Archive for July 25th, 2012

Feeding Frenzy

June 2012

The other day I was lucky enough to see some members of the Southern Resident Killer Whale community in what appeared to be a feeding frenzy. A report came in that the whales were swimming north towards the lighthouse. As I went out to find my usual seat on the rocky shoreline, clipboard, camera, and binoculars all in tow, I filled with anticipation…

Before I knew it the whales were surfacing just off shore… The calming “swoosh” of their blowholes filled my ears. It was members of J Pod! A few of the whales blew past the lighthouse, but some select whales stuck around and took up milling. After a few minutes of behavior observations, I noticed a silver streak breaking the surface of the water out of the corner of my eye. I pulled out my camera, sensing that whatever the streak was would reappear. Sure enough it did, but this time it was in the mouth of a harbor seal! The seal, cleverly tucked into the kelp beds, stuck its head out of the water to proudly show off its latest catch, a huge Chinook salmon!

At first I wasn’t positive that the salmon was a Chinook, until I got a glimpse of the big, black mouth that Chinook salmon are notorious for. I took picture after picture, and dive after dive, the seal would reappear in the same spot showing off less and less of its devoured meal each time. Just when all that was left of the Chinook was pink flesh and the seal’s pride was at its peak, a bald eagle swooped in for the steal… Luckily the seal was fast and dove down right as the eagle was readying its talons. The scene reminded me of something that would be featured in an episode of Planet Earth. I felt very lucky to be able to witness such a wild interaction between three animals that frequent Lime Kiln Lighthouse in the summer months. What a good reminder of how all organisms in the Salish Sea are connected, and that most all of them, in some way, depend on the salmon runs just as the Southern Resident Killer Whales do.

When I looked back to the whales, I was happy to see they were continuing their behavior pattern, which one could guess by the presence of Chinook was foraging! It always gives me a good feeling to know that the whales are finding food, especially since limited availability of prey is such a threat to their recovery.

I can’t wait to have more incredible encounters like this one my summer on San Juan Island continues!


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Setting My Sights on Summertime

June  2012

Before I knew it summer was finally upon me, and that meant that my long awaited (2 weeks at most) return to Lime Kiln Lighthouse was not even a day away…












Lime Kiln Lighthouse has always held a magical charm for me. At first I admired the lighthouse from afar, back in my small hometown in Minnesota. I would look at pictures of this amazing, far off place and imagine what it would be like to see the tall, sleek, black dorsal fin of J1 cutting through the kelp beds just off the rocky shoreline. When I finally arrived at the lighthouse this past March for the Beam Reach course, it still felt as if it was a mythical place to me. But now, now that I have been in the San Juan Islands for over 10 weeks, the lighthouse feels like one of the only things that is still familiar to me now that the Beam Reach course is over.  The thing that I looked forward too the most about my return was seeing the orcas again. I couldn’t wait to have my first solo encounter with the whales at Lime Kiln, to me it seemed that once this happened, my summer would truly begin. Lucky for me, the Southern Residents were extremely cooperative and passed the Light my first day back!

Members of J Pod swam passed the lighthouse within hours of my arrival. To me, it felt as if everything was just beginning, it was the start of a completely new chapter. Of course for J2 Granny, J8 Speiden, and the other members of J Pod it probably was just the usual passing in their West Side Route. Needless to say this encounter with the whales gave me inspiration, and I began to “set my sights” on the goals for summer time.

This summer I plan to study the Southern Resident Killer Whales as they pass Lime Kiln Lighthouse and observe their surface behaviors as well as their acoustic communications. I will also be monitoring underwater noise levels in the SRKW environment and looking for significant changes in their vocalizations.

For a better idea of what I am listening too, check out the Orcasound Hydrophone Network at Here you can listen the live streaming hydrophones at Lime Kiln and other various locations in the Salish Sea, check out the observations of other listeners, and log your own findings as well! Any and all observations that come from fellow listeners are helpful and exciting!

About the Blogger:  Breanna Walker is a Beam Reach Spring 2012 Alumnus. Her project this past quarter focused on the potential effects that shipping traffic might have on Southern Resident Killer Whale echolocation. After such an amazing experience during the Beam Reach course and time in the San Juan Islands this spring, Breanna decided to prolong her stay for the entire summer. Collaborating with Scott Veirs and others in the SRKW Research Community, Breanna will be acting as the Beam Reach Intern, conducting more SRKW Acoustic research at Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Breanna is also working with The Whale Museum this summer as a naturalist, conducting educational outreach both at Lime Kiln Lighthouse and aboard the Washington State Ferries. Breanna has a passion for the Southern Resident Killer Whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem. The only thing she enjoys more than watching the orcas is talking to others about them. 

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