By becoming a member of the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program you will be directly supporting research on wild killer whales. Continuing research will lead to a better understanding of the whales, their place in the ocean ecosystem, and the conservation measures necessary to protect them.




Whale Update....

Northern Residents

It’s been a slow start for Northern Residents this spring.  Despite the many reports of transients from Johnstone Strait south to Puget Sound there haven’t been any reports of northern residents on the BC coast this spring.  The northern residents should be showing up on the central B.C. coast any day now, and they should turn up in the Johnstone Strait area in the next few months.  

Southern Residents

Photo: Mark Malleson

Southern Residents have been trickling back into the Salish Sea – mostly J pod but that is fairly normal.  Most of the sightings come from along the San Juan Islands, but even in the Salish Sea the sightings of residents have not been nearly as numerous as transient sightings.  About half of J-Pod was spotted on March 10th west of Hein Bank, including Princess Angeline’s (J17) family.  Granny (J2) was spotted on March 25th traveling north near Lime Kiln Lighthouse along San Juan Island with the rest of J pod including, Spieden (J8), Shachi (J19), Eclipse (J41), the J34s, the J17s, the J16s and L87. Three days later Granny (J2), Slick (J16), Mike (J26), Alki (J36) and Echo (J42) were seen west of Race Rocks.  On April 8th a mixed group of K and J pod were spotted in Haro Strait and were seen spy hopping off Peder Island.  This mixed group included Cappuccino (K21) and Raggedy (K40), Blackberry (J27), Oreo (J22), Doublestuff (J34) and Cookie (J38).

In the last issue of Whale News (February 2012) we told you about US researcher Brad Hanson, gaining approval to satellite tag southern resident killer whales.  On February 20th the first satellite tag was deployed on an adult male, Mike (J26), in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The satellite tag transmitted information for three days then stopped unexpectedly.  By the time Mike (J26) was seen again - by Canadian Researcher Dr. John Ford - the satellite tag had come off.   Researchers will continue to monitor Mike’s dorsal fin at every opportunity until the small wound from the satellite tag’s barbed attachment post is completely healed.  For more information visit the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.    


Photo: David Ellifrit_CWR

This spring has been a busy time for the mammal-eating killer whales! Transient killer whales have been sighted frequently from the waters around Johnstone Strait to Puget Sound.  On March 20th transients were spotted attacking a sea lion in Blackney Pass and on March 30th the T55s were in Blackney Pass while a group of 12 transients including the Esperanza (T18), Mooya (T19), Galiano (T19B) and Spouter (T19C) were spotted in Knight Inlet.  Over 14 transients were spotted in the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve on March 31st and transients were heard in Blackfish Sound on April 3rd, and near Blackney pass on April 15th.

This spring also had transients frequenting the Salish Sea.  Pandora (T021) and Kwatsi (T020) were spotted off Victoria on March 6th and on March 17th Nitinat (T12A) was spotted with the T124As and T109As in Boundary Pass.  On March 23rd Tasu (T2C), Rocky (T2C1), Tumbo (T2C2) and T2C3 were spotted killing a harbor seal in San Juan Channel, followed by an attack on a rhinocerous auklet which involved taking swings at it with their tails! They went after a second auklet but were intercepted by a bald eagle who finished it off.  Regular transient sightings have continued into April as well.  

April 2012
In this issue

 Whale Update
 Program Update
 Field Notes
 In the News 




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Adoption Program Update....

Introducing the new babies in the adoption program!

Photo: Davie Ellifrit_CWR

We are pleased to announce that the killer whale babies born in 2010 have just been named and are now available for adoption!  2010 was a slower year than 2009 for new births; however, we still have six new babies joining the adoption program.  Of the six calves that were born in 2010 to mothers in the adoption program, five have survived their first year of life and are available for adoption.  Sadly A98, the third calf of Nodales (A51) was not seen in 2011 and is considered missing along with its mother.  The sixth calf is a whale we accidentally missed a couple years back, but better late than never, is joining the program now.

The new babies available for adoption are: Rainy (A96) born in 2010, is the sixth calf of Simoom (A34); Kalect (A97) born in 2010, is the first calf of Nahwitti (A56); Kiwash (D26) born in 2010, is the second calf of Fisher (D17); Nuchatlitz (G94) born in 2010, is the first calf of Tatchu (G52); Radar (G84) a male born in 2007, is the third calf of Sharbau (G31); and Notch (J47) (photo to the right), a male born in 2010, is the first calf of Tahlequah (J35).  As in other years, the names of the northern residents are based on places along the BC coast and were selected by a committee of researchers from a list put together by Killer Whale Adoption Program staff. 

Visit the family matrilines in the 'Meet the Whales' section of our website to view the family trees. 



Field Notes....

Workshop on killer whale prey requirements 

In the December 2011 issue of Whale News we told you about a series of workshops investigating the availability of resident killer whale prey, with an emphasis on Chinook salmon, to determine whether the whales have sufficient food resources to survive and recover.  This collaborative series of four workshops is being jointly hosted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the US National Marine Fisheries Service.   The first two workshops addressed issues covering: the feeding habits and dietary needs of southern resident killer whales, Chinook salmon abundance and food energy available to killer whales, and fisheries that may affect prey availability. The workshops have focused on the southern resident population because they are currently the most at risk.

Photo: Karl Solomon

Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, Senior Marine Mammal Scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium has attended all three workshops held thus far.  The third workshop, held in mid-March, focused on technical questions that had arisen during the first two, such as which Chinook salmon stocks are preyed on most heavily by the whales and the times of year during which killer whales are most food stressed.  Dr. John Ford with Fisheries and Oceans Canada presented data showing that residents have to work harder to feed themselves during poor Chinook salmon years.  The winter months were identified as the time period when the southern resident killer whales are most food stressed, during which time the dominant prey source is Chinook.  Ford also reported an interesting sighting of L pod in Chatham Strait, Alaska in the winter, well outside the previously-known range of the southern residents.

The next and fourth meeting will look at specific stocks of salmon runs, their timing and population size, and make recommendations about how to manager fisheries in a way that allows sufficient food resources for killer whales. 


What's happening with harbour porpoises?

While harbour porpoises may not win any awards for being the most exciting species to observe in the wild, they are still one of the most abundant cetaceans on our coastline. Unfortunately, harbour porpoises in BC have been overlooked by many researchers and as a result, we know very little about them.  Thanks to many people who report sightings to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network, we have a good idea about where harbour porpoises are found and concentrated; however, we don’t know if mixing of individuals goes on between these concentrated groups.

Carla Crossman, a Masters Student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who is funded by the B.C. Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, is collaborating with researchers at the Vancouver Aquarium to determine the genetic make-up of harbour porpoise.  Carla is using DNA extracted from skin samples from harbour porpoises that strand along the B.C. coast to compare the genetic codes of individuals. If individuals are closely related to each other, they will have a very similar genetic code, while individuals that are distantly related will have different genetic codes.  Once Carla has finished her analysis she will compare if individuals that were found close to each other are more closely related than individuals found far apart.

Some of Carla’s results to date were very surprising (and exciting)!  We already knew there are harbour porpoise/Dall’s porpoise hybrids in southern B.C., but it appears there are many more than we originally believed.  A few known harbour porpoise samples had Dall’s porpoise DNA, and at least one Dall’s porpoise had harbour porpoise DNA!  Unlike some of the hybrids seen in the wild that can be rather distinct, these hybrids looked just like one of the parental species. Without the genetic data, we would have no way of knowing these were hybrids. Until now we thought all hybrids had harbour porpoise fathers and Dall’s porpoise mothers, but there is now evidence for crosses in both directions!

Carla’s research is helping fill in the knowledge gaps and will become very useful for management of the threatened populations of harbour porpoise in BC.

Photo: Susan Mackay



In the News....

A young whale is lost in the southern residents!

On February 11, 2012 sad news broke of a young killer whale found washed up on the shore just north of Long Beach, Washington.  The young whale was identified as L112, also known as Sooke, a three year old female from the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.  L112 was part of the L4 matriline and the second surviving calf of Surprise (L86).  The following morning, Feb 12th, veterinarians and researchers working with the Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network in the US examined L112’s body, and although her cause of death is still undetermined, the researchers noted major trauma injuries surrounding her head and chest.  Further internal examination showed damage to
her internal organs, her ear bones were dislodged and a loss of brain matter – injuries that suggest cause of death could have been massive impact trauma from an explosion. 

L112’s injuries may be related to Canadian or American Navy testing in the waters of Juan de Fuca Strait or the southern Washington to northern Oregon coast.  This incident underscores the need for stronger protection of the endangered resident killer whales in their critical habitat.
Photo: Cascadia Research
News story: CBC News 


Case Closed - The courts ruled that DFO must protect killer whale critical habitat!

Court rulings have dictated that the federal government must protect critical habitat for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and for the threatened Northern Resident Killer Whales!

In 2009 Ecojustice, an environmental law firm representing nine environmental groups, took DFO to court for failing to meet its responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).  Under SARA a recovery strategy must be developed for any species designated as endangered or threatened.  After a recovery strategy was completed for killer whales that identified the species’ critical habitat and principal threats to its long-term survival, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans issued a “protection statement” claiming that existing laws and guidelines provided adequate protection.   Ecojustice argued that existing laws were insufficient to provide legal protection of critical habitat, as required by the SARA, and that the minister should have issued a “protection order”. 

In December of 2010 the judge agreed with the environmental groups and ruled that the Minister’s actions had been unlawful.   DFO appealed one part of the judgment and lost in February.  It was uncertain whether DFO would appeal again to a higher court, however, the deadline of April 10th passed without an appeal and the case is closed!  This ruling affirms the legal responsibility of the Federal Government to protect the attributes of critical habitat that make it suitable for killer whales, including availability of prey and low levels of acoustic disturbance and chemical contamination.

Results of this case are exciting – not only for the resident killer whales, but also all the other species listed under SARA.  A new precedent has now been set and habitat for all SARA-listed species will have to be protected by the Federal Government.
News Story: CBC News