Monday, September 26, 2011

L90 Update: September 11, 2011

L90 in Haro Strait, September 11- Photo by Dave Ellifrit

We have been episodically monitoring L90 - taking respiration rates, surfacing/ 
dive intervals/traveling speed, and videotaping , as well as taking good-quality close-up photos of her melon, etc. 

She continues to consistently trail the other whales and  is breathing at frequent intervals ranging from 20 sec-120 sec, with  
most in 30 second range. Her dives are typically shallow (often visible underwater at about 60'), and when observed the in calm water near East Point on September 20th, she was making brief  vocalizations between breaths. At the time, she was lagging behind the other whales by about one and a half miles. Her surfacing posture  is unusual - when logging she "bobs" for each breath, and when traveling she surfaces horizontally and then dives rather  "stiffly", as if there is a problem with her spine. She has been doing this since July 6, before the alleged vessel strike. 

We recently noted her surfacing about 100 feet behind a yacht wake  and she appeared to be thrown off balance from the wake. She was also observed rolling on her side going through kelp. She does not show evidence any emaciation. The most notable aspect of all of this, and it is also notable for other ailing/trailing whales we have monitored in the past: there is little to no obvious care-giving behavior exhibited by the other whales. Presumably she is eating, otherwise she would show evidence of emaciation.  

We all have concerns for the fate of this whale, but there is very little that anyone can do but observe. This has happened before, and it will happen again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Audio slide show with Ken Balcomb:

Two Endangered Icons: Southern Resident Killer Whales and Chinook Salmon

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

L90 Update

L90 in Haro Strait on September 3rd, Photo by Dave Ellifrit
After the alleged vessel strike last week and the recent unusual behavior displayed by female killer whale, L90, the Center for Whale Research staff had an an opportunity to further observe her condition on Saturday September 3rd.  This was the first time she had been seen since the incident. The following is a summery of that encounter:

"After receiving a report of whales on the west side of San Juan Island in the early morning, Center staff cast off from Snug Harbor in vessel Orca at 8:15 a.m. and found members of J,K, and L pods heading north in Haro Strait off Limekiln lighthouse at 8:25 a.m., spread out in singles and groups. The main mission of the day was to find L90 and monitor her health and behavior, so we moved from group to group trying to locate her.
Around 9:15 a.m., we found L90’s main traveling companions, L26 and L92, in the proximity of J pod members near Kelp Reef, moving rapidly north in Haro Strait. About a half-mile to the southeast of this group at 9:33 a.m., we found L90 traveling north by herself at slow to medium speed.  She was trailing the other whales by as much as 3/4 mile and never less than 200 yards.  We collected respiration data on L90 for two periods from 9:40-10:46 a.m. and 1243-1342 a.m., during which times she was breathing regularly at intervals averaging 33.6 seconds and 29.9 seconds, respectively. Meanwhile, the rest of the whales traveled north in Haro Strait, and then northeast into Boundary Pass. During these two data recording periods, L90 only made one “long” dive of 180 seconds which was immediately followed by her shortest recorded dive of 8 seconds.  Her swimming speed was 4.4 and 4.6 knots, respectively, during the data recording periods.

When sea conditions and proximity allowed proper observations, it was apparent that L90 was not diving deeply and her surfacing motion seemed stiff – often with more of her back behind the dorsal fin exposed than a healthy whale would have exposed on a normal surfacing.  However, she showed no visible signs of emaciation and did not have foul smelling breath, two common indicators of illness. Based on our observations it is clear that her behavior is abnormal, however the cause remains unknown.

Around 2:15 p.m., as the leading whales picked up speed near East Point, L90 also increased speed and caught up to the other whales just north of East Point. She joined with L26 and L92, and the three traveled rapidly (>7 knots) NNW toward Point Roberts amidst other loosely spread, rapidly moving, mixed groups of southern residents. We ended the encounter at 2:51 p.m. approximately 3 miles north of East Point."

L90 was again encountered the following day, September 4th, and appeared to exhibit the same behavior. We will be taking every opportunity to continue to observe L90's condition and will provide subsequent reports.

Candace Calloway Whiting