to evolve

Salish Sea Currents looks back and forward on the game changing plight of Tahlequah, the mother who lost her young orca.

It has been four summers since a mother orca’s dramatic vigil brought worldwide attention to the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales. A recent gathering of legal experts, conservationists, and academic scholars looked at how perceptions of the whales have changed since then and whether laws and policies should reflect new thinking about ethical responsibilities to orcas and other animals. Sarah DeWeerdt reports. (Salish Sea Currents)

Salish Sea Currents

Killer Whale Scars Tell A Story – Hakai Magazine

Interesting new research

By counting their scars and when they got them, scientists are unlocking new insights on killer whale social dynamics. Marina Wang reports. (Hakai Magazine)

http://Killer whales scars tell a story

Quiet Sound underwater noise reduction program could soon slow ships, protect Orcas -KNKX

The British Columbia pilot program in this was a success. Glad to see that we are going to try this soon. A common sense approach to fixing part of the problems plaguing the Orca population.

Underwater noise from ship traffic is one of the major threats to Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident orcas. It can interfere with the whales’ ability to communicate, navigate by echolocation and find the increasingly scarce salmon they prefer. A recommendation from the orca recovery task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018-19 is to reduce noise and disturbance from large vessels. Work is underway to develop a program called “Quiet Sound,” which will alert ships to the presence of whales so they can re-route or slow down. Bellamy Pailthorp reports. (KNKX)

Quiet Sound underwater noise reduction program could soon slow ships, protect orcas

Google’s new AI model ‘listens’ to killer whales to help protect the species -The Next Web

Cool new use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Now if it can only do a better job of spellcheck for me! I feel like I’ve added thousands of words to my dictionary and yet it still can’t just correct those for me. How about you? What would you like to see AI do for you?

Google‘s AI team has developed a new model to protect the endangered species of killer whales known as orcas in the Salish Sea. According to the Center for Whale Research, there are only 73 Southern Resident orcas — a subspecies of the killer whale — left in the world. So Google has teamed up with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to monitor their condition and alert experts in the event of sickness or accidents across 12 locations. Google‘s team trained its AI model using 1,800 hours of underwater audio and 68,000 labels that identified the origin of the sound. When the model “hears” sound of a whale, it displays its location on Rainforest Connection, an acoustic monitoring system for animals. Ivan Mehta reports. (The Next Web)

Google’s new AI model ‘listens’ to killer whales to help protect the species

Navy settles lawsuit, won’t scrape ship hulls in Puget Sound -AP

Lawsuits are always a last resort, but are well worth pursuing. I am a huge fan of them, as most people are too timid to really be a force to stop things like this. Our population here in the Northwest love to work on restoration projects, fixing what they allowed to be screwed up, but protecting the Salish Sea is not something they really take seriously. The people who actually do this kind of work are few and far between.

The U.S. Navy on Wednesday agreed to a 10-year moratorium on scraping the hulls of decommissioned vessels in Puget Sound. The deal, filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, settles a lawsuit filed by the Suquamish Tribe and two environmental groups, Washington Environmental Council and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined the lawsuit. In the settlement agreement, the Navy said it would not conduct further hull cleaning in Sinclair Inlet except to the extent it is required for hull integrity tests or to prepare the vessel to be put in dry-dock. It agreed the preferred method for cleaning vessel hulls is to do so in dry-dock where the pollution can be contained. (Associated Press)

Navy settles lawsuit, won’t scrape ship hulls in Puget Sound

Whale Sitings from Orca Network

A deceased yearling humpback whale was found on a remote beach just north of the entrance to Gig Harbor in south Puget Sound on Friday December 18th. She was towed and to a location and examined by Cascadia Research Collective and MaST. “…While the cause of death was not certain, it was in poor nutritional condition, with thin, dry blubber and little food in the stomach and also a significant number of parasites in the intestines and these may all have contributed to its’ death…”
You can see photos and full preliminary report on Cascadia Research Collective Facebook page
and read more in The News Tribune article.

Overall we end 2015 celebrating the birth and lives of the 8 new calves born to the southern residents in the past 12 months, the presence of a fin whale in the inland waters of the Salish Sea, and numerous humpbacks who appear to be moving back home to their ancestral home in Puget Sound.

Ten years after ESA listing, killer whale numbers falling – Seattle Times

The Times covers the decline in the Orca population. Is the tipping point near for no chance of recovery?  Craig Welch reports. (Seattle Times)

Pregnant killer whale J-32 was starving, necropsy reveals – CBC

So the latest death of an Orca was likely due to a combination of starvation and the fetus dying in utero. Bad story here for our joint efforts to protect the whales. A full fishing ban on chinook salmon is likely the only way out, as unpleasant as that may sound. They should know if it works within a year or two. In the meantime, here’s the story on J-32 and Ken Balcomb, one of the leading whale researchers, opinion.

Orca calf born to Puget Sound resident L pod  – KING.COM

A wait and see attitude to being thrilled about this will have to hold off until we see if it survives. Rate of survival of Orca young is fairly low.

The Center for Whale Research is celebrating the birth of an orca calf in the Salish Sea, the first one since 2012. The proud mother is 23-year-old L86, and this is her second calf. The newborn has been designated L120. Susan Wyatt reports. (KING)

Two more resident orcas are missing. Now down to 78.

The population keeps falling.  Signs are pointing the wrong way. 

From Orca Network: “We’re saddened to report that the Center for Whale Research has announced that two Southern Resident orcas, L53 Lulu and L100 Indigo, have not been seen with their families in 2014 and are presumed deceased. 37-year-old female L53 lost her mother, L7, in 2010, and had no siblings. L100, a 13-year-old male, was born to L54 Ino and had two siblings, L108, an 8-year-old brother, and L117, born in 2010, gender still unknown. This brings the Southern Residents’ overall population down to 78, the same number that led to their listing as endangered under the ESA. No newborns have been seen since August, 2012.”

Springer the Orca is back in NW Waters -Huffington Post and others

This is fun to see.

Springer, Orphaned Orca, Reappears Off B.C. Coast With Family
An orphaned killer whale who made headlines around the world when she was reunited with her pod off the coast of British Columbia has re-appeared — with her own thriving calf in tow. Whale researchers spotted Springer this week in the Inside Passage off B.C.’s North Coast. “They appear to be healthy and robust … normal in every way,” Lance Barrett-Lennard from Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Research Program, wrote in an email from the field. “Great stuff.” (Canadian Press)



Noted author and marine conservationist Erich Hoyt is the featured speaker when The Whale Trail’s Orca Tour 2014 comes to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and to the Port Angeles Red Lion Inn on May 7 and May 8.
Hoyt is the author of the books, Orca: The Whale Called Killer and Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises, and will speak on “Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific—From A1 Stubbs to Iceberg, the White Russian Bull.”

“We are living in an era and in a part of the world where whale research has exploded,” says Erich Hoyt. “And we’ve got some amazing orca stories to tell here—mostly positive, some heartbreaking, but all compelling.”

Orca Tour 2014 is a month-long series of event in May that follows The Whale Trail, a series of 50 sites where people in British Columbia and Washington, Oregon and California can view orcas and other marine mammals from shore.

“Extending The Whale Trail down the Pacific coast is an important step that strengthens the Killer Whale sighting network,” said Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries wildlife biologist. “At The Whale Trail markers people spend more time looking and they see and report more whales.  I think this is an excellent opportunity for citizen-scientists to provide valuable data on the distribution and seasonal occurrence of Killer Whales, particularly Southern Residents, as well as other species along the U.S. West Coast.”

“The tour is especially timely in light of National Marine Fisheries Service’s recent decision to consider designating the Pacific Coast from Cape Flattery to Point Reyes as part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale critical habitat,” said Donna Sandstrom, executive director of The Whale Trail. “From his early work in Johnstone Strait to his current research in Far East Russia, Erich inspires us all to better protect whales, dolphins, and the world’s oceans.We are thrilled to partner with Erich on this tour, and grateful for the host organizations and sponsors who have made it possible, from BC to California.”

Erich’s talk on May 7 will begin at 5 PM at Fort Worden, Building 204, immediately following the Marine Science Center’s annual meeting. Erich will sell and sign his books at 6:30 following his talk. Admission to the talk is free for Marine Science Center members; admission for adults is $7; youth under 18,  $3. The program is sponsored by the Marine Science Center and The Whale Trail.

In Port Angeles on May 8, Erich’s talk will begin at 7 PM (doors will open at 6:30 PM) at the Port Angeles Red Lion Inn.  Admission to the talk is $5 for adults; children under 12 are free. The program is presented by the Olympic Coast National Marine, the Feiro Marine Life Center and The Whale Trail and cosponsored by Sound Community Bank. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets

“Like” Orca Tour 2014 on Facebook; Orca Tour information and local event information can be found at

Researcher: High death rate, ‘puzzling’ behavior in B.C. orcas – KOMO News Researcher: High death rate, ‘puzzling’ behavior in B.C. orcas – KOMO News

Another troubling data point. Does this have some relationship to the collapse of the sardine fishery, documented last week?

A Vancouver Aquarium researcher is sounding the alarm over “puzzling” changes he’s observed in the killer whale pods that live off the southern British Columbia coast. Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard says he fears changes in the ocean environment are prompting odd behaviour and an unusually high mortality rate. Barrett-Lennard says the southern resident orca pod, which is found in the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland, has lost seven matriarchs over the past two years, and he’s noticed a lack of vocalizations from the normally chatty mammals. The Vancouver Aquarium’s cetacean research team says the whales were also seen the past two summers travelling in small groups, further offshore to find food – behaviour more typical in winter than summer. At the same time, the researcher says the number of normally transient killer whales has been increasing over the past 25 years.–229135551.html<

Research shows Orca population in Puget Sound is dwindling – KOMO news

While the Steller Sea Lion delisting is good news, the Orca story is not.

New research reveals the number of the Orca population in Puget Sound is dwindling — especially among reproductive age males. “That’s clear, they’re not recovering,” said Bruce Stedman, who heads-up the Orca Relief Citizens’ Alliance. He points to numbers from the Center for Whale Research and NOAA, which Stedman claims since 2009, the number of reproductive-age males is down 26 percent, and there are only 14 reproductive age male Orca left. And he worries if those numbers don’t get better soon, the result could be devastating. Luke Duecy reports.

A special screening of Blackfish. A special screening of Blackfish – Rose Theater PT Saturday 28 September

Join the crews from Puget Sound Express and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at the Rose Theatre for a special screening of Blackfish.

Saturday, September 28th
1 p.m.
Rose Theatre,
Port Townsend

Ken Balcomb, who’s featured throughout the film and is the executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, will do a Q&A following the screening. The event is co-sponsored by Puget Sound Express, the Rose Theatre and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTSMC). Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for children.

Blackfish is described as a mesmerizing psychological thriller with a killer whale (orca) at its center. The film features the story of Tilikum, who is an Icelandic transient. Unapologetically designed to both inform and affect, this delicately lacerating documentary uses the tragic tale of a single whale and his human victims as the backbone of a hypercritical investigation into the marine-park giant Sea World Entertainment.
“The documentary Blackfish helps us understand the social structure of whales and provides a glimmer into their complex society,” said Janine Boire, executive director for the PTMSC. “The movie challenges our view of humans and whales and how we interact together.”

Pete Hanke, owner of Puget Sound Express, agreed saying, “The events portrayed in the film that took place 40 years ago still affect the orca population in our area today. Blackfish certainly brings to our attention the impact of whale imprisonment for human amusement.”

Ken Balcomb is a pioneer in photo-identification of cetaceans and is the founder of Orca Survey (1976), a study of Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas). Not only has he participated in humpback studies across both oceans but also rare beaked whale identification throughout the world. One of his main interests is the effect of sonar on cetaceans and how that causes mass stranding. He founded the non-profit Center for Whale Research in 1985 and is its executive director.

Puget Sound Express has been in operation as a charter boat company for 27 years, offering whale watching tours. It’s a family-run business, with three generations of knowledge and caring at the ready. For more information, go to or call 360.385.5288.

NOAA: Puget Sound Killer Whales To Stay Protected – AP

NOAA throws out the claims by the Pacific Legal Foundation (a conservative legal action organization that fights against environmental laws, among other issues), that that the Puget Sound Southern Resident pod was not unique. The people that funded this ought to replace their lawyers, who might have warned them that the argument was absurd and a waste of time and money.

SEATTLE (AP) — Killer whales that spend their summers in Puget Sound are a distinct population group and will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday.

Read the whole story at:

Feds earmark money to protect Orcas -Fox 13

New federal funding has been approved to help protect the Orcas that make Puget Sound their home. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that more federal dollars have been approved under the Endangered Species Act to help protect the Southern Resident Orcas that live in our area annually from May to September.

John White reports.

New Born Orca Washes up Dead on Dungeness Spit

From OrcaNetwork: Sad news from Brad Hanson of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center: A newborn male orca calf was found washed up this morning on a beach at Dungeness Spit. The neonate was 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) long, and was found only a day or two after death. The body was taken to Seattle for a necropsy to take place tomorrow, but we won’t know if this is a resident or transient orca for a couple of weeks until DNA analysis can be completed. Both residents and transients have been in the general area in the past few days, and there are no recent sightings near Dungeness Spit to help determine the type. If anyone has any photos of the orcas seen in Puget Sound yesterday (Sunday), please send them to Orca Network to possibly identify those whales, and hopefully help identify this newborn orca.

To sign up for Orca Network, go to this link and you can enter your email to sign up.

Cut in Canadian government funds leaves whale group on shore–Times Colonist

The cuts to environmental organizations continue as the conservative governement that has taken control of all aspects of the Federal government of Canada continue to their attack on anything that smacks of environmental protection or slowing business interests in exploitation.This affects us as it affects Canada’s efforts to protect the Orcas that pass between us and them on a regular basis.

A non-profit group that keeps an eye on boaters and whale-watchers around Victoria and Alert Bay has been beached after being denied funding by Environment Canada The Straitwatch program, run by the Cetus Research and Conservation Society, has two Zodiac boats and does on-the-water education and monitoring to reduce disturbances to the endangered southern resident and threatened northern resident killer whales.

Too Few Salmon Is Far Worse Than Too Many Boats for Killer Whales –

Last year, regressive regulations were foisted on the whale watch community by rich shore owning people in the San Juans who courted the politicians in Washington D.C. with bogus ‘facts’ on whale watching boats stressing out the whales (you can read the research online that NOAA used to put a farther distance from the whales, and it clearly showed there was no evidence of whale watch boats affecting the whales, it was conjecture). Now research is showing that it’s the food, and perhaps, only additional conjecture, that when food is scarce, the boats, stress the whales out. Think that the Feds will reverse their decision? Not likely. It would have been much more useful to have had the Feds actually put in some bodies to enforce the existing regs rather than simply put more laws on the books that no one except legitimate businesses follow. But follow the money. Would be interesting to see how much those same shoreowners who shouted the loudest contributed to some of the current political campaigns.


Not having enough Chinook salmon to eat stresses out southern resident killer whales in the Pacific Northwest more than having boatloads of whale watchers nearby, according to hormone levels of whales summering in the Salish Sea. In lean times, however, the stress level normally associated with boats becomes more pronounced, further underscoring the importance of having enough prey, according to Katherine Ayres, an environmental and pet-behavior consultant who led the research while a University of Washington doctoral student in biology. Ayres is lead author of a paper appearing online June 6, in the journal PLoS ONE.