For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

July 5: Return of the Residents

Well, my aforementioned blog post about an epic Bigg's killer whale encounter will have to wait, because on July 5, after 59 days of waiting, the Southern Residents finally returned to the inland waters! Specifically, it was all of J- and K-Pods, along with L87 Onyx who has traveled with J-Pod for years.

The text message came in early that there were Southern Resident vocalizations being heard on the Lime Kiln hydrophones. By the time we got to the west side, we had missed them at Lime Kiln, but caught up with them heading north from San Juan County Park. After months of viewing only Bigg's killer whales, just the energy of viewing the Southern Residents was noticeably different - the way they travel and surface is different.

They're back!!
While most of them were a way's offshore, J16 Slick, J26 Mike, and J36 Alki came inside of Low Island and through the kelp beds.

J26 Mike swimming through a kelp bed off San Juan County Park

Luckily for us, the whales stalled out just north of County Park, and soon it became apparent they were heading back south. As we dashed to the car to head to Lime Kiln, we were all wondering if it would be a "westside shuffle" kind of day - where the whales go back and forth along the west side of San Juan Island all day long, something they used to do a lot of. The answer was yes, it would be that kind of day!

By the time they reached Lime Kiln the whales had picked up speed.

Nothing quite like seeing whales aiming right at you, let alone porpoising right at you!

Suddenly among the lead group up popped a very tiny killer whale - the new calf, J56! With the Center for Whale Research getting to encounter this new little one for the first time, they confirmed not only that the mother is J31 Tsuchi (who lost a neonate in early 2016), but that the new calf is a female. Yay!!

My first photo of little J56 next to mom J31 Tsuchi
When the whales return, it truly feels like greeting old friends. I've known most of these whales longer than I've known most of the important people in my life today! Here is K26 Lobo, who along with the rest of K-Pod hadn't been seen in inland waters (or anywhere else) for an astonishing 6 months since they were in Puget Sound in mid-January.

K26 Lobo
From left to right: J37 Hy'shqa, K14 Lea, and K36 Yoda

One thing that was really noticeable was how big all the young K-Pod males have gotten! Clearly they've been growing over the winter, including K33 Tika, who I like to call the shapeshifter, because over the years I've mistaken him for just about every other male in K-Pod and several in other pods. He just looks so different depending on what angle you see him at!

K33 Tika
 A couple hours later, the whales were heading back north up the west side of San Juan Island again. First, they stalled out and flipped at Land Bank, but then came up as far as Lime Kiln, where we had again, along with may others, gathered on the rocks. For a short time, everything else faded away: the long absence of the Southern Residents, the task force meetings, the political wheeling and dealing, the marathon legislative session, the worry, the fear, the anger....for a short time, it felt like the good ol' days, hanging on the rocks at Lime Kiln with Js and Ks going back and forth in the kelp. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

If you'll permit me a moment to anthropomorphize, the whales seemed just as happy to be back as we were to have them back. While there was a lot of laughter, smiles, hugs, and tears among the human whale community, there were just as many spyhops, breaches, surface rolls, and swims through the kelp fronds among the cetacean whale community.

Rolling through the kelp just a few yards off the rocks at Lime Kiln

Spyhop from J49 T'ilem I'nges

As with any social party, the family and friends were all mixed up and interacting with one another.

From left to right: K43 Saturna, J51 Nova, and J41 Eclipse
Our Orca Behavior Institute intern Greg, who luckily only had to wait 5 days after his arrival to meet the Southern Residents for the very time, got doubly lucky with this incredibly close encounter on his first day with Js and Ks:

And he was far from the only one that day to have an exceptionally close encounter!

Our friend Jim Maya also captured this shot from a little further south along the shoreline, looking north towards Lime Kiln. You may have to click to see the larger view, but check out the two whales front and center in the photo and right off the rocks! (I'm the one in the turquoise coat on the left!)

Jim Maya photo taken from Land Bank, looking towards Lime Kiln

Overall I thought the whales looked pretty robust, as if they had indeed found a more reliable source of food elsewhere, as the Fraser River spring Chinook runs have clearly failed them in April-June, leading to their uncharacteristic and extended absences.

J47 Notch

K44 Ripple
Once again the whales got just about as far as the lighthouse when they slowly turned, and made their way past all of us on shore one more time!

L87 Onyx

A killer whale draping a long strand of kelp of its tail flukes
It was a very surreal day. Not only was I literally dreaming about J-Pod when I woke up to the message they were here, so that the whole day almost felt like an extension of the dream, but as a researcher who was viewing them but was not on the water with them I suddenly found myself bombarded with media requests to report on their return. In addition to several live spots on radio broadcasts, another interview turned into this article in the Globe and Mail which I thought did a solid job of summarizing the real issues: "Researchers encouraged by return of killer whales to the Salish Sea, but say food source must be replenished"

You can also check out my one minute video of this memorable Lime Kiln encounter here: Js and Ks at Lime Kiln on July 5th.

The whales went back south, but then slowly came north again, seen off Lime Kiln by others around sunset and then vocal on the hydrophones until after midnight. The following morning, July 6, they went through Active Pass at sunrise, and I assumed that meant we wouldn't see them until the following day at the earliest, as they usually spend some time up there. Surprisingly, they instead made their way rapidly back south, passing Lime Kiln again at 2:30 in the afternoon.

J31 Tsuchi and ~2 month old J56 heading south past Lime Kiln on July 6

That evening we spent several hours at Land Bank hoping for a repeat sunset appearance like the night before, but while we did see some faint blows in the distance, they never made it quite up to where we sat on the shoreline. Indeed, as their quick turnaround from the Fraser River foreshadowed, the next day they were again heading west out the Strait of Juan de Fuca towards the open ocean. It sure seems like they are finding a better food source out there, rather than in what has traditionally been their home waters this time of year in and around the San Juan Islands.

It all comes down to prey. The Bigg's killer whales are here in ever-greater numbers every year, while 2019 gave us the first June on record without the Southern Residents here in the Salish Sea at all. Not that long ago, at least some of the Southern Residents were here on a near-daily basis throughout the month of June. The Bigg's have an abundant supply of seals, sea lions, and porpoises to feed on here. The Fraser River is no longer providing a big enough or reliable enough source of Chinook salmon to the Southern Residents to keep them visiting what we call their core summer habitat on a regular basis. The data speaks for itself.

Another cloud over the visit of the Southern Residents was the apparent absence of both K25 Scoter and J17 Princess Angeline, two whales who looked visibly malnourished last fall and winter. While not altogether surprising, the loss of these two whales definitely hurts - not only us human admirers, but of course to their immediate families too, and to the Southern Resident population as a whole. A bittersweet sighting I had was of J53 Kiki, Princess Angeline's 3 year old daughter, swimming next to her big sister J35 Tahlequah. Over the last two and a half years, Tahlequah has lost her sister J28 Polaris, her nephew J54 Dipper, her newborn daughter which she carried with her for 17 days last summer, and now seemingly her mother J17 Princess Angeline. The cumulative grief is hard to imagine, and equally hard to imagine is little J53 Kiki having to find her way without her mom.

But here are two sisters - one who lost a daughter, and one who lost a mom - and perhaps in each other they will find both solace and a way to survive.

J53 Kiki swimming in the slipstream of her big sister, J35 Tahlequah

Indeed, it is in their perseverance and joie de vivre that I continue to find hope. While I trust them to do what they need to do in order to find enough food, I will eagerly await the next moment they can spare to visit the Salish Sea, where I hope to continue to meet them right off the rocks at Lime Kiln for many, many years to come.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

June: A Month Full of Bigg's Killer Whale Encounters

It still feels very surreal that we've just had our first June on record with no Southern Resident killer whales in inland waters. June used to be a highlight of the year because of the abundance of sightings of all three pods on the west side of San Juan Island. Yet here we are, 58 days without any of them in the Salish Sea. The silence created by their absence is deafening.

It's been an interesting process to hold on to that loss and that grief while simultaneously celebrating and reveling in the mammal-eating transient or Bigg's killer whales, which continue to set records year after year for their presence in the inland waters. It's equally bizarre to think I was here for years before I ever met any of them, and now I'm beginning to know them as families and individuals, too. The encounters I've head with them over the last month or so have been awesome - though there have been multiple occasions where I've had an unexpected moment of heartache when I think to myself, "The Southern Residents used to do this": a large group of whales swimming spread out up Swanson Channel. An early morning report of vocals on the Lime Kiln hydrophone and a surprise close pass of a tail-slapping whale through the kelp. Getting off work and watching two mothers with calves round Edwards Point and swim past Land Bank. I never thought I would see Bigg's killer whales doing those things.

I've been negligent in posting my sightings and photos here, so this post will serve as a quick recap to share a few memorable moments leading up to my next installment about an encounter that deserves its own post.

June 6 - The T65Bs and T137s in San Juan Channel

June 11 - The T49As in Wasp Passage

Having our boat in a new location this year has meant whale encounters in new locations, and Wasp Passage between Orcas and Shaw Islands has quickly become a new favorite spot to see whales.

We even got to see the T49As go through narrow Pole Pass, a channel between Orcas and Crane Islands about 250 feet across and 12 feet deep at low tide. Fun fact: apparently it's so named because, as the story goes, Native Americans would stretch fish nets on poles across the pass to catch migratory waterfowl.

June 12 - The T123s pass Friday Harbor

I lucked out with a close surfacing by the whole family from my shore-based perch.
June 20 - The T46s and T46Bs in Swanson Channel

On this truly memorable evening we headed out with some friends aboard a Maya's Legacy trip out of Snug Harbor. While there was another whale report in the area, we stopped to scan where an additional group of whales had briefly been spotted a short time before. We stopped several times and looked in all directions, but didn't see or hear anything. Then our captain caught sight of a fin 2 miles away, and it turned out to be a group of 13 whales that had gone undetected all day!

The two family groups were the T46s and T46Bs, such a storied group they deserve a longer treatment at some point, but this day it was all about getting to meet T46B1B, a little calf nicknamed Tl'uk ("Moon" in the Bella Coola Coast Salish language) who has made headlines for his very pale appearance.

He had periodically been around for a couple of weeks, but it was my first time meeting him, and I was very excited! We can't say for sure what is causing him to look so light. He's not albino (he doesn't have red eyes), but other conditions are difficult to assess without genetic sampling. Some are calling him leucistic (a condition that prevents pigments from functioning properly), but it's also possible he has another genetic condition called Ch├ędiak–Higashi syndrome. Some whales who have looked this way haven't lived very long, while others have darkened up with age. One thing that's really striking about this little guy is just how different he looks in various lighting conditions - sometimes almost white, and other times just a shade of dark gray instead of black!

We left them heading up Trincomali Channel (my first time in this waterway!) and were treating to a stunning sunset on the way home.

June 21 - The T75Bs and T75Cs at Land Bank

June 21 - T124C at Land Bank

June 23 - The T46Bs and T77A on the west side of San Juan Island

Following this last one I would go a week before having another whale sighting, but it turned out to be well worth the wait! Stay tuned....

Monday, June 3, 2019

Year 2 of Orca Task Force: June 3 Meeting

Today I attended the second meeting of year two for Governor Inslee's Orca Task Force. The first meeting of 2019, which occurred in March and which I was unable to attend, happened when most of the Year 1 recommendations were still in limbo during the legislative process. The topic of that meeting was primarily climate change and how it impacts regional orca and salmon recovery. Specifically, for each of the working groups:
Prey - Impacts of climate change will determine which habitats are most effective to restore
Vessels - Emissions, and carbon neutrality issues
Toxins - Which impacts will be amplified, such as new toxin sources being submerged
There will be a report from each of the working groups on these topics at the September meeting.

The meeting started off with a quick recap from a subcommittee considering ways to carry the work of the task force beyond the end of this year. They have several options on the table that the task force will be taking a survey about in the coming months, and which will be discussed in more detail at the next meeting in September.

Next, JT Austin of the governor's office gave a recap of tribal involvement, and defined how true consultation and government to government relations work. With many tribes represented at the table, this seemed like something that definitely should have happened at the beginning of Year 1. The Orca Task Force does not represent official consultation, and the tribes have different rights, authorities, and interests than other groups at the table. I recall many of the tribal representatives abstained from voting on the year one recommendations, deferring to their direct government to government conversations with Inslee and the state. It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the rest of the task force process.

GI James of the Lummi tribe spoke next, and set the tone for the whole day - truly, for the whole cause. Here are some excerpts and summaries of what he said: "We are in a crisis....we cannot be planning for 50 years out." He pointed out that legislators need to be clear that the consequences of saying "no" to recovery actions are extinction. This is not a matter of picking and choosing items off a list based on what's politically expedient. "I'm glad this process is happening," he said, "but it needs a much, much greater emphasis on crisis."

He proposed that a crisis management team be formed to propose a measurable, needed, and funded crisis management plan. "It's a tough, hard set of decisions that need to be made....around this table are inherent conflicts of interest that make it tough to make those decisions. We still think we can have it all.....There's a really tough road ahead, and as much as I appreciate the 36 recommendations [from Year One], most of them are not meaningful actions." He got a loud round of applause after his comments.

Next was a recap of the legislative process and where all the 36 recommendations are currently, with a scorecard based on input from the working groups. Green = on track, yellow = in progress/more work needed, red = no action taken. You can read the scorecard from Team BOLD (Whitney Neugebauer of Whale Scout, Cindy Hansen from Orca Network, myself from the Orca Behavior Institute, and Susan Marie Andersson of Salish Sea Ecosystem Advocates) here; needless to say our rankings were a little different from theirs! One difference was they had 5 actions ranked red; we had 9. We gave status updates on our scorecard of where each action stood, but below are a few additional things I learned today:

Less than 10% of identified salmon habitat restoration projects in the state were funded. While it's great some projects are moving forward, there are A LOT of shovel ready projects that are awaiting money. In the presentation given today, they claimed Recommendation 1 as a "green/yellow" score. Jacques White of Long Live the Kings chimed in to say, given the huge shortfall from the goal of "fully funding" salmon habitat restoration projects, "I would say Recommendation 1 is a red."

Recommendation 6, regarding increased hatchery production, needs to have appropriate monitoring in place in 3-5 years to assess the impacts of this increased production. It was emphasized that wild fish are the long term goal, and we don't want to undermine the efforts to restore wild fish by flooding the system with hatchery fish.

There was a brief update on Recommendation 9 regarding the formation of the Lower Snake River dam stakeholder panel. The executive team is having a meeting later this week regarding finding a neutral third party to facilitate this process, and to discuss options of how the process will work. Rather than being an extended series of meetings, one option is for part of the process to have a neutral third party gather the existing information from all stakeholders, and summarize that information. It was made clear that the panel itself is not a study, nor is it a decision making process. It's goal is to discuss what the impacts would be if the current ongoing federal process does recommend dam breaching.

Recommendations 12 and 13, regarding pinniped control in Puget Sound and on the outer coast, did not get funded in the legislative process, which means that some of the ongoing studies in this area have lost funding. Someone pointed out that not having funding doesn't mean this issue goes away, and numerous task force members expressed an interest in continuing to explore the impact of pinnipeds on salmon, pointing out that it didn't necessarily mean the conclusion was going to be culling.

On Recommendation 22, relating to coordinating with Canada and/or coming up with a similar program to the ECHO ship slowdown efforts, there is in fact a meeting scheduled for the fall to come up with a plan for Washington State to do something similar in its waters, slowing down shipping traffic, cruise ships, and/or ferries in certain areas. (We also learned later the Canadian Haro Strait trial slow down area will extend into Boundary Pass this year.) Yay!

Regarding Recommendation 31 related to stormwater prevention and cleanup, a lot of funding was passed for this action, which is great. But it was pointed out this is only half the battle; we can't just throw money at the issue, but it needs to be targeted to hotspots where cleanups will have the biggest impacts. Luckily it sounds like the toxins working group is motivated to engage on this.

In the "fishbowl" discussion that followed, where the task force members could discuss the update on where the year one recommendations stood and identify gaps or make suggestions, Jacques White of Long Live the Kings took the mic first, and made good use of his time. "What is the relationship between the year one action items and killer whale recovery?" he asked. "If all the dots were green, would that get us 100% of the way to recovery?....All the yellow dots indicate we are not responding to a crisis." This is SUCH a key point. All of these actions are getting debated but there has been no attempt to quantify what their impact might be and how that relates to stated recovery goals. 

He continued to point out that we did great on policy issues in the last legislative session, passing perhaps the best suite of environmental laws in the state since the 1970s. But "we have chronically underfunded salmon recovery for ten years", and he feels relying on a biennial budget from the legislature that competes with other societal needs is not going to generate the needed funds. This underscored a common theme that a steady source of dedicated funding for salmon recovery is needed.

A few moments later Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society took the mic, again echoing many of our sentiments: "If we don't put fish into the mouths of these whales, we will not succeed....are these actions enough to bring back enough salmon?" He seconded Jacques' request for some modeling efforts to look at the impact of the ongoing actions because, "I don't want to wait 10 years to realize we've failed."

The meeting was briefly interrupted by three minutes of sirens relating to some drill for the city of Puyallup, but it seemed someone appropriate given all the talk in the morning of "crisis". Before the lunch break, Joe finished his statement with a "mic drop" worthy comment: "A scientist saying we need more science is like a barber saying you need a haircut, but if we don't take a look and analyze this, next time we will hear a lot more than 3 minutes of sirens."

After lunch, the task force co-chairs allowed me (and some friends, pictured above!) to distribute copies of my book, "Endangered Orcas", to every member of the task force, the staff, and some of the guest representatives from other agencies. THANK YOU to the 20 people who donated enough funds to cover the 54 copies we put directly into the hands of people directly involved in orca and salmon recovery. I do feel compelled to say that every person but one graciously accepted the gift with an interest in learning more; the one exception was task force member Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail, who declined the book and said she was not interested. As someone who routinely asks people to reconsider their opinions, my interpretation was this was an unwillingness to be open to even considering material that *might* differ from her own.

Three members of Transport Canada and DFO gave a summary of the recently announced action items in Canada. Some of the immediate/temporary measures include area fisheries closures, expanded shipping traffic slowdowns, the production of an extra 1 million smolts at the Chilliwack hatchery for Fraser River fall run Chinook, and a move to keep small vessels 400m from killer whales within Southern Resident critical habitat. You can read more details here. Other longer term action items are expected within the next year. Again, the question of benchmarks was raised, with regards to how you measure success. Their response was it's something still in discussion. "We're addressing the threats; we don't have the resources to measure impact on recovery." Basically, while they may be able to measure things like reduction in noise related to vessel slowdown trials, there is again the gap of not knowing what that impact might actually be on Southern Resident killer whale recovery.

The main topic of discussion for the rest of the afternoon was population growth. It was pointed out that, like climate change, if the impacts of population growth on the region are not addressed, the rest of the work being discussed may all be for naught. There was a series of four short presentations on the topic of population growth in Washington State. A few notes I took on those:
  • We need to look at previous population growth-related targets, how we fared on those, and if we failed, why we failed. For example, a target was set to reduce loss of riparian areas between 2001 and 2011: a target that was not met. If all we do is set a new goal, we may just fail again.
  • We need to consider how and where we grow: are critical areas protected, are our footprints small, are we increasing urban population or converting more rural land into urban areas? 
  • There are currently 4 million people in the Puget Sound region, and this is projected to grow to 5.8 million by 2050. Models show we will add 33-150 square miles of impervious area (eg buildings, roads) to the region by 2055. The direct connection may not be obvious, but more impervious areas -> more runoff -> more toxins in the Salish Sea -> bad for orcas and salmon
  • There are some indicators we are moving in the right direction. One of the fastest growing residential neighborhoods is downtown Seattle, indicating we are growing "up" and not "out". 96% of housing permits are currently going to urban areas - a few decades ago this was more like 70%, with many rural areas being converted into additional housing.
  • Vision 2050 and the Regional Open Space Network are two projects working to guide growth and preserve/restore open space and rural areas.
  • We need to focus on system (aka ecosystem) level management; we can't leave each city, county, state, etc. to fend for itself when those are artificial barriers (Open Space Network a good example of not looking at political boundaries)
The task force then had time to discuss these presentations in another fishbowl conversation. One interesting topic was the idea of "no net loss" which is often stated as a habitat recovery/preservation goal, but this is a constantly shifting baseline unless more clearly defined, because "no net loss relative to what?" Some advocated for drawing a line in the sand, and saying "no net loss from X year", but Mindy from WEC pointed out that we are beyond "no net loss" scenarios, and we need to talk about goals of "net gain" on habitat. This means we would need to restore more habitat than we are destroying, so there's a net gain on serviceable habitat. I wholeheartedly agree this needs to be the target!

The task force will likely move towards making some high level recommendations regarding climate change and population growth. As Will Hall, the mayor of Shoreline, pointed out: the task force would be better served helping to set performance standards, accountability mechanisms, and a funding source, rather than dictating to jurisdictions exactly what they need to do. Not only is this a more attainable goal for the task force, it allows different solutions to be developed in different areas, which makes sense, because not all areas are facing the same problems. It's obviously a huge topic and it sounds like an additional subgroup will be formed to discuss some of these questions further before the September meeting.

Whew! Are you exhausted just reading all that? It was, as all task force meetings are, a long and tiring day, but I do still take heart in the fact that most if not all the people in the room truly want to do right by the whales and the salmon, even if they have other horses in the race as well. If it was easy to save these whales we would have done it by now. While the process and results may not be as fast or as ideal as many of us would hope, having all these people in the room talking about paths forward to real solutions is leaps and bounds ahead of where we were when the Southern Residents were listed as endangered. More has been done on behalf of the Southern Residents in the last year in both the US and Canada than in the preceding 13 years since their endangered listing. If that's not a sign of moving in the right direction, I don't know what is. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I appreciate each and every one of you for staying engaged in whatever way you can.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

May Bigg's Killer Whale Encounters

2018 was the first year on record with no Southern Residents in the inland waters in the month of May. This year, J-Pod was seen a few days early in the month, but there has been no sign of them since May 6th. While their absence in the spring months is continuing, the presence of Bigg's/transient killer whales is still on the rise, with more reports this year than last year, continuing the incredible upward trend of the West Coast Transient population increasing their usage of the Salish Sea. Many of those sightings have been too far away for us, such as up in Howe Sound or down in Puget Sound, but we have had several great encounters so far this month. Here are highlights from a few of them:

May 3 with the T49As, T65Bs, T75Bs, T75Cs, and T123s in San Juan Channel

On this incredible day when we encountered these 17 whales heading north up San Juan Channel, there were more than 50 Bigg's killer whales total in the Salish Sea. This group was in steady travel mode when we saw them, and despite the more frequent occurrence of larger groups in the area, it's always impressive to see so many whales surfacing side by side.
Incredibly, every one of the 5 matrilines present had a calf under the age of 2. We are so incredibly lucky not only to have these mammal-eating orcas around, but to have them as a comparative population for the struggling Southern Residents. There were more thriving little ones in this group of Bigg's killer whales than the entire Southern Resident population has had in the last four years.

We also got to see the largest whale (T49A) and smallest whale (T123D) present surfacing side by side, highlighting the major size difference!

T123D (~8 months old) and 18 year-old male T49A1
May 19th with the T65Bs, T75Bs, T75Cs, and T124C in Moresby Passage

With wind and rain in the forecast, and sandwiched by days with no nearby orcas, we were incredibly lucky on this day to encounter these 9 whales when we headed out for our Orca Behavior Institute fundraising whale-watch with Maya's Legacy out of Snug Harbor. Earlier in the day they had killed a Steller sea lion, and when we arrived they were in full-out play mode, literally flinging around the pelt that remained from the sea lion. It was not for the faint of heart, but it was incredible to watch.
T65B flinging the Steller sea lion pelt
Sea lion pelt being launched into the air by an inverted tail slap

Of course I happened to have my camera down when the most epic photo opportunity of the day happened, but luckily my husband Jason caught it!

Side view of T65B flinging the Steller sea lion pelt....again!
In general there were just a lot of shenanigans going on, including two whales playing with the lines on a couple of crab pots, and a lot of spyhopping, tail slapping, and rolling a the surface in general.

May 24 with the T65As in San Juan Channel

After spending the better part of 2 weeks in Puget Sound, the T65As were picked up heading north towards the San Juan Islands. Luckily for us, they chose to come up San Juan Channel, and we hopped in our boat to watch them as they passed Friday Harbor.

They were in what I would call social travel mode as they passed Turn Island, rolling at the surface while in contact with one another and tail slapping as they meandered north. They made a sharp turn towards San Juan as they rounded Turn Island.

This family group is made up of six whales, the youngest of which (T65A6) was seen for the first time just over a year ago.

From left to right, T65A3, T65A6, and T65A4
The second youngest, T65A5, is five years old this year.

T65A5 next to mom T65A
Just south of Brown Island, they stopped to take out a couple of harbor seals.

T65A2 surfacing after a long dive. It looked like they were tag teaming pinning a harbor seal to the bottom.
Afterwards, they started quickly moving north past Friday Harbor and continuing up San Juan Channel.

A moment these sailors will be unlikely to forget!
When we got our last look, they were in perfect flanking formation: successful mom surrounded by all her offspring.