San Juan Island’s Whale Watch Park: Beautiful, Family Friendly, And Thrilling

Southern Resident orcas often come close to shore.

I can’t imagine that it is possible to go to the Whale Watch Park on San Juan Island and have a bad time, even if you are not that interested in whales, or the whales don’t happen to be there. The setting is spectacular, it is an easy walk from the parking lot, and there is a decommissioned lighthouse which has been converted to a lab for whale researchers. You will find picnic tables thoughtfully placed, and the park is wheelchair accessible.

A great place to picnic.

Although more reliably sunny than neighboring Seattle, the weather can be gray or nippy, but even that won’t discourage you from lingering in hopes of seeing the orcas when the word spreads that the whales have been seen and are predicted to pass by.

Volunteer staff watch for the whales and answer questions.

The researchers and the volunteer staff keep an experienced eye out and you’ll see them point at the first sign of a whale, usually a dorsal fin or a “blow” (vapor cloud from the orcas’ breathing). When that happens people move to find good vantage points, take out their cameras and binoculars, and at times a quietness falls over the assembled crowd as they wait to catch a glimpse of the stunning animals.

On one of my last visits there was a fast tidal current, and the whales rounded the point at a fast yet seemingly effortless clip, followed by a huge breach as a large male jumped out of the water. At that point the quiet crowd just burst into cheers and excited conversation as the whales kept coming towards the lighthouse point where we stood, breaching and lobbing their tails (smacking the water with their tails).

The whales frequently jump out of the water, or splash with their tails.

The orcas were busy looking for fish this time, but at other times they will linger and play with the kelp right off the rocks.

If you plan to go in hopes of seeing the orcas be prepared to spend hours at the park, and if it is really important to you, you may need to spend several days at the island waiting for the orcas to return to the area. For the most part, the chances are highest in the early spring/summer months that the orcas will swim by the park, and also when the tides are changing.

The whale watch boats almost guarantee that you will see the orcas if the animals are here, so that is always a good option too.

Please take a minute and take our poll on public announcements of the whales’ location.

Obama Administration officials are coming to Seattle and they want (need!) to hear from you!

There is no issue more crucial to the survival of the Southern Resident orcas than assuring them of a reliable source of Chinook salmon, please attend if you can, and spread the message of this important event.

Sent to us by

“Likely attendees, from what we hear, include:

Secy of Interior
Head of National Park Svc
Head of EPA
Head of White House Council on Environmental Quality

And see and for more info

> Obama Administration officials are coming to Seattle and they want (need!) to hear from you!
> “America’s Great Outdoors” Listening Session will be held on Thursday July 1st at Franklin High School. This is the most important opportunity in years to have your voice heard to help shape how our Northwest lands, rivers, fish and wildlife will be managed for the foreseeable future.
> And it represents a great opportunity to show Northwest support for restoring a healthy Snake River that works for everyone – salmon and other wildlife, and people in the fishing, farming, recreation, and other economies.
> Seattle’s Listening Session may be the only one in the Pacific Northwest. It is an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face with senior administration officials and tell them about the opportunity to restore a working Snake River by removing four federal dams in eastern Washington so that this important river can once again support healthy populations of wild salmon and steelhead, family wage jobs, and diverse recreational opportunities, while supporting prosperous farming communities at the same time.
> Please help Save Our Wild Salmon and many other salmon, fishing, and conservation advocates take advantage of this opportunity and send a clear message to the Obama Administration – please put this important Listening Session on your calendar and join us on July 1st at Franklin High School!
> See details below.
> If you can attend, please contact Dan or Sam right away, and we can answer any questions you have and make sure you have “Salmon Talking Points” to guide your comments on July 1st.
> Dan Drais: 206-286-4455, x107
> Sam Mace: 509-863-5696
> Everybody is welcome – but you can help the planners by signing up to attend here now.
> Northwest Listening Session and Discussion Information:
> WHEN: Thursday, July 1, 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
> WHAT: Public Listening Session on the President’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative
> WHERE: Franklin High School at 3013 South Mount Baker Blvd, Seattle, Washington, 98144

> WHO: YOU! And representatives from DOI, USDA, EPA, and CEQ who will be present to hear your thoughts and to participate in a conversation with you about landscape conservation, salmon restoration, recreation, and reconnecting Americans to the great outdoors.
> You can find more information here at the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative Online
> Dan Drais: 206-286-4455, x107
> Sam Mace: 509-863-5696
> In April, at the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors, President Obama established the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to develop a conservation and recreation agenda worthy of the 21st century and to reconnect Americans with our great outdoors. The President understands that protecting and restoring the lands and waters that we love and reconnecting people to the outdoors must be community-driven and supported.
> The President directed the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality to lead this effort and to listen and learn from people all over the country. Please join senior representative of these agencies for a public listening session and discussion on land conservation, recreation, and reconnecting Americans to the great outdoors.
> In the Northwest, you and many other citizens and organizations are deeply involved in the conservation of working farms, forests, lakes, and rivers, scenic lands, and historic areas, and in celebrating and enjoying the region’s rich outdoor and cultural heritage.
> This public listening session and discussion is an opportunity for leaders of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to hear from you about solutions for building a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnecting all Americans with the outdoors.
> We look forward to seeing you there!
> Joseph, Sam, and Dan
> Save Our Wild Salmon

How Informed Should The Public Be About The Southern Resident Orca Locations?

The Southern Resident orcas have been hanging out and living life around the San Juan Islands for over a week, often coming close to shore. All three pods were present yesterday, and spent most of their time in two areas where there is a 1/2 mile limit for boats.

If only everyone would respect the guidelines, there would not be a problem…yet reports of violations – committed by informed local residents – have surfaced, leading me to wonder what is in the orca’s best interest when it comes to letting people know the location of the whales. Clearly it does not seem a good idea to announce precise locations in real time, but since it is important for people to enjoy the orcas in the wild and end captive display, there should be a good compromise.

Please take our poll

Notice that the orcas can be seen more closely from shore at times.

Celebrate The Southern Resident Orcas: Join In The Annual “Orca Sing” Celebration

The 11th annual ‘Orca Sing’ concert will be held on June 19, beginning at 6 PM, at Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island.

Participants enjoyed the warmth and views as well as the music.

The concert features Fred West and members of the City Cantabile Choir, a welcome by Tlingit tribal members, and information booths by the sponsoring groups.

It is a free event, brought to you by: People For Puget Sound, Friends of the San Juans, The Whale Museum, American Cetacean Society–Puget Sound Chapter, The Whale Trail, Orca Network and the City Cantabile Choir.

For more information, please contact The Whale Museum.

“Saving Snake River salmon will save Puget Sound killer whales”

From Save Our Wild Salmon:

“This new baby will not have a life without salmon. Salmon make up the majority of their diet and they are good at finding and catching them; but, what happens if salmon populations continue to decline?”
– Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research reacting to the recent identification of a new member of the K-pod from the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, June 2010

The Threats Facing Endangered Puget Sound Orcas
Killer whales, or orcas, are found all over the world. And yet their geographically distinct populations are actually genetically distinct populations. That is, the Southern Resident orcas found during the summer in Washington’s Puget Sound do not travel with other orcas, will not breed with other orcas, have a highly particular diet, and exhibit a variety of social and family traits that are completely distinct from any other orcas on the planet.

But this endangered population faces several dangerous threats. Their food is very often contaminated with long-lived poisons (PCBs and PBDEs). Being dependant on a form of sonar called echolocation, they have suffered with the increased noise that accompanies increases is the size and number of vessels on Puget Sound. Their population is so tiny (fewer than 90 whales) and their reproductive rates are so slow that it takes them a long time to add to their population. And, perhaps most importantly, these giant marine mammals require a lot of food – and they aren’t getting enough.

The federal agency responsible for trying to recover these whales won’t say which problem is “primarily” responsible for their decline, but clearly these five-ton mammals cannot recover without enough food to eat. Insufficient prey leads not only to starvation, but to increased mortality from disease and increased susceptibility to toxins, increased calf mortality, and drastically lower reproductive rates.

Smoltinpipe2That’s where Columbia/Snake salmon come in.

Southern Residents feed primarily on chinook salmon. In fact, the government estimates that even at its current depleted population level, this population of fewer than 90 animals may require 1.75 million chinook each year.

When the Southern Resident orcas are in the San Juan Islands off the northwest coast of Washington, they feed overwhelmingly on salmon from Canada’s Fraser River. But when they leave this area and head into the Pacific each winter, they must rely on chinook salmon from the other major salmon rivers – the Sacramento, the Klamath, and the Columbia. None of them is a shadow of what it used to be.

At the turn of the last century, up to 30 million salmon returned to the Columbia-Snake River Basin, making it the most productive salmon-producing river system in the world. But today, only than one percent of that historic number returns to spawn. Chinook (like other salmon populations) have plummeted, due largely to dam construction and habitat degradation on the Columbia and its largest tributary, the Snake, which have wiped out entire runs and severely limited the food supply of Puget Sound orcas. All species of chinook salmon on the Columbia- Snake are either listed as endangered or already extinct. This has proved devastating for the salmon, the fishermen, and now the killer whales.

Restoring Orcas’ Food

Leading Northwest scientists and orca advocates have called for the government to remove the four outdated federal dams on the lower Snake River. They say this will restore Columbia-Snake River salmon and renew a critical food source for endangered Puget Sound orca populations.

The science is clear that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the key to saving the Snake River’s four distinct salmon populations, including the chinook that are so important to the Southern Residents. Coupled with appropriate harvest controls, sound land-use regulations, renewable energy alternatives and hatchery reform, lower Snake River dam removal could restore salmon abundance to 15 million acres of forest, high-desert and wilderness areas, for productive use by people, communities and iconic predators like the Southern Resident orcas.

orca.smThe Southern Resident Recovery Plan

The government initially opposed listing Southern Residents as an endangered species. After a federal court rejected the government’s position, Southern Residents were listed in 2005. The government then developed a plan to help guide efforts to recovery Southern Residents to a healthy population. Prepared with input from the leading orca scientists in the United States and Canada, the plan contains two findings that should remain front and center as we contemplate the perils facing these spectacular icons of Puget Sound:

– “It is vital that meaningful increases in salmon abundance be achieved above and beyond those associated with periods of favorable ocean productivity.” SRKW Recovery Plan, p. V-8 (emphasis added).

– The SRKW population must increase by an average 2.3 percent per year for 28 years – that is, to 164 whales – in order to be removed from the Endangered Species list. The population today is 88, the same as it was when it was listed as endangered five years ago. p. IV-4.

For more information, contact:

Save Our Wild Salmon

Orca scientists and advocates sound off

“Restoring Columbia River chinook salmon is the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales. We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked.”
— Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Wash.

“The new Federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than previous plans in providing access to the basin’s best remaining salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River. The resulting declining salmon runs have a very real impact on the 88 endangered southern resident orcas that depend on these fish, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry.”
— Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network.

“Our leaders must look for solutions not only in Puget Sound, but also in the rivers that bring the salmon to the sea throughout the Northwest. The great salmon rivers like the Columbia and Snake can once again produce the healthy runs of chinook, on which our majestic orcas feed, but only if we recover salmon habitat. We must act quickly to restore clean water, abundant, sustainable salmon populations, and a safe home for orcas. The scientists tell us there is no time to waste.”
— Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound

The Orcas Are Present, You Can LIsten To Them Communicate June 14th 2010 11:25 AM

You, can hear the orcas now (11:25 am), or get set up to listen in the future by going to the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network website. I have found that the Winamp download worked better on my pc than itunes, but give it a try.

I’ll let you know when I find out which whales are out there!

Update 6/16/10 : Depending upon when you were listening, you probably heard J pod, but some of the K and L pod orcas were there during the day too.

The Center for Whale Research Confirms A New Orca Calf!

The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that there is a new orca calf in the Southern Resident orca K-pod. This calf was tentatively identified earlier this winter, but the Center has now officially documented this robust, five month old baby.

Five month old calf K-43 with K-12

(Photo by Emma Foster)

From the Center:

June 8, 2010

K pod returned to Puget Sound, June 8, 2010, bringing with them a new calf. K43 was seen traveling with K12, who is presumed to be the mother. K12 is estimated to be 38 years old. She has two existing offspring, K22 and K37, and one grandchild, K33 (son of K22). K pod was first seen this year on February 21st, traveling up Swanson Channel with J pod. Photographs taken by Jeanne Hyde on Jim Maya’s boat suggested the presence of a new K pod calf, but we were unable to confirm with any certainty. The June 8 encounter with K43 confirms that the calf is at least 5 months old. The population of K pod is now 20 whales. This is the third calf born in 2010.

The total population of Southern Resident orcas might now stand at 90 (91, if you count the captive l-pod orca “Lolita”), providing all of the whales from last year are seen again and documented.

Take Costco’s Poll Concerning Captive Orcas

In Costco’s latest member ‘magazine’ The Costco Connection, I noticed that they are running a poll to see how people feel about using captive wild animals of any kind for our entertainment. And although they have asked about all wild animals, what seems to have been the factor that caused Costco to address this question was the recent death of the orca trainer at Sea World.

I voted at their online poll site, but you can also email to, fax to (425) 313-6718, or mail to The Costco Connection, P.O. Box 34088, Seattle, Wa, 98124-1088.

Lolita performs for sparse audiences in a sad theme park.

So far, the votes from Costco’s broad member base are three to one against keeping wild animals captive for our amusement. Please take a minute to place your vote, it really does count.