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Sunday, September 28, 2008

T14 in Active Pass

Today we headed way up north into the Canadian Gulf Islands, up Swanson Channel and through a narrow area called Active Pass where we caught up with the lone male transient T14. T14, also nicknamed Pender, is a famous transient because he was captured in 1976 along with 5 other transient orcas. Little was understood about the local pods of orcas in the 1960s and 1970s, and both residents and transients were captured to be put on display in marine parks. By 1976, members of the public were beginning to protest the live captures, however, and all six transients were eventually released. T14 and his mom, T13, were held a little longer than the others for research purposes and were eventually fitted with radio tags before release.

You'll understand why I was so thrilled to hear about the small, cutting-edge tracking tags Brad Hanson is using this year when you hear what happened to Pender. The tags that were fitted to him and his mom weighed 1.5 kg and were attached to the fin with five bolts that were surgically drilled through the fin while the whales were in a net pen - quite a contrast to the small dart Brad and other researchers can attach to the whale as it surfaces! After five months of tracking, the two whales disppeared, and were not seen again for three years, at which point the tags were gone, but a build-up of scar tissue remained. While T13 has since died, T14 still bears distinctive scars from his tag 32 years later. You can see them in the photo below - the two notches on the bottom of the leading edge of his dorsal fin.

Pender was just a young sprouter male when the tagging incident occurred, but he has since become one of the most well-known local transients. Today was the first time I've ever gotten to see him, though. It's actually the first time I've ever seen any of the transient lone bulls, that either disperse from their mother or travel on their own after her death. They lone bulls will occassionally associate with other males (T14 was with another lone bull, T31, yesterday) or other transient pods for breeding purposes, but Pender is most often seen alone.

Some whale-watch captains theorize that Pender routinely circumnavigates Vancouver Island, because he's seen here every three weeks or so, always coming east from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and heading north up the Strait of Georgia. That's exactly what he was doing on this visit - coming in from Victoria yesterday and when we left him today he was heading north up the Strait of Georgia.

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