Hungry Southern Resident Orcas Are Searching For Salmon

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In recent weeks J-pod has been seen (and/or heard) as far north as Alert Bay, BC, as well as in Georgia Strait, and Haro Strait (between Victoria and San Juan Island). K-pod was photographed off of Florence, Oregon. No sign of L-pod.

Creative Commons Map

Although J-pod was heard up by Alert Bay (Port McNeil towards the north end of Vancouver Island is the closest landmark on this map), J1 was seen alone near San Juan Island.

From the Center for Whale Research: “For two days (January 26 and 27), J1 has been seen alone in Haro Strait, and heard on the Lime Kiln hydrophone making what sounds like plaintive repetitive calls (S42 and S40) when no other whales were in sight or hearing range of the Haro Strait hydrophones.

Such a solo appearance was considered unusual, so on 27 January Dave Ellifrit and Ken Balcomb headed out in r/v “Orca” to check on J1’s condition. He was swimming steadily north in Haro Strait off Battleship Island taking four or five breaths at the surface and then diving for six or seven minutes when we found him. He paid little heed of us and appeared to be in good health with no apparent injuries, so we left him on his way off Stuart Island as he was apparently heading toward Swanson Channel.”

Postscript: We later learned that recordings made by Leah Robinson near Alert Bay and Paul Spong near Hanson Island on 23 January were identified by John Ford as being J pod calls.

Was J1 with them there, and did he simply hurry on down ahead of them (180 miles @ 4 knots = 45 hours travel)? Or had he come around the ocean side of Vancouver Island (360 miles @ 4 knots = 90 hours travel) while the rest of the pod apparently came through Johnstone Strait?

Either way, his arrival in Haro Strait two days before his pod-mates is interesting – was he scouting for salmon?” Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

J1 looking for salmon?

Two days later the Center for Whale Research located the rest of the J1 sub-pod, and although the whales look healthy they did not seem to find many fish. And Balcomb goes on to say:

A little over a week later (Feb 8th and 9th), fishing was slow at the 2010 Roche Harbor Salmon Classic Invitational with 43 salmon caught, and the biggest being a 16 pound hatchery Chinook.

For perspective, compare that with the 1976 (all year) sport catch of Chinook salmon (all wild) of 55,248 fish from the San Juan Islands, and the 1986 (all year) sport catch of 30,208 fish from the islands!

The commercial salmon fishery in Washington State landed 782,000 Chinook salmon in 1976, and 422,000 Chinook salmon in 1986. The average weight of a Chinook salmon commercially landed in those years was about 15 pounds, and derby winners in the sport fisheries routinely exceeded 40-50 pounds!

Clearly, the times have changed for the salmon, and for the whales that depend upon the salmon for survival. Of course, things have changed for the fishermen, too.

Next, more on recent developments, then back to the subject of sound and communication!

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