The undisputed star of the week was the newest member of the pod: J59, still a copper-colored calf she was recently confirmed to be a woman, the second offspring of J37 Hy’Shqa. She did a show for people on the beach, breaking repeatedly, as well as swirling in the water with her family and rubbing among them as they tried to form a sleeping line.
But most of all, the long stay was a welcome sign of progress in the battle to turn the historic southern summer habitat into a viable forage site. After the terrible summer of 2016—When key members of the population died, several from apparent malnutrition – the endangered population, up to the low of the 1970s, spent most of their time searching for food for Chinook salmon, a staple food of whales off the west coast. on Vancouver Island.
Of course, there were periodic appearances at the Salish Sea during the summer and other times, but they were all there relatively short. It was the longest stay in recent memory last Septemberwhen they visited them for four days. But what is also clear and encouraging is that they are obviously no longer starving. To no one’s surprise, the whales went where the salmon could be found.
IN Whale Research Center submitted a detailed report on his meetings with the pod at the end of May, noting their herd behavior and their tendency to play games with the people in the boats that followed them:
After a medium-sized yacht passed south, the J19 turned west in a small group and pointed to the approaching boat. J51 started throwing his tail excitedly. Thinking that whales could surf the trail or start drilling, we steered our boat in that direction. While we were focused on the J19s, for a moment we were confused by a strange sound coming from somewhere. We turned in time to see the J38’s head sink back below the surface. He was spying and blowing raspberries behind our backs, which made us laugh.
Overall, they were able to record the presence of each J pod member and confirm their apparent good health. Which is always a good and encouraging sign.
Whale scientist at the University of Washington Deborah Giles, who collects whale samples from a visit to killer whales under a program with the Wild Orca organization, was also on the water a few days after the eight-day visit. She specially trained dog Eba sniffs from the floating killer whale, and Giles collects it carefully for laboratory analysis, from which whale scientists are able to extract an astonishing amount of useful information about animal health.
I talked to her this week about what I saw there this week – whether the whales look healthy and whether there are salmon for them:
We have seen predatory activity several times. And it is clear that during this period of time, for me as a person who collects faecal samples, it is obvious that they should have eaten, because we received samples of a pretty decent size, different from what we had in the recent past, where very watery and diffuse.
You know, this is my old saying: Everyone loves a poop whale, because when you have a poop whale, you have a whale that eats. That’s what we had for those days. So they must have been looking for food. We personally haven’t seen him too much.
But we saw socially active behavior. And you don’t really see that when you don’t get enough to eat.
I was really pleasantly surprised by how full their backs and heads and the area in front of their dorsal fins appeared – you know, the areas where you’re looking for a “peanut head” and other signs of malnutrition. I really didn’t see any of that.
She agreed with the onshore observers that J37 Hy’Shqa looked very energetic and healthy – always anxious when breastfeeding mothers were involved – and that her new baby was unusually playful. In fact, the consensus was that she was the sweetest damn thing on the planet, although there were actually two other calves in the pod that provided fierce competition. Giles agreed:
They both looked good to me. The mother is not stressed and this baby is like a crazy baby – just so active! Just a really common offender – you know, not all whales are offenders, and some are just. This new baby seems to be continuing this line.
All we can do is keep our fingers crossed that they will come back for more. There was obviously not enough food to keep them here, as we have seen in the past. It was a good reminder of how things can be, as they are here every day and doing this “shuffle on the west side.” I think that’s what all of us Dorks are working for, trying to make this habitat, their traditional summer core, a critical habitat, enough food to keep them here. Not so long ago — indeed, in the blink of an eye — all three pods would be here, almost every day, from early June to July, August, and September. And it’s just not like that anymore.
It was something like a flash, like the Ghost of Christmas past. Looking back, it was a good reminder of what it was and what it could be.