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Friday, July 25, 2014

June Whale/Salmon Numbers and a July 18th Superpod

After posting April and May comparisons between whale visits and salmon numbers for the last 25 years, I wanted to do the same for the rest of the summer as well. The good news is, I've been so busy watching whales, I haven't had all that much time to blog! This week I finally got around to crunching the June numbers, and was pretty blown away by the graph:

Number of days Southern Residents were in inland waters (blue) with data from The Whale Museum's Orca Master data set (1990-2012) and Orca Network sightings reports (2013-2014). Average catch per unit effort (CPUE) for the month of June based on test catch data from the Albion Chinook fishery in the Fraser River.
First of all, many of us have called this summer "just like the good old days", and that statement is somewhat substantiated by the graph. Historically, there were Southern Residents in inland waters between 28 and 30 days of June each year, until about five years ago when those numbers started to dip. Not surprisingly, last year was the worst, with Southern Residents around only 14 days in June. This year, with 28 days of Southern Residents in June, really was like the good old days.

It's important, I think, to note that one thing this graph doesn't capture is how many whales were around. On some days in the 90s, when all three pods were around and the population was higher, that was more than 90 whales. Last year, some days in June the only whales here were the three L22s. Both of these examples counts equally as a "whale day". But the data is still interesting, especially with last year's data point.

As for the salmon data, well, we're all grateful this is a better Chinook year than last year, but when looking at it in context it's still a pretty dismal compared to what we used to experience. It's no coincidence that the last "peak" (if you can call it that, it's so low) was in 2010. Chinook return four years after they're born, so it's the higher numbers from that year that are leading to a better return now. So while that means slightly more for the whales to eat now, it's pretty scary looking at what the next three years are likely to bring. The numbers barely register on the chart from 2011-2013, but seemingly random spikes like those in 2003 show that the unpredictable can happen. It all depends on the oceanic conditions the juvenile salmon experience while they're growing up, as well as a host of other mostly immeasurable factors.

It won't be too long before it's time to crunch July numbers too, but for now, here are some photos from another whale encounter back on July 18th. I was out at Lime Kiln when K-Pod and part of J-Pod made their way south.

These whales were making their way down from the Fraser River, a large group of L-Pod had been doing the westside shuffle, and the rest of Js came down Rosario and were rounding Lopez. Got all that?

The stage was set for all the different groups to meet up somewhere off the west side of San Juan Island...but where was it going to happen? South of Lime Kiln, by the looks of it. I watched through binoculars, and could see whales appearing from the south to meet the ones that had just passed us.

K25 Scoter
Hopeful to get a glimpse of the meet-up, I went further south too, and was rewarded with seeing lots and lots of dorsal fins near Hannah Heights. In this group appeared to be mostly L-Pod whales, almost in a resting group as they were surfacing slowly all together with long dives.

The whales swam IN to Kanaka Bay, apparently not fully asleep as several were completely covered in kelp!

The whale sightings have been a bit thin for me since then - after weeks of being in the right groove, my timing has been a bit off, and all the residents have been out west for the last few days. I'm hoping all that changes this weekend!

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