Archive for October, 2008

Midnight mantra: 40+ repetitions of S19

Happened to hear some of the clearest calls yet on the Port Towsend Marine Science Center hydrophone last night.  It was a treat to listen to the killer whales vocalize at night — and it reminded me of the night-time observations we did during the fall, 2005 program.  The calls I heard initially (as the noise from a passing ship subsided) were remarkably repetitive, so much so that at first I thought it was a new type of squeak from the overlying dock or nearby mooring buoys.

Listen to 5min clip of repeated calls off Port Townsend just after midnight

After a while, though, it became clear that these sounds were a very consistent killer whale call.  The calls were of the S19 call, favored by L pod, and many were spaced 2.6-2.7s apart.  Eventually, the mesmerizing repetitious call was replaced by a wide variety of calls, whistles, and buzzes.  What in the world was going on as they passed into Puget Sound.

S19 repeated about 40 times

S19 repeated about 40 times

Based on the great sequence of observations from the Orca Network today, it’s clear that some portions of L and J pod made a brief foray into Puget Sound.  Twelve hours after passing Port Townsend (presumably southbound as J, K, and L pod members were observed within ~5nm of Dungeness Spit ~8 hours earlier), members of J and L pod were documented heading back to the north from Bush Point (12:45) to Keystone (14:30).

Perhaps a school of chum they were persuing dispersed after getting into Puget Sound proper?

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Orca "logging" for hours at Lime Kiln!

When killer whales remain at the surface for more than a few seconds, essentially floating with their dorsal fins consistently out of the water, the behavior is sometimes called “logging.”  I’ve seen orcas log when alone — often in tidal fronts — and once in a large group during a “ceremony.”  But never like this…

Logging orca

On September 20th, my father’s birthday, from 12:54-13:12 I photographed what appeared to be an orca “logging.”  It was completely motionless relative to the gentle ebb tide during this 16 minute period.  It passed Whale Watch Park at the typical distance of about ~200m offshore and I can only imagine the tourists at Lime Kiln lighthouse were overjoyed by the rare sight. We observed it for a couple hours and it never submerged, accelerated, or changed direction rapidly.

I became concerned when I later examined all of the photographs taken through a telephoto lens.  The pigmentation of the whale seemed off.  The dorsal fin was beyond raggedy…  I reached for the phone to contact the stranding network.  And then I realized I had been fooled by the Orcinus version of a wooden duck decoy.

On the Cat’s Cradle, we marveled and then chuckled.  Why not keep it for training Beam Reach students, or testing them on the first day of class when we traditionally visit Lime Kiln to formulate our initial research questions!?  Alas, the wind arose and we were forced to raise sails and celebrate by coasting away downwind…

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Orcas in el Mar Vermejo

Do you feel cognitive dissonance when seeing killer whales with this desert backdrop?  As a Pacific Northwesterner used to emerald shorelines and snow-capped volcanoes, I sure do.

Killer whales of Baja Mexico

Some day Beam Reach will visit the Vermillion Sea and listen in on this playful pod that recently interacted with an ecotour in Baja .

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