In the last issue of Whale News we told you that it’s been a slow start for sightings of Northern Resident killer whales this spring and two months later there are still very few sightings. Cetacealab, a small research station at the south end of Gill Island along the central BC coast, they heard R clan calls on May 30th and later that day had the A11s pass by the lab.
Photo: Center for Whale Research
Early May did not bring much southern resident activity either but by May 20th J pod was back in the Salish Sea and they were seen breaching in the southern Strait of Georgia. On May 29 members of all three pods, J, K and L, were spread out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The weekend of June 9 brought some unusual (although by all means not unheard of) travel patterns for the southern residents - twenty eight members of J pod and L87 returned to the San Juans Islands via Juan de Fuca Strait but the day before on the morning of June 8th L pod and at least one member of K pod, Raggedy (K40), were seen heading south in Johnstone Strait and later that day were reported passing Campbell River. By late afternoon on June 9th, all the whales met up on the west side of San Juan and displayed lots of social, playful behavior. Then L pod proceded to head west out Juan de Fuca Strait again.
Photo: David Ellifrit_CWR
Transients are certainly living up to their name these days. On May 12 a group was seen in the southern Strait of Georgia and on May 19th Langara (T10) was spotted with her sons Siwash (T10B) and Bones (T10C) and the female T26 and her daughter T26A near Winchelsea Island. On May 20 transients were reported to have killed a Pacific white-sided dolphin in Bute Inlet and on May 21st a group of 4-6 transients killed a sea lion near Powell River. The hunt continued the next day transients were again observed hunting Pacific white-sided dolphins around Powell River and a different group of seven transients were spotted near Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. On June 2nd Tasu (T2C) and her family were part of a group of twelve whales hunting Pacific white-sided dolphins in Bute Inlet and the following day they were seen southbound near Campbell River.
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Adoption Program Update....
Ten years ago a wild killer whale named Springer, also known as A73, was found orphaned and hundreds of miles from her pod at only one year of age. Months later she was rescued, restored to health, transported back to the summering grounds of her pod and released to rejoin her family. The operation involved the cooperation of two national governments and many organizations. The Vancouver Aquarium played a big role in planning the project and in Springer’s rehabilitation, transport home, and release. Today Springer is in good health and is fully integrated with other wild killer whales. She demonstrates for both the resiliency of her species and the power of people working together for a good cause.
To honor this ten year milestone of Springer’s successful release and rehabilitation, the Vancouver Aquarium hosted an evening event on June 11th. The celebration was well-attended and featured a short documentary filmed by Mark Miller with the Discovery Channel, a reading by Daniel Francis, author of the book Operation Orca which features Springer and Luna’s story, and some reflection and story-telling from six panel members directly involved in her rescue.
A second event will be held in Seattle on June 23 and from July 12-15 a weekend-long celebration will be held in Telegraph Cove and Alert Bay on Northern Vancouver Island. click here for more information
Entangled humpback whale strands in White Rock
The sad scene in White Rock the morning of June 12 was a powerful reminder of human impact on the world’s oceans and its inhabitants when a juvenile humpback whale measuring 8.6 meters was discovered early in the morning on the public beach. The whale was not only stranded, but grossly emaciated and entangled in heavy plastic line.
Senior Marine Mammal Scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard and the cetacean research lab crew attended the scene to do an external examination and collect measurements and samples. In the evening, Dr. Stephen Raverty of the Provincial Animal Health Lab conducted a necropsy.
The whale was entangled through its mouth and around the pectoral fins. Scaring on the flanks and tail peduncle also showed evidence of entanglement abrasion. As with many entanglements, it is suspected that the gear inhibited proper feeding and the whale slowly starved. Whereas healthy whales appear rotund and ‘filled in’, this whale exhibited the tell-tale sunken in sides and protruding backbone of an emaciated whale. The poor body condition of the whale likely means that it was entangled for a prolonged period of time, possibly upwards of several months.
The gear entangling the whale was a heavy monofilament line. The gear’s origin is unknown and at present does not appear to be fishing gear used in BC. As humpbacks are migratory animals, it is possible that this young whale picked up the gear in a southern wintering area or on its northward migration.
Regardless of where this whale became entangled, it is a powerful reminder of the amount of debris and gear discarded in our oceans. Ocean debris is a major threat to all levels of marine life. It can entangle large marine species, like this unfortunate humpback, be mistaken for food and consumed by seabirds, fish, pinnipeds and small cetaceans, and smother benthic creatures. To further compound the problem, the devastating tsunami that hit Japan last year has increased the amount of debris reaching our shores. Citizens can help reduce this problem by joining the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up’s Tsunami Debris Cleanup this summer or the annual cleanup this September.
Photo: Meighan Makarchuk
New Story: Vancouver Sun
In the News....
Killer Whales - Not always black and white
In April, researchers with the Far East Russia Orca Project revealed that in 2010 they had successfully sighted “Iceberg” the all-white, mature male killer whale off the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
According to researchers, Iceberg is believed to be at least 16 years old and was seen travelling with a group of 12 other whales. He appears to be healthy and socially adjusted within his pod but also appears to have unusual pigmentation. Scientists are unsure of the cause of Iceberg’s unique appearance but if he can be located again this summer they may be able to find out. A good look at his eye colour would reveal if he is in fact a true albino (albinism produces pink eyes) or whether his unusual pigmentation is due to other genetic causes.
While this is indeed exciting news, it is by no means the first time a white killer whale has been spotted in the wild. Unfortunately most do not survive very long due to a genetic defect that causes the white coloration in the first place. Here’s a brief description of other white killer whales that have been sighted:
- In March of 1970 a female white killer whale was spotted along with five other whales in Pedder Bay at the south end of Vancouver Island. The whale named “Chimo” was moved to Sealand, an Aquarium in Oak Bay, where she lived a little over two years before she died of pneumonia in October 1972. Chimo suffered from Chediak-Higashi syndrome, a recessively-inherited trait causing recurring infection and fevers that also affects mice, mink, Hereford cattle and humans.
- In March of 2008 an all-white resident-type male killer whale was spotted off western Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This whale was not a true albino because it had signs of darker pigmentation on his body but similarly to Iceberg, the whale appeared to be healthy and mature.
- In December of 2009 a grey-white transient calf was spotted near the Victoria, BC waterfront along with its mother T68C.
Killer whales may be the only known cetacean species to suffer from Chediak-Higashi syndrome; however, other cetaceans have been observed in the wild with striking white colouration including humpback whales, harbor porpoises, and Franciscana (or La Plata) dolphins.
Photo: Far East Russia Orca Project
Federal job cuts affect marine mammal toxicologist
The federal budget cuts are indeed disheartening to many of us environmentally conscious folks. The trend continued when on May 17th when Dr. Peter Ross one of Canada’s top marine mammal contaminant scientists, was issued a letter stating the Department of Fisheries and Oceans contaminants program will be shut down effective April 1, 2013. In BC, this includes two research scientists, a chemist and six support staff. The termination of this program is unfortunate, to say the least.
Dr. Ross has conducted cutting-edge research on the effects of persistent environmental contaminants on the health of marine mammals and the movement and fate of persistent environmental contaminants in marine food chains. He has overseen pollution files including everything from municipal sewage to the effects of pesticide on salmon and the impacts of PCB’s on killer whales. He was the lead author of a report 10 years ago that demonstrated that (transient) killer whales are some of the most contaminated marine mammals on the planet.