Saving the Orcas, One Bottle at a Time – Share Your Ideas With Us

Buy a case of their Orca Series wine during June, party with your friends, and Hoodsport will donate $3.00 to orca conservation causes.

If you can’t make it to the birthday picnic commemorating the 100th  birthday of the Southern Resident orca member Granny (J-2) next weekend, maybe you can get together with friends, buy a case of  Hoodsport wine  by June 30th and raise a glass in her honor.
It can be difficult to get to Friday Harbor on a holiday weekend – actually, it can be a downright harrowing experience – the ferries fill quickly, and traffic jams in outlying areas can throw even the best laid plans under the bus.  (So if you come, try to leave your car on the mainland, and take the island shuttle to the whale park for the picnic.)
But the celebration of this iconic whale’s life is about how much has changed over the last century, and maybe the best way to mark the occasion is to pause and consider what you can do to make a difference going forward into the next 100 years.
The Center for Whale Research blog has set up a blog post to share birthday messages, ideas, tips, thoughts, dreams, opinions;  and for you to tell us about artwork, photos, videos, podcasts, kids’ art, school projects – really anything that relates to saving the endangered orcas of the Salish Sea.

To get you started, here is Granny the orca’s birthday wish list:

  1. More salmon, especially Chinook salmon (Can you help with stream restoration?  Refuse to buy farmed salmon?  Support organizations such as Save Our Wild Salmon?)
  2. Less noise ( The oceans have become very noisy with our ships, navy sonar, and boats – how do we limit this?)
  3. Tidy up the beaches (Much of the junk that comes in with the tide is picked up and carried out again, can you help with beach clean-up, or removal of ‘ghost nets’ (fishing nets that have broken free and continue to trap marine life)?
  4. Get the chemicals out of the ecosystem – this is probably the biggest and most complex problem, but you can help by making sure that you don’t contribute to future contaminants by disposing of chemicals appropriately.
  5. Share your talents and energy in your community– Can you write songs, perform theater, are you a doctor or dentist etc with tvs in your waiting room that can show videos of the oceans?  Are you an athlete willing to organize a run/bike ride/swim/ski event?  A teacher or a parent involved in school events?

You matter, and in a big way – from bake sales for your chosen cause to innovative inventions, your contributions are important!

Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

“I hope for your help to explore and protect the wild ocean in ways that will restore the health and, in so doing, secure hope for humankind. Health to the ocean means health for us.”  Sylvia Earle (oceanographer)

Granny (J-2), the ‘Cetacean Senior’ Orca, Just Might Be 100 Years Old; Come Celebrate!

Granny (J-2), the matriarch of J-pod and oldest of all the Southern Resident orcas, is not giving away her age.
She stays fit, swimming a hundred miles or so a day, tries to keep her shape plump on a diet of salmon, and enjoys a large social network of relatives and other clan members – so to the untrained eye she looks like any other adult female orca. But researchers have a good idea how old she is anyway – around 100 years old – based on her estimated age when first identified in the mid 1970s.

Picnic at the whale park on San Juan Island

She might be a bit younger (or older, for that matter), but given the fragility of this endangered population of orcas and the fact that Granny’s son, the venerable J-1 died this year at age 59, it seems like an important year to pause and think about how much has changed in the last one hundred years, and to consider what the next century will bring.
No one knows how long orcas can live, but other cetacean species are known to live for well over one hundred years.  Postmortem tests that have shown that a narwhal female was 115 years old , and similar tests have shown that bowhead whales can live for centuries:  “… the lens analyses from five large [bowhead] males suggested that at the time that Iñupiat hunters harpooned them, one was 90, four were between 135 and 180, and one was more than 200 years old.” (Cetacean Seniors, Whales that give new meaning to longevity).
The changes that Granny might have witnessed in the last century are huge, and follow-up posts will address those – but for now, it is just good to know that people have come so very far in changing their attitudes towards whales and dolphins, and to note that for all the mistreatment they have received from humans they have never harmed us in return.
It is positive and reassuring to consider that as our urban areas grew over the last century, so did our awareness of the need to preserve the environment, and to protect the creatures of the world from our thoughtless development.

Visit The Center for Whale Research website for details on the celebration

Present day Seattle ferry dock.

Ferry dock, downtown Seattle circa 1914

Pike Place Market now

Pike Place Market circa 1916

A New Calf for the Endangered Southern Resident Orcas

Congratulations, L-pod!  The addition of a new member to this struggling population of critically endangered whales is great news!!

New Calf, L-118 with L-55 (photo by Erin Heydenreich)

There appears to be a new calf traveling with L55. This is a different calf from the one observed on Dec. 6th seen traveling with L5 (L117). We are tentatively calling the newest calf L118 and will confirm the number of new calves once we have had a more conclusive L pod encounter. The groups we encountered were the L4s, L26s, L43s, L47s, and L53. (CWR encounter)

The Center for Whale Research noted the presence of a new orca calf at the end of May, but  they have been waiting for confirmation before announcing the new pod member.  Since orca calves often swim with family members other than their mothers, there was a small possibility that this baby was the youngest calf from last year, and the Center is absolutely thorough in making identifications.
The presumed mother, L-55 (Nugget) has successfully raised several calves, so this new baby has a large family – sisters Kasatka (L-82) and Lapis (L-103), and brother Takoda (L-109), aunts Ophelia (L-27) and Surprise (L-82), and cousins Pooka (L-106) and Victoria/Sooke (L-112).
Since calves born to experienced mothers have a slightly better chance of survival than those born to first time moms, the outlook is good for this baby. (The milk provided by first time mothers carries the highest load of toxins because lifetime store of contaminants is released into the milk, so Nugget’s milk should carry fewer toxins, plus the new calf will have the benefit of older siblings to help babysit, teach and entertain it while the mother forages.)

Join Orca Network in Celebrating Orca Awareness Month with a Party and Book Launch

Orca Network – Connecting whales and people in the Pacific Northwest
Orca Network is dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest,
and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats. Projects include the Whale Sighting Network and Education Programs, the Free Lolita Campaign, and the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

JUNE IS ORCA AWARENESS MONTH – Learn more about Orca Month and other activities happening during June to celebrate our orcas at or .

For the fifth year Governor Gregoire has officially proclaimed June 2011 as Orca Awareness Month in Washington State, to raise awareness of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, and the salmon and clean, safe habitats they need to survive. Organizations around the Salish Sea are celebrating by sponsoring orca-related events and activities to share information about the amazing Southern Residents, and to celebrate the joy of the return of these orcas to the Salish Sea. This year the focus of Orca Month is J1, Ruffles, the eldest of the Southern Resident male orcas, and most well known because of his tall, wavy dorsal fin. J1 has not been sighted with J pod since November 2010, and is believed to have died.
Orca Network is celebrating Orca Month on Friday June 17th with an evening of music, dance, food, and drink at the Recreation Hall, 901 NW Alexander St, Coupeville, Whidbey Island, WA, from 5 – 11 pm.
The evening begins with a book launch celebration from 5 – 7 pm to celebrate the newly printed “Orcas in our Midst, volume 3” by Howard Garrett of Orca Network. Howard will be on hand to sign copies of the book and do a short talk about the book, the orcas, and Orca Month. This portion of the evening also features acoustic music by the very talented singer/songwriter Nathaniel Talbot (listen in at, and offers a great “after-work” opportunity to stop by for a visit, enjoy some food and drink; and to pick up a copy of the new book and celebrate Orca Month with us.
Then at 7 pm we bring on the rocking blues with Coyote and the Henhouse Raiders for an evening of dancing to some great music for a worthy cause. Coyote and the Henhouse Raiders plays “tasty rock, cookin’ blues, footstompin’ roadhouse, with a dollop o’ funk” music that makes you want to DANCE! Find them on Facebook to listen to a sampling of their music.
Admission is $15 at the door, which includes a complimentary copy of the new “Orcas in our Midst” book, free snacks, and Mussels, pasta salad, wine and beer available for purchase throughout the evening.

Photo by Dave Ellifrit

Orca Network is a 501 c-3 nonprofit organization, dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats. Projects include our Whale Sighting Network, Education programs, and the campaign to retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium back to her home waters in Washington.
For more information, contact Orca Network at: or 360.678.3451, or check out our website , or find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Susan Berta & Howard Garrett
Orca  Network

The Orca Project Is Increasing Pressure to Free the Captive Orca “Lolita”

Celebrity Bob Barker, former host of ‘The Price Is Right’, has added his voice to the growing chorus against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity – he recently donated over two million dollars to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and made a public service video (see below). Groups such as The Orca Project are emerging as strong proponents against captivity and are working with long time advocates such as Orca Network and Save Lolita to increase the pressure to return captive whale “Lolita” to her family – and are counting on your help.

(Courtesy Orca Network)

Lolita, the captive Southern Resident orca, was violently taken from her family decades ago and is forced to live with dolphins in a sub-standard pool at the Miami Seaquarium. Dozens of organizations have been working to gain her release but have gotten the same run around from government officials who maintain that the whale is adequately cared for – but recently The Orca Project has decided “… we are taking the fight to the next level and to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the USDA internal auditor that has cited the Eastern Regional Division of APHIS for not enforcing the law, not finding violations, and not assessing fines.”
They are asking for your help (see the full article,

A call to action, and what you can do to help.
The Office of the Inspector General has a “Hotline” for reporting violations related to USDA programs such as; fraud, employee misconduct, mismanagement, conflict of interest, etc. The hotline tips can be submitted online, by email, by phone, by mail. Here’s the link to the OIG’s hotline:
Below are sample letters to APHIS Administrators
Press Release by Orca Nework:
What else YOU can do:
*Tell your friends and families not to visit or support Marine Mammal Parks like Miami Seaquarium, SeaWorld and Six Flags.
*Call your Congressman and elected officials and tell them not to support Marine Mammal captivity. To locate your government officials, click  here.
Additionally, Hunter Shaffer, a 13-year-old disabled activist from New York State who is dedicated to retiring Lolita to her native waters in Washington, says, “Orcas are highly intelligent and social marine mammals that typically swim 75-100 miles a day and repeatedly dive to several hundred feet. Lolita is alone and cannot swim any distance except in tight circles in a pool that is not as deep as she is long.” Shaffer has gathered over 1,700 signatures on a petition asking APHIS to help “retire Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, and rehabilitate her in Puget Sound.” Please sign and share widely.

Although Barker may be targeting SeaWorld in his remarks, it looks as though the video may have been filmed elsewhere – which only shows that all theme parks that display whales and dolphins should be avoided.

Survival of Orcas Is Linked to Saving Wild Salmon; Free Screening of “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet”, Seattle, 6/8/11

(Courtesy Orca Network)

The Southern Resident orcas need a reliable supply of salmon if they are to survive;  join this fun, free event and learn what you can do to help!
Salmon: Running the Gauntlet
Save Our Wild Salmon, KCTS 9 and Earthjustice present a free screening of “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet” on June 8, 2011 at the Burke Museum

Seattle, WAJoin filmmaker Jim Norton, salmon advocates and policy experts for an evening celebrating West Coast wild salmon and our fishing economy at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the University of Washington campus. Save Our Wild Salmon, KCTS 9 and Earthjustice will host a free reception and screening of the 50-minute film from the award-winning PBS Nature Film Series “Salmon: Running the Gauntlet,” including a special reading and a gear giveaway from Patagonia.

Going beyond the debate over how to save an endangered species, the film investigates the parallel stories of collapsing Columbia Basin salmon populations and how biologists and engineers have become instruments in audacious experiments to replicate every stage of the fish’s life cycle. In its exposure of a wildly creative, hopelessly complex, and stunningly expensive approach to managing salmon, the film reveals one of the most ambitious plans ever conceived for taking the reins of the planet.

This event comes at a time when communities across the West coast await a ruling from a federal court concerning the adequacy of the Obama Administration’s 10-year, $10-billion Columbia Basin salmon plan.

The reception will feature hors d’ oeuvres prepared by the Steelhead Diner and beer from the Fremont Brewing Company. The film will be followed by a “Question and Answer” session with attendees about the film and the plight and status of West Coast salmon and our fishing economy, featuring:
  • Jim Norton, filmmaker
  • Steve Hawley, author of Recovering a Lost River
  • Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice attorney
When: June 8, 2011, Reception 6:00 p.m., Program 6:45 p.m.

Where: Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, on the UW campus, corner of 17th Ave NE and NE 45th Street

The Laws Protecting Orcas From Boats Are Serious, And So Are The Penalties

Viewing must now be from 200 yards away. (Photo taken in 2009 under permit).

The weather this weekend promises to be great for boating in and around the San Juan Islands, but whether you are paddling about in a kayak or motoring in a luxury yacht, be sure to give a wide berth to the orcas if they are around – or face the possibility of monumental fines, and even jail time.
Newly enacted Federal law protects the whales from the noise and interference of boats within 200 yards, state regulations and county ordinances kick in at 100 yards.
All three levels of government are cooperating  in enforcement, so if you are in violation you face fees at all levels no matter who issues the citations.
San Juan County: In an ordinance passed in 2008, San Juan County was the first legal body to establish any guidelines to protect the whales from boaters. Fine:  $750.00
Washington State: Later in 2008, Washington state passed regulations that further defined safe viewing distances.  Fine:  Up to $500.00
U.S. Government: As of May 16, 2011 the federal government passed even more stringent regulations, based on the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.  Fines: $25,000 (civil),  $50,000 and/or one year in prison (criminal)

In November 2005, the Southern Resident population was listed as endangered under the ESA and, thus, as depleted under the MMPA. NMFS designated critical habitat in November 2006 for the Southern Resident population.In July 2009, NMFS’ Northwest Region proposed vessel regulations to protect the Southern Resident population; the final rule on vessel regulations in Washington state [pdf] (76 FR 20870) published in the Federal Register in April 2011.

Stiff fines are possible.

No bones about it, these laws will be enforced.  San Juan County – which knowing the level of harassment by private boaters first hand had acted on its own while the wheels of the state and federal governments were still spinning – sent this message: “The San Juan County Sheriff will be patrolling the areas off San Juan Island over the summer and is available to assist national Fisheries in enforcing the restricted zones”.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will patrol the area, and Coast Guard vessels will intercede if needed as well.
If these measures seem a bit drastic and desperate…they are, and for good reason.  This unique population of orcas is precariously close to extinction due to lack of food and contaminants, and the authorities are trying to reduce the stress to the whales that they believe is caused by proximity to boats. It is a tiny band-aid on a huge problem, and is largely insignificant when compared to the primary problem for the whales:  they need more salmon.
The irony in all this?  The Pacific Whale Watch Association of commercial boat operators has been addressing the issue since 1994, a full 14 years before the government did anything, and they are the most impacted by these regulations. I observed them from shore all last season as they self regulated a distance 50% farther away from the whales than was required.  And all of us watched private boaters go right to, and over, the whales with no consequences – if these new laws are not fairly applied and are shown to be ineffective they should be rescinded.
But no matter what, the time spent monkeying around with viewing distance should have been dedicated to restoring salmon – starving to death in a quiet world is still starving to death.
Chinook salmon comprise the majority of the Southern Resident orcas' diet.