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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Missing "L"inks

L-Pod has always been weird. During my seven years of observations, it began with the L12 subgroup - a group of initially 12 whales but so-named for the matriarch L12 - that started to split off from the rest of the pod. When the rest of the Ls went out to the ocean, the L12s would often stay in, cruising the southwest side of San Juan, spread out and foraging slowly. It made sense that with 40+ whales in the pod, it might be more efficient to split into smaller groups to feed. This year, though, things have gotten even crazier.

L7, L53, and L57 have on several occasions been the only Ls "in" from the ocean, usually travelling with J-Pod. L57, a male with no immediate family, has hung out with a different pod in the past, presumably for mating purposes, and now the similarly unattached mother and daughter of L7 and L53 are doing the same. L87, another male without any close living relatives, has also been seen a lot with K-Pod, oddly enough in company with K11, a female estimated to be 60 years his senior.

So far this summer, though, the oddest thing to me has been the absence of several L-Pod family groups. In recent years, L-Pod has returned for the summer in two separate groups like they did this year, but as of yet a small, third group of Ls have not been seen in the area. These whales include the "back page whales" (named for their occurrence on the last page of Orca Survey's ID guide): the L5s, the L54s, and males L74 and L84 - a total of seven animals. Potentially also in this group are the L2s - five additional whales, although there is some speculation that at least part of this family group was in once.

Surprisingly, no one has seemed overly concerned about this. Surely, the attitude seems to be, they will show up sometime. Perhaps they have just found better feeding elsewhere, and they are part of the group of Ls notorious for spending the most time out in the ocean, even in the summer months. Still, no one seems to have mentioned the unmentionable - that something happened to eliminate these family groups. Of course I hope and deep down still believe this is not the case, but the truth is these whales being in the wrong place at a time of something like oceanic Navy sonar testing could easily have had lethal consequences. I was talking about this today with some kayak guides I work with, and one of them quipped, "But of course the Navy would have told us if that happened!" Yeah, right.

Only time will tell, but hopefully we will see the rest of these mysterious Ls soon.

1 comment:

The K said...

I've always found it odd that given the technology we have available today such as satellite cameras with great resolution (see Google Earth as an example where you can see gulls on sand bars in The Netherlands!) that no one has been able to track large marine mammals visually from space. I think that even infrared technology should be feasible to track at night giving 24-hour tracking access. It puzzles me that we only have sightings of orcas during whale watch tour hours (9-5) in a limited area.