Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Southern Resident Orca Population Status (With Notes On J-1)

2010 ended well for the Southern Residents.  The total population as of December 31st was 87 individuals: 27 in J pod, 19 in K pod and 41 in L pod.  By the end of the year, 5 of the 6 calves born in 2010 were alive and healthy.  We had one edition to J pod, J47 (calf of J17); one edition to K pod, K43 (calf of K12); and 3 in L pod, L115 (calf of L47), L116 (calf of L86), and L117 (mother unknown).

So far 2011 has been full of sightings and encounters.  J’s, K’s and L87 have been seen often in Haro Strait and Puget Sound.  They were first encountered by the Center on January 3rd in Haro Strait, then again on the 7th.  J’s and K’s were also encountered in Haro Strait and San Juan Channel on the 23rd and 26th  respectively.  Residents were sighted at least once a week throughout January (eight confirmed sightings in all). February has been even better with almost daily sightings of J’s and K’s in Puget Sound (eight sightings since Feb. 20th)

There was a possible sighting of L pod on January 15th. Most likely the L12’s, but because of the distant photos we can’t say for sure.  Ken encountered L pod spread out and foraging off Monterey Bay on February 10th.  There have been several killer whale sightings on the west coast of Oregon and California this winter, but no other southern resident sightings have been confirmed. 

No new calves have yet been seen in 2011.  It is still too early in the year to have an official population estimate as not all individuals have been accounted for.  However, there have been several encounters and sightings of J pod where J1 has not been seen or photographed.  

 J1 is the oldest male in the southern resident community, estimated to be 60 years old.  He is an iconic figure for the entire population and by far the most easily identifiable whale.  His tall wavy fin has given him the name “Ruffles” and made him a favorite among visitors and local whale enthusiasts.   He was last seen on November 21st off Victoria. 

Although there have been several encounters with J’s over the past few months, the pod configuration has been spread out and all individuals were not photographed.  Although J1 is most often seen in the presence of J2, the eldest female in J pod, he is frequently sighted off on his own far away from the rest of the pod.   

 At this point all we can say is that J1 is officially missing.  We will be keeping an eye out for him as we head into spring and encounters and sightings increase.   

Posted by Erin Heydenreich

Candace Calloway Whiting