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Monday, June 29, 2015

June 21: Members of All 3 Pods (OBI #7)

The whales have been around on a daily basis (just like the good ol' days!), and that means our research efforts have been on a roll, too. I'm way behind on photos (that is not a complaint!) - I'm just not getting to blog about our 7th research encounter with residents, and today my partner Michael had encounter #15! So let's get right to it.

For the first time of our research season we went out in the early morning hoping to find whales. As would become a trend over the next week, the waters were great, and we headed south on a hunch and found whales near False Bay. On June 21st we found all of J-Pod, all of K-Pod, and the 15 L-Pod whales that have been around (L4s, L47s, and L95) heading north. Over a little over two hours we followed them up to Spieden Channel.

Orca passing Lime Kiln Lighthouse - when I'm not on the boat, that's where I watch whales from, too!

One question I raised is: how do you define a superpod? Many people will call it a superpod when members of all three pods are present, as we had on this day. I used to be likely to call this a superpod, too. But with the whales splitting into so many smaller and varied groups, by that definition, J-Pod Group A, the K14s, and L87 would be a superpod! (I pointed out this potential scenario, not knowing we would have several encounters with that exact group in the near future.) So, I've reverted to the traditional definition of a superpod, which for the Southern Residents means the entire community present. There are still some L-Pod whales that haven't come "in" yet this summer, so we haven't had a chance for a full-fledged superpod just yet. Last year, there was only one day all summer where ALL members of the Southern Resident Community were together.

Anyway, back to this day: at Kellett Bluffs they started to get a bit more active, and we saw some breaches in all different directions:

The "Is this really my life?" shot - likely L82 Kasatka
We got to hang out a bit with J2 Granny, which is always excellent but was especially so because I hadn't seen her in a while. Even she got into the playful spirit, swimming on her back and splashing water with her tail:

Inverted tail slap by J2 Granny, estimated to be over 100 years old
One of the things we're most fascinated by at the Orca Behavior Institute is the social associations among the whales, particularly those from different pods. It's a good time to be studying that, as we get different combinations of whales just about every day we go out! Here's just one example, of J19 Shachi traveling with L82 Kasatka. These whales, while part of the same community, spend most of the year apart. What makes them seek out each other's company on days like this? 

25 year old L82 Kasatka (left) and 36 year-old J19 Shachi
Often we see whales surfacing in synchrony, but on this morning J14 Samish and her daughter J40 Suttles were in absolute perfect unision with one another. You might only think there was one whale here, if not for the two heads visible on the left:

Synchronized breathing between mom J14 Samish and daughter J40 Suttles
Here's an off-angle look at the same pair of whales on another surfacing:

Off Spieden Channel we let the lead group of whales, including the L4s, continue on north:

From left to right: L27 Ophelia, L86 Surprise!, and L116 Finn
On our way back home we encountered several more groups of whales, including these two:

L83 Moonlight and her son L110 Midnight
It was an awesome morning, and as it would turn out, it would be the first of many!

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