For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, September 10, 2015

August 22nd: The L54s Arrive!

On the evening of August 21st I had heard a lot of whales were inbound, so I made it an early morning on the west side of San Juan Island. At first only three or four whales came up as far as Land Bank and were milling around, but after they decided to go north it became apparent a lot more whales were coming. They passed by quickly in huge groups - there were so many whales I knew we had members of all three pods, but they passed so fast I wasn't sure who exactly was here.

The J16s were one of the closer groups to shore. I realized I didn't post any pictures of J36 Alki and J52 in my last blog post with the J16s, so here are two pictures to make up for that:

J36 Alki and J52
J36 Alki and J52
I also saw the J22s - always nice to see this trio, known as "The Cookies":

From left to right: J34 Doublestuf, J38 Cookie, and J22 Oreo

It was too tempting not to jump in the boat and catch up with these guys again further north, so I picked up a friend and off we went. Our timing was perfect. We got to Open Bay right when a huge group containing most of J- and K-Pods did. They weren't quite synchronized in their surfacings though, so my photos don't really capture how many whales were there!

That's J2 Ganny in the center
You can't quite see it in this small version of the photo, but the people on this boat are fully in awe of this huge spyhop by J31 Tsuchi. One person is clapping their hands together and all four have their mouths open:

Beauty of a spyhop by J31 Tsuchi

We've gotten in the habit of talking about Js and Ks and not even bothering to mention what is now a given: that L87 Onyx is there. After losing his mother, he continues to be an L-Pod transplant, the only time something like this has been witnessed in the 40 years these whales have been carefully studied.

L87 Onyx, at home with the Js and Ks
After this group passed, we hung out off Kellett Bluff to watch two more groups approaching. The first group contained what I've taken to calling the Greater L4s - a large part of L-Pod that doesn't include the L12 or L54 sub-groups. But there were still a few more whales coming. Were these the L12s? Something didn't quite match up....

L88 Wavewalker and L84 Nyssa
It took me a minute to believe my eyes when I saw these big boys, and not just because they've both grown since last year - it was L84 Nyssa and L88 Wavewalker! These two males, the last remnants of the L9 and L2 matrilines respectively, have hooked up with each other and with the rogue L54 matriline that rarely visits inland waters. While all the whales in this sub-group had been accounted for in the Strait of Juan de Fuca earlier in the season, August 22nd marked the first day of 2015 where they made it all the way into Haro Strait. Last year I only saw them once.

L88 Wavewalker by the Center for Whale Research boat

I only realized this later, but I thought L54 Ino got major style points for waiting to show up in any of our Orca Behavior Institute research until encounter #54.

L54 Ino

The lighting wasn't the greatest, but it was still a great pleasure to spend time with this family group, the most unfamiliar to me of all the Southern Residents. In addition to L88 Wavewalker, L84 Nyssa, and L54 Ino and her two offspring, I found it really interesting that the two whales traveling with them were the L26s, the other smallest remaining L-Pod matriline made up of L92 Crewser and L90 Ballena. These seven whales represent all that remains of four different matrilines, but they've banded together in a makeshift family of their own.

L84 Nyssa and L92 Crewser
In general the Southern Residents are seen so much it doesn't take us long to determine a whale's gender, even though as juveniles that requires seeing the underbelly of the whale, and knowning whose underbelling you're seeing. The one exception is L117 Keta - we still don't know if this whale is male or female. Fingers crossed for female, because L-Pod has a real lack of young females, and if it's a male, there's a likelihood the L54 matriline will end.

L54 Ino and her youngest, L117 Keta
After a time these whales merged with the rest of L-Pod. As we left them they were still heading north along the shoreline of Stuart Island.

It turns out almost everyone was here. Only the L12 sub-group was missing. That meant there were 71 whales present - not bad! But we were still waiting for our first full-fledged superpod of the summer...

No comments: