Posted by: onboardtourswhales | October 22, 2014

Meaningful Memories


Timing is important and does work out sometimes. I was helping out at the Center for Whale Research when we heard L-Pod whales were sighted in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Ken Balcomb, Erin Heydenreich, and I headed out to take photo identification, location, and behavioral data. The rain stopped and gave us two and a half dry hours. I was a very enthused passenger taking videos and photos with my smartphone.

The trip was bittersweet. Knowing the new baby L-120 born in September, and the first calf in the Southern Resident Orca community in two years that we’d been celebrating, hadn’t been sighted with her mother L-86 Surprise and relatives on the last few sightings. L-Pod families had been out in the Pacific Ocean for a few weeks. Most whale species sink when they die, so we will probably not know what caused the death. I believe the Orcas grieved their loss, I have seen Orcas and Gray whales grieve.

The Orcas were spread out from Eagle Point heading west and north. The first group and whale we see is L-86 Surprise with her son and relatives, but sadly no baby L-120, confirming the loss.

Our Orcas and our Salish Sea are indeed in dire straits. Lack of salmon, water quality and toxins, noise pollution, and our past impacts are taking a toll on our whale population; whales are sentinels of our seas.

They are not doing well, we are not doing well. No matter where you live, water, toxins, garbage runs downhill into the seas, and acoustic pollution probably affects most sea life. Our breath, water, food, and climate; our very existence and survival depends on our oceans, we are a water planet! Ken Balcomb, Erin Heydenreich, David Ellifrit and many others are unsung heroes, investing decades to bring this global shift in our awareness and attention to our ocean life and oceans. I keep hope, from when I started 20 years ago, in the awareness, collaboration, and our accumulating individual efforts to and do make a positive difference. Slow but sure changes are now happening.

We continued to document the spread out groups of L and K Pod families, seeming to forage for salmon. They did delight us with a few breaches, spyhops, pec and fluke slaps, kelping, and back floaters. We even heard a few above water vocalizations! I personally think the orcas know Ken and his boats, and are very comfortable around Ken. They have the brain and memory to recognize boats and people, through their extraordinary echo-location, sight, and acoustically oriented world. Just like we can recognize the sound and sight of our neighbor’s car.

The sky was overcast, casting a matte light extending visibility. The straits were calm, glass like, and slack water. As we headed up Haro Strait, we saw Dall’s porpoise and a humpback whale in the distance!

The Orcas milled a bit and Erin sighted and picked up a fish scale! so we can find out what they were eating. Then, ironically because I had just asked Ken about the ‘lags’- Pacific white-sided dolphins, poof! a group appears rapidly swimming toward us, across the boat stern wake! They were swimming away from and didn’t appear to be bothering the Orcas. They apparently can annoy, ‘harrass’ whales by swimming all over the whales and their rostrums- noses, and the whales react by trying to get away from the lags. I think of the lags as some of the hyperactive gossips of the seas!

Sweet to experience all the cetaceans and behaviors we did, then the sun melted a few clouds and we see a rainbow over Henry Island. Sentimental me feels hope.


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  1. That’s a sweet, or bittersweet, retelling of the encounter. I posted in on the Orca Network facebook page. It takes me back.

    See you up there for the film festival.


    • Thanks Howie, you, Susan, and all those helping with Orca Network are unsung heroes too. Your decades of efforts do have meaning and make a difference!

  2. Great job Caroline Love you Dad. Date: Thu, 23 Oct 2014 05:59:09 +0000 To:

    • Thanks Dad Love you too 🙂 xoxo

  3. I don’t know if I can reply to you this way but this post made me cry.  I heard on the news as well about the loss of L102 but when I read it in your blog I could feel your sadness.  I too am sad!

    • Thank you for your empathy Vicky. The loss of L-120 reinforces all the more, we all must do all we can to restore salmon and healthy ecosystems.
      I was thinking of you too Vicky, when we sailed with the dolphins decades ago, one of my first cetacean loves 🙂

  4. Your passion for these creatures is amazing. Thanks for doing what you do.

    • Thank You for all you do! We all make a difference 🙂

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