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Friday, May 1, 2015

April Southern Resident Visits

Today, May 1st, all of J-Pod was doing the westside shuffle off San Juan Island. It was great to see them, and to hear that all three J-Pod babies were present and accounted for. 

J41 Eclipse and her less than three month old son J51
It's been an amazing spring for killer whale sightings - both residents and transients. Historically, we expect J-Pod to be around a fair amount in April and May, but in recent years, that hasn't been the case. Today's May Day sighting was already my seventh encounter with J-Pod of the year. Looking back at my notes, amazingly my first encounter with them last year wasn't until May 31st. In 2013 it was May 15th, and in 2012 April 22. (If you're wondering if having a boat has increased my odds of seeing the whales, I just noticed that there wasn't a single day I saw J-Pod only from the boat yet this year - I always also saw them from shore.) All or part of J-Pod was in inland waters (east of Sooke, by my definition) for 14 days this April.

In 2009 and 2013, no residents were seen in inland waters in the month of April for the first two times on record. For all the other years since 2007, the number of days any Southern Residents have spent in inland waters has been well below the historical average going back to 1990. It's no coincidence that 2009 and 2013 are four years apart - that's the average Chinook salmon life cycle, so if 2009 was a poor year for spring Chinook, it's not so surprising 2013 was as well.

Similarly, perhaps by looking at historic whale sightings, we could have predicted that the whales would be around more this spring. This year's 14 days of residents in inland waters is the most since 2007. This 2015 peak corresponds with another four year trend, looking back at 2011 and 2007:

So, what do I predict for May? More of the same! 2007 and 2011 were also the most recent peaks for resident orca days in inland waters in the month of May at 23 and 28 days of whales, respectively. (Contrast that 2010 and 2014 which were just 8 and 3 days of having whales in inland waters in May.) Fingers crossed that I'm right, and that this means there's enough salmon to feed our new baby orcas!


Vera said...

Very brilliant observation about the four-year cycle.

DelaneyJewelry said...

Loving this 4 year cycle. It is so exciting to see them down here in Olympia. Not sure who these guys are, but Chris Hamilton's Facebook page (a local photographer) has some great photos of Orca's heading toward Steamboat Island yesterday. You can see them here if you like: I wish I had been out kayaking.