Tag Archives: ken balcomb

“He had a good life” – the story of a magnificent orca, by Ken Balcomb

L41.    Photo credit: Center for Whale Research – WhaleResearch.com

By Ken Balcomb, Founder and Senior Scientist, Center for Whale Research

“My first acquaintance with the Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) we designated L41 was in 1977, the year after we began the annual Orca Survey of this population that continues to this day. His mother was L11, who was one of nine females to produce new babies that year following the cessation of captures in 1976. We watched the energetic young male baby as he grew up, and we had great hopes that he and his companions would fill in the youthful cohorts of the population that had been decimated by captures between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s.

L41 last seen by the Center for Whale Research on August 11, 2019 (Encounter #51). Photo by Mark Malleson, Center for Whale Research

L41, with an adoption name Mega, traveled with his mom and sisters in a subgroup of L pod that became known as the L12s, named after his presumed grandmother, who was the likely mother of L11. It should be noted that the alpha-numeric designations are not in the birth order sequence in the early years of the Orca Survey – because nobody knew the population composition prior to our study. The whales were numbered in those early years in the order that they were first seen, and it was only after we had all of them identified in 1976 that subsequent new babies received the next sequential alpha-numeric designation for identification. L41 was among the first to receive a designation that identified him as a member of the new known-age youth cohort of the SRKW population.

L41 with L124 on January 11, 2019 (Encounter #2). Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.

When he reached social maturity in his early twenties around 1997, L41 began to father babies. And, he became the champion male breeder in the SRKW population with fourteen known offspring that survive to this day in all three pods. Only J1, with the fathering of eleven living offspring in the SRKW community, has done as much to increase the population. A very few other males have contributed one or two offspring in this population.

L41 with L25. Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.

We will greatly miss L41 as an important breeder and as a prominent indicator of the L12 subgroup that now rarely ventures into the Salish Sea. In 2019, we only saw the L12s twice – once on January 11 in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, and once on August 11 off Carmanah Point Lighthouse on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. It will be extremely difficult to monitor the demographic vigor of the L12s if they do not come into the study area, and if this indicator male is not present. We are hopeful that L41 is alive somewhere and returns to the subgroup, but he did live to a ripe old age and fathered more baby whales than any other whale in the community.

He had a good life.

Orcas
Unidentified orca.                                                                                                 Photo credit – Dale Mitchell, Eagle Wind Tours

 

Another orca calf is dead – these killer whales are in the sunset of their existence

Photo credit – Dale Mitchell, Eagle Wind Tours

By Kenneth C. Balcomb, Founder /Principal Investigator – Center for Whale Research

No southern resident killer whales from any of the pods have been born alive and survived thus far in 2017 – the baby boom is over…and the adults are alarmingly thin.

As of 19 September, another Southern Resident Killer Whale, J52 – a two and a half year old male born during the so-called Baby Boom of 2015/2016 – is deceased, presumably from malnutrition.

His obligatory nursing ended more than a year ago, and his life was dependent upon salmon that have become in short supply this summer.

He was last seen alive near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on 15 September 2017, and photographs taken at the time reveal severe “peanut-head” syndrome associated with impending death.

J52 Sonic by Gary Sutton

This population cannot survive without food year-round – individuals metabolize their toxic blubber and body fats when they do not get enough to eat to sustain their bodies and their babies.

All indications (population number, foraging spread, days of occurrence in the Salish Sea, body condition, and live birth rate/neonate survival) are pointing toward a predator population that is prey limited and non-viable.

We know that the SRKW population-sustaining prey species is Chinook salmon, but resource managers hope that they find something else to eat for survival.

Our government systems, steeped in short-term competing financial motives, are processing these whales and the salmon on which they depend to extinction.

If something isn’t done to enhance the SRKW prey availability almost immediately (it takes a few years for a Chinook salmon to mature and reproduce, and it takes about twelve years for a female SRKW to mature and reproduce), extinction of this charismatic resident population of killer whales is inevitable in the calculable future.

Most PVA’s (population viability analyses) with current predator/prey trajectories show functional extinction as a result of no viable reproduction within decades to a century.

Young J52 was accompanied by his mother (seventeen and a half year old, J36) and an adult male (twenty-six year old L85, potentially his father) at least five miles away from the other members of J and L pods that were foraging within a mile or two of the coastline from Camper Creek to Bonilla Point west of Port Renfrew, British Columbia.

Photo credit – Zuma Press

The observation of this sad event was at sunset, and the young whale appeared very lethargic while barely surfacing as the two adults were swimming around in circles and not feeding while attentive to the young whale.

We estimated J52 was within hours, if not minutes, of death at the time, and he was not present during the J pod foray into Puget Sound on 19 September, though his mother and L85 were.

The mother did not appear overly emaciated on either occasion, but she is lean and seems distressed.

Yes, these animals do exhibit emotion, and death of an offspring brings it on.

It is worthy of note that all of the SRKW observed this summer appear skinny and small compared to Bigg’s Transient killer whales in the Salish Sea that have abundant prey resources (seals and other marine mammals).

Timing of food availability is everything, especially in critical phases of growth or gestation.

 Three of the six whales born in J pod during the so-called Baby Boom, which began in December 2014 with the birth of J50, have now died; and, two mothers (J14, J28) and a great-grandmother (J2) in the pod have also died.

No fish, no blackfish.

By Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.

Our Iconic Orcas Need You – Please Come Party with Orca Researchers and Former Trainers, Enjoy a Pint, and Make a Difference!

This rare opportunity is being brought to you by Wild Orca, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising funds and support for organizations that provide non-captive education and services for the well-being of wild orca populations.

hales

Join us in the Hales Ales Beer Garden at 6:30 for a meet and greet with
the former SeaWorld trainers featured in the documentary Blackfish,
as well as Ken Balcomb of The Center for Whale Research.

August 22, 2014

All ages

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Join us for an evening of dancing, beer, and Orca conservation! Wild Orca is pleased to present the americana, stomp-grass music of Polecat with Eric Tollefson at Hales Palladium in Fremont on August 22nd to support The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, Washington. Your ticket funds the important Orca Survey project and conservation of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

Enjoy Hales Ales finest beers during the concert. Wild Orca’s raffle prizes include:

  • Round trip airfare for two onboard a Kenmore Air Seaplane to Friday Harbor to enjoy an afternoon of whale watching with San Juan Safaris.
  • A DVD of the critically acclaimed documentary “Blackfish” with insert autographed by Ken Balcomb, Howard Garrett and former SeaWorld Trainers: Sam Berg, Jeff Ventre, and Carol Ray.
  • An official “Blackfish” T-shirt.
  • A trip for you and your friends aboard the Hales Ales double-decker bus to sample the finest Hales Ales beers while touring the city.
The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas  for almost forty years.
The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas for almost forty years.

Ken Balcomb (War of the Whales photo).
Ken Balcomb (“War of the Whales” photo).

For almost four decades, the Center for Whale Research has conducted annual photo-identification studies of the Southern Resident orcas of the Salish Sea for the purpose of protecting this endangered population and informing both the government and the public of their ecosystem needs. The Center’s Founder and Principal Investigator, Ken Balcomb, is a pioneer of orca research in the Pacific Northwest. Without his ground-breaking work, and his tireless advocacy, we probably wouldn’t have resident orcas in the Sound and Straits today.
More at www.whaleresearch.com

 Center for Whale Research

 
The entertainers:

Polecat

Polecat
Formed in Bellingham, Washington in March 2010, Polecat has quickly established itself throughout the West, with three records and over 300 shows in three years. Their unique instrumentation is composed of Karl Olson (drums), Jeremy Elliott (electric guitar and vocals), Aaron Guest (vocals and 12-string guitar), Cayley Schmid (fiddle), and Richard Reeves (upright bass). This enables them to seamlessly blend genres including bluegrass, country, celtic, rock, and world music into their sound. “The core audience of Polecat is, well, everybody. There is a sense of mass appeal attached to Polecat for it’s unique take on bluegrass, as well as an acknowledged respect for their honest approach to their genre” (H. Nightbert, What’s Up! Magazine, June 2010).
Aside from their self-titled E.P. and full length albums ‘Fire on the Hill’ and ‘Fathoms’, one of the best aspects of Polecat is their live show. Their music celebrates life, love, and good times, and it reflects on the faces of the players and their audience. Polecat has shared the stage with several nationally acclaimed acts, including The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, The Hackensaw Boys, The Moondoogies, Fruition and Trampled by Turtles. More at www.polecatmusic.com
~~~

Eric Tollefson

Eric Tollefson
Heart is the essence of this talented Alaska native’s charming music. His songs are a deep and satisfying exhale, as if Tollefson sings primarily to rid his ribcage of the sorrow, satisfaction and rich stories that simmer within it. His sound breathes the doleful spirit of the blues yet pulses with savvy pop sensibility, whether he’s transmitting it via a muscular electric groove or a gorgeous, gently plucked acoustic guitar.
After touring last year with Donavon Frankenreiter and Rayland Baxter, the Seattle resident started working with Justin Armstrong (Dave Matthews, Death Cab, Peter Frampton) on an album slated for release in fall of 2014. He’s cherry picked a ground shaking team of musicians from Seattle and venues in the northwest are taking notice. The result is a fresh show with a wide range of dynamics. They not only capture a room, but also give them the very thing that a lot of shows miss with their audience. Groove.
 

AUGUST 22ND
DOORS OPEN AT 6:30 PM
ALL AGES

Hales Palladium
4301 Leary Way NW
Seattle, WA 98107

Minimum donation of $25 Online
$28 at the door (as available)


Located behind the Hales Ales Brewery & Pub across from Fred Meyer.

Orca Superpod – Meet Orca Experts From the Film Blackfish, Whale Watch, and Party!

This file photo shows orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle. A marine biologist was fined this week for feeding wild killer whales in California. (AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons, file)
This file photo shows orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle. AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons, file)

The Third Gathering of Superpod

 Superpod Three begins on World Orca Day, Monday July 14, 2014, and the last public event is Thursday the 17th.

Location: San Juan Island, Washington

(The information below is from Voice of the Orcas, please check with them for current information. Lodging can be tight on the island in July,  try Vacation Rentals by Owner, as well as the boutique hotels and B&Bs.)

For the third time a diverse collection of killer whale experts & former trainers along with the public will congregate and share information regarding orca populations, including wild and captive animals.  Superpod (SP) events are held during July in conjunction with the Southern Resident orcas which are swimming around San Juan Island chasing Chinook salmon. (The combination of J, K, and L pods together is called a “superpod.” ).

Talks * Whale Watching * Brainstorming * Party!

Not including the many local participants, naturalists, boat & biz operators, Center for Whale Research staff, & more, approximately 35 – 50 additional human Superpod members will migrate to San Juan Island, WA, USA, to learn, present, share, Tweet, blog, plan, get inspired, cross-pollinate, & take stunning photos & videos to share with the world.
These are the real “Blackfish.” And none of them have stage names like Shamu or Namu. (Voice of the Orcas)

 
The location of the Superpod gathering is chosen to promote watching the whales in the wild. This beautiful island is where the first field research was done on the Southern Resident orcas, whose numbers were decimated by captures for the amusement park industry.  They are still struggling to survive.

The contrast between the lives of the captives versus the wild orcas is profound.

A wild, vibrant, male orca. Photo by Simon Piddock
A wild, vibrant, Southern Resident male orca. Photo by Simon Piddock

In sharp contrast to the wild male orcas, Tilikum spends his days and nights bobbing in a tank, while SeaWorld continues to give mis-information (experts on dorsal collapse will be available to explain the reality of droopy dorsal fins). Video provided by Ocean Advocate’s Heather Murphy, she will be at the Superpod gathering and can give more information on Tilikum’s life at SeaWorld, Orlando.

-Monday, July 14th  

Meet & Greet party & first presentation.
 Rachel Carbary
Learn about the dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, from a Cove Guardian, Rachel Carbary. Rachel has organized the global #EmptyTheTanks events, and will give a presentation on her experiences at the annual small cetacean slaughter & sale at Taiji, Japan.  She shares: “This past November, when I was in Taiji for a second time, I watched dolphin trainers ride on a skiff with dolphin killers and dead dolphins on board. The slaughter exists because the captivity industry exists.”
Jordan Waltz is A Midwest artist and independent researcher who has served as archivalist/researcher for Blackfish documentary.  She will give a presentation on when and how the drives the started and how they became entwined with the captivity industry, as well as how activists have tried to halt it over the years. Presentation duration will be 20-25 minutes. Jordan will present a printed out illustrated timeline where people can view it & provide feed back.
 
The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, Washington
The Whale Museum, Friday Harbor, Washington

-Tuesday:   Free film and discussion

Free public Blackfish Screening hosted by the The Whale Museum.
Location of Screening: The Grange, in Friday Harbor
5:30 p.m.  “Meet & Greet” reception
6:00 p.m. Screening of “Blackfish” (83 minute run-time)
7:30 p.m. Q&A with Cast members
8:30 p.m. Adjourn
Wednesday:  Voice of the Orcas (VOTO) will host Media Day, with journalists in attendance.

In the morning VOTO, along with Dr Naomi Rose, is tentatively scheduled to be on L.A. Talk Radio with Capt Paul Watson & the Barbi Twins at 11:00 a.m Pacific time.
There will be interviews & film from the house & deck overlooking the Haro Strait. (See “Voice of the Orcas (VOTO) for details. With luck, orcas may even swim by.

Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and Dr. Naomi Rose talk about a bill that would set new guidelines for treatment of killer whales in captivity before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, and Dr. Naomi Rose talk about a bill that would set new guidelines for treatment of killer whales in captivity before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

 
Wednesday evening, Howard Garrett of Orca Network (ON), will give a presentation on Lolita. Rumor has it that there may be very special (Italian) bagna
cualda (similar to fondue) served that evening (via Susan Berta, of Orca Network). Our fingers are crossed.
A presentation on the “Russian orca situation” is in the works via Whale & Dolphin Conservation. The Russian orcas are still hunted for captivity.

Photo by Traci Walters.
Photo by Traci Walters.

Thursday:  Superpod3 Group Whale Watch Trip on the Western Prince II with naturalist Traci Walter (@TeelDubya) and others. The co$t of our Western Prince II boat trip is about $30 USD less than a single day ticket at SeaWorld of Florida.

The excursion departs at 10:00 am from Friday Harbor. We will meet by the Western Prince offices next to the ferry landing between 9:30 – 9:45 a.m.

In the evening  Dr. Naomi Rose will give a presentation on the topic of current legistlative & regulatory issues regarding killer whale / cetacean captivity.

 

Meet the former trainers featured in Blackfish - Jeff Ventre, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray and John Jett.
Meet the former trainers featured in Blackfish – Jeff Ventre, Samantha Berg, Carol Ray and John Jett.
Weekend: Flex Time / Departure. 
If you’ve never seen a wild killer whale, join us this year, or plan to come to Superpod 4 next year!

Local Orca Researcher Ken Balcomb Featured in True-life Legal Thriller, “War of the Whales”

Ken Balcomb, senior research scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, Washington, is a nationally recognized pioneer in marine mammal photo identification.
His is a familiar face on the local news, he is generous with his time and his dedication the survival of the Pacific Northwest Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas) who frequent the Puget Sound and Salish Sea ensures that he is usually available to answer questions for the media.
And now he is about to become famous in a whole new way – as the principal character in the legal thriller by Joshua Horwitz, War of the Whales. Available in bookstores and online on July 1st, 2014. Amazon has chosen it as the best book of July!
 
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War Of the Whales is the surprising and untold story of how two individuals united in a desperate fight to protect dolphins and whales from the deadly acoustic assault of navy sonar.
Deeply researched, and brimming with colorful and interesting detail, Joshua Horwitz’s gripping book reads like a thriller but, in the tradition of the best non-fiction writing, brings to light the secret history of military sonar and its devastating connection to traumatized whales and dolphins stranding and dying on beaches around the world.”

– TIM ZIMMERMANN, Associate Producer and Co-Writer of Blackfish and author of The Killer In The Pool.

003 KeninSmugglersCove wotw
Ken Balcomb, senior researcher at the Center for Whale Research

For the last forty plus years Balcomb has patiently built a database on the Southern Resident orca population;  in Seattle and along much of the west coast even children are familiar with these whales and even know some of them by name. These whale families are iconic to our region, and while we owe much of our knowledge about them to Balcomb, the orcas themselves owe their chance at continued survival to man who has dedicated his life to them.
But the orca’s presence is seasonal and when winter approaches and the orcas spend less time in the nearshore waters, Balcomb focuses on the intermittent winter sightings, and pursues his interest in other species. For years his winters were spent in the Bahamas studying elusive beaked whales.
This is where War of the Whales begins.

In the early hours of March 15, 2000, the paths of the world’s most powerful navy and the ocean’s most mysterious species of whales were about to converge. Though on the calm surface of the Great Bahama Canyon, nothing hinted at anything amiss.
It was just another morning in paradise, the day the whales came ashore.
(Excerpt, War of the Whales.)

Balcomb was unaware that the lull of his idyllic island time would precede a personal hurricane of hard choices on a scale that most of us never have to face. His was a Sophie’s Choice that demanded he choose between the well-being of the whales, and his dedication and sense of honor towards the Navy where he had served two tours of duty. Author Joshua Horwitz artfully puts the reader in the scene as Balcomb struggles in an internal battle that will transfix and engage you, and leave you wondering if you would have the fortitude to do what he did – most of us ultimately choose to do the right thing, but are not faced with choices where both options are right.

 
Whether we believe in war readiness or not, it is the world we live in, and the men and women who risk their lives in the military deserve as much protection as we can provide. But do we allow the oceans to be ravaged for our human drama?  Where do we draw the line? It is a complex and often emotional debate, and Horowitz’s brilliant handling of the events allows it to unfold in an organic blend of data points and drama.

Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an interview for The Planet, author Joshua Horwitz explains his interest in and dedication to bringing this story to light:

Horwitz says he hopes what readers will take away from War of the Whales is an understanding of the importance of tenacity in social change. “The book is really a story about two individuals who stood up to the most powerful navy in the world. I think that they are real role models for anyone, particularly young people, who really want to fight for change.”

The second individual who along with Balcomb faced the navy in the battle to mitigate sonar in the oceans is Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Los Angeles office of Natural ResourcesDefense Council (NRDC); and founder and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project. Horwitz shows both the integrity and the complex character of this man who followed his beliefs and fought (and continues to fight) the navy in a court of law. His efforts to protect the whales from Navy sonar laid the foundation for what was to come, without it Balcomb may not have thought to take the actions he did.

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Ken Balcomb with his son Kelly. (War of the Whales photo)

But it is Ken Balcomb who Horwitz finds most intriguing. Most people are unaware of how important Balcomb’s time serving the Navy is to him, and his fundamental loyalty to the agency that can wreak havoc on the whales that Balcomb has dedicated his life to studying. Horowitz does a masterful job of engaging the reader in Balcomb’s conflict, and in illustrating the cost of standing up for what you believe.
The story is so artfully constructed that you are drawn in and forget that you are not reading a novel. With the index, end notes and list of characters it isn’t necessary to recall each of bit players, since it is easy to find them again.  Horwitz keeps the main focus on the internal conflicts of Balcomb and Reynolds, and creates a story that is fascinating even if you have no interest in whales or navy sonar.
From The Planet:

Horwitz: For me, this story is only partly about naval sonar and whales. At heart it addresses the question: what makes an effective change agent? My two protagonists — the environmental attorney and the marine biologist– are in many ways polar opposites. The lawyer is an institutional player who works inside the system in collaboration with other organizations and activists, with scientists and celebrities; whatever will get the job done. The whale scientist is a true maverick who’s never had any institutional affiliation, and who’s not very good a working collaboratively. One’s an extrovert, and the other’s an introvert who seems to enjoy the company of whales over humans.
But they share several important traits that make them highly effective when it comes to forcing change. They’re both tenacious and totally committed to the fighting the fight for as long as it takes — often at a cost to their personal lives. They don’t allow cynicism to erode their fundamental idealism or sense of purpose — which is a big challenge in a field like environmental law where you’re typically outgunned by deep-pocketed adversaries or facing judicial panels who defer to the military, especially during wartime. Tenacity, it turns out, is as important as intelligence or tactical decisions when it comes to fights over threatened species and environments. By the end of the book, their antagonists at the Navy, at the regulatory agencies, and on Capitol Hill have long ago cycled out of service and into other careers. But Balcomb and Reynolds are still at it, still fighting for the whales.

And Horwitz? The six years he spent researching this story led to a passion for the whales themselves. His first close encounter with friendly gray whales helped propel him to write the book, but along the way he came to understand the unique adaptations of these intelligent animals and is now focusing on a petition drive to continue the battle to protect whales and other marine life from the effects of Navy sonar.
Ultimately, increased awareness of the whales and what is happening to their environment is the happy ending we would all like to see and this masterfully crafted book is guaranteed to bring the issues to a larger audience.

The author petting a friendly gray whale in Baja, Mexico
The author petting a friendly gray whale in Baja, Mexico

Our Resident Killer Whales Owe Much to Ken Balcomb

When it comes to knowledge of the only identified resident population of killer whales in the U.S., no one can top Ken Balcomb – nor can anyone top his dedication to a unique and threatened species. He has received many honors in his career, but I can imagine that this one Sunday (10/13/13) in the small town of Friday Harbor, Washington, will be among the more meaningful.

Ken-Balcomb
Friday Harbor Film Festival will be honoring long time Orca researcher Ken Balcomb as our “Local Hero” at the Sunday night award ceremony, along with awarding the “Audience Choice” for favorite film of the entire event followed by a special screening of that film. (Friday Harbor Film Festival)
What may make this award special for him is that two of the films in the festival, Blackfish and Keiko – The Untold Story of the Star of Free Willy, illustrate the profound changes we have made in our understanding of these animals, and much of that can be traced back to his work.

Thirty-seven Years of Research
For almost four decades, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has conducted an annual photo-identification study of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population that frequents the inland waters of Washington State and lower British Columbia.
Since their initiation, these studies have provided unprecedented baseline information on population dynamics and demography, social structure, and individual life histories. More is known, in fact, about this population of killer whales than about any other group of marine mammals in the world.

Today our mission remains the same: to conduct benign studies of regional killer whales (orcas) for the purpose of conserving populations and informing both the government and the public of their ecosystem needs.
CWR is a non-profit [IRS 501(c)(3)] corporation registered with the Attorney General in Washington State. CWR funding historically has come from government contracts, other non-profit organizations, and charitable public contributions. Like many organizations these days, CWR is faced with government funding cutbacks. As our funding from government agencies declines each year, we must look to the public for more support. In 2013, we face dramatic reductions in our funding. This change may seriously effect our ability to monitor and protect not only the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, but all killer whales in this area. We need your support, now more than ever.

Orca Whale Killed by Explosives – Will NOAA’s Scandal Beleaguered Office of Law Enforcement Do Anything?

An endangered Southern Resident Orca, L112 (“Victoria”), was found on the shores of Long Beach, Washington State on February 11 , 2012. (See Orca Killed by Blast for more background information).

L112 with big brother L106 (Photo by Ken Balcomb on September 11, 2011)

Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research has been actively pressing to determine the source of the explosion that caused her death before the trail of accountability can be obliterated:
“The final results of analysis of her tissues and fluids found in her cranium may take some time”, he writes, “but it is important to note that ALL of the expert observations of her bloody and bruised carcass, and her head, concluded that there is strong evidence of near instantaneous lethal destruction of tissues, mostly on one side, consistent with blast trauma, as already reported. Her death was undoubtedly caused by humans, and we have to look for the source of the blast.”
“I have asked the Law Enforcement division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to investigate so that there will be a clear set of rules concerning withholding, filtering, or losing evidence in this case.”
And finally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) has launched an investigation. Vicki Nomura is heading the effort.  “The toughest part of conducting an investigation like that is proving the actual violation. When you have a dead marine mammal there’s very little information.”
Of course it does not help that there was a two month delay, and that this response came only after considerable pressure by Balcomb, the media, and the public.
Congressman Sherrod Brown & NOAA party boat

Worse is the fact that NOAA’s law enforcement is under current investigation by the Senate for misappropriations of funds and of turning an ill begotten boat into a “party boat’.  There has been a lack of transparency and accountability in the investigation that has shaken up that office.

Feb 20th 2012, New York Daily News: [Congressman] Tierney also pressed Bryson with questions about the misuse of the fund by NOAA’s Seattle Office of Law Enforcement, which drew $300,787 from the fund in 2008 to acquire a 35-foot luxury cabin boat with flat screen TV and built-in bar for undercover operations — then used it mostly for pleasure cruising in Puget Sound by law enforcement officials, friends and family, the Inspector General found.
NOAA conceded that the purchase violated the “spirit” of federal procurement law; The Inspector General’s report described the events as involving “misconduct.”
Tierney and U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who separately obtained and released the IG’s report last week under the Freedom of Information Act, characterized the transaction as filled with improprieties, dishonesty and corruption.

March 8th:  At a budget hearing yesterday before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco was asked about the boat scandal in Seattle, but except for describing herself as “appalled” to learn about the episode, she provided no details.
Lubchenco reiterated information issued in a NOAA press release last month that the boat had been “surplussed,” and that the incident had sparked improved vessel acquisition policy and retraining. But, as she has done in multiple congressional hearings, Lubchenco cited “the Privacy Act” as a bar to informing Congress about any personnel punishment.
She described herself as frustrated by the impediment to providing a public report, while emphasizing a “top-to-bottom” overhaul of policy and personnel — though key figures have been given new jobs.

March 28–Questioning its “accountability and integrity,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has launched an effort to break through a wall of silence erected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration surrounding the abuses of its authority while overseeing the nation’s fishing industry.
Collins has requested a meeting at the staff level between the administration and Senate and House Appropriations and Oversight committees in an effort to crack the silence she said has been erected via the misuse of the Privacy Act.
Among the overriding questions posed by Collins, a Maine Republican, in her March 22 letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson was abuse of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, made up of fines paid by fishermen, and an apparent lack of consequences for abuses by NOAA law enforcers identified by the Commerce Department inspector general’s office in multiple reports beginning January 2010 through late last year.

…U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, chaired the hearing that was organized by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the ranking Republican.
Collins said Carper and Brown, among “several of my colleagues, … have experienced considerable difficulties getting answers from NOAA regarding the management of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, the integrity and accountability of those managing the fund, the disposition of the $300,000 luxury boat and what, if any disciplinary actions have been taken against employees found culpable in the misuse of the fund.”
Collins made a point of questioning the chronic use of the Privacy Act by NOAA to insulate itself against congressional inquiries. “NOAA officials’ use of the Privacy Act as a sword to protect its reputation rather than as a shield, as Congress intended, to protect the privacy rights of private citizens, is unacceptable,” she wrote.

I have omitted the names of people who may have been involved, there is no point and this kind of boondoggle is rampant in government and in industry.  But NOAA’s law office has a prime opportunity to demonstrate that it can operate effectively, openly, and transparently by engaging in a thorough investigation that does not cover up, mislead, or otherwise try to protect those who were involved in the death of one, or maybe all, of a family of highly endangered whales.

Granny (J2) The Whale’s 100th Birthday: Poignant and Inspirational


On Saturday, 100 year old J2’s well-wishers came from all over, quickly filling the small parking lot at San Juan Island’s Whale Watching Park, and parking up the road where they could.  Families picnicked, enjoyed the music from The Kevin Carr Family Band, and were thrilled when the wild orcas showed up at the end of the day just offshore of the lighthouse.

Watching the orcas as they swam by.

There was a sense of thoughtfulness among the whale watchers as the orcas passed by, and I wondered how many might have been thinking about the fragility of this endangered population of whales, or what it might mean that an orca could have survived for 100 years.  When the Center for Whale Research’s senior scientist Ken Balcomb spoke, he explained the science behind estimating the ages of the whales, then gently pointed out that continued research will provide information on orcas over the next 100 years…provided we restore the salmon population upon which the whales depend.
Ken Balcomb (left), senior scientist at The Center for Whale Research spoke about the future outlook for the Southern Resident orca population.

Dedicated volunteers from Orca Network, Killer Whale Tales, and The Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists joined The Center for Whale Research in providing information, and shared one underlying message:  you can make a difference, and that it is not too late to turn the situation around.

Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tales has innovative, fun activities for kids and a program that teachers can incorporate into their lesson plans.

Jeff Hogan, from Killer Whale Tales, brought touchable exhibits for the kids, and innovative activities that he incorporates into programs available to teachers.  Orca Network provided materials for making paper fin hats, and the Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists distributed information and answered questions.
Ultimately this was a celebration of our changing awareness, as well as a birthday party for a very senior whale, so once the activities were concluded at the park many people continued to celebrate at The Center for Whale Research, some until the very wee hours. And J2, grand dame that she is, decided to show up at 8 a.m. the next morning with a splashy show of her own – getting the sleepy researchers out of bed and back to work cataloging the orcas and maintaining records.
J2 (Granny) photo by Astrid van Ginneken

You go, Granny.