Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Paper out in Science

Dr. Emma Foster has provided a brief summery of her paper that recently came out in Science:
"Adaptive Prolonged Postreproductive Life Span in Killer Whales"

1.      The key finding: We have discovered that female killer whales have the longest menopause of any non-human species so they can care for their adult sons. Our research shows that, for a male over 30, the death of his mother means an almost 14-fold-increase in the likelihood of his death within the following year.

2.      The relevance/link to humans: Biologically-speaking, the menopause is a bizarre concept! Very few species have a prolonged period of their lifespan when they no longer reproduce. Like humans, female killer whales buck this trend and stop reproducing in their 30s-40s, but can survive into their 90s. The benefit of a menopause to both human and killer whale mothers is in spreading their genes. The different ways this has evolved reflects the different structure of human and killer whale societies. While it is believed that the menopause evolved in humans partly to allow women to focus on providing support for their grandchildren, our research shows that female killer whales act as lifelong carers for their own offspring, particularly their adult sons.

3.      Why this is important: The menopause remains one of nature’s great mysteries. This research, which involved studying 36 years-worth of data, is the first ever study of its kind and is an exciting breakthrough in our understanding of the evolution of the menopause.

J49 is a boy!

September 17, 2012

Bart Rulon of Island Adventures, sent us these photos yesterday of J49  rolling over reveling his sex as a boy!
J49 in the youngest member of J pod, first seen on August 6th.  Both him and mom, J37 appear to be healthy and doing well!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New calf in J pod: J49!

August 6: 
New Calf in J pod- 
J37 has her first calf!

Following a nearly two week hiatus in sightings, J pod returned today with what is now a typical “spread out” pattern all along the west side of San Juan Island, heading north. A lone female whale “Spyhopped” in front of CWR at 11:35 am; and, she was subsequently identified as J37 from photographs of her at 11:44am about ¼ mile offshore when she still appeared to be alone (no obvious calf present).  We headed out in “Shachi” to update our photo-identification of young whales, and next observed J37 at 2:35pm in Haro Strait off Spieden Channel (48 39’ 42.7”, 123 13’ 50.6”) with a very new born calf!  The calf’s dorsal fin was flopped over to the left and there were very visible creases in the blubber of its side due to fetal folding.  The head and neck region was lumpy looking, like that of a very newborn human baby, and the calf surfaced with exaggerated head lunges, indicating it had healthy energy and was breathing properly - no maternal lifting required.  We followed J37 and her calf at a distance until 3:52pm when they were in Boundary Pass north of Stuart Island; and, all of this time she was not accompanied by any other whales.  At that time, part of J pod was ahead of the pair by approximately 2 miles and the other part of J pod was off Lime Kiln Park, having split off from the leaders and gone back south along San Juan Island. By the time the new mother and her calf were nearing Blunden Island, British Columbia, they reportedly joined in the rather loose northern formation of J pod whales still heading northeasterly toward Georgia Strait, and it was reported that the other whales were “supporting” the calf on their backs. Perhaps this support behavior was some kind of greeting ritual for the new baby addition to the population. On previous occasions, we have seen very new calves being supported by and pushed around by other whales in the community, perhaps in some sort of “new whale baby” welcoming and bonding ritual. The immediate family of the new calf – mum, grandma, aunt and uncle – reportedly broke off from the other whales before entering Georgia Strait and heading toward Sucia Island, Rosario Strait by nightfall.

A bit of History about the mum: The first catalogue quality photograph we have of J37 as a baby was in August 2001, at which time she appeared to be five or six months old.  Then, the first photograph we have of J37 with a baby was today, August 6, 2012, so we can assume that the new mother is 11 ½  years old - the youngest confirmed mother that we are aware of in the Southern Resident Community.  With a gestation of approximately 17 months she must have been impregnated during or around January 2011 when she was about 10 years old!  We had four encounters with J pod in January 2011 and all were with both J and K pods combined and L87. Hence, the father must have been among them at that time. Maybe this is why L87 is hanging around J pod so much!

A little bit about the family: The grandmother of the new calf, J14, is thirty eight years old and is the very productive mother of three living offspring and three that have not made it to the present time. Her first calf, J23 born in 1987, was a male that survived for four years. Her second calf, J30 born in 1995, was a male that survived until December 2011, but went curiously missing all of this year and is presumed dead. J37 is J14’s third calf born in 2001, and J40 (a female) is her fourth calf born in 2004. J14 had a neonate calf (J43) that was seen on one day, 24 November 2007, but it did not survive. Most recently, in March 2009, J14 had another calf, J45 a male, that survives to the present.  The new calf of J37 will be designated J49, and it is born into a very productive matriline so we are hoping it fares well. With this birth, the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population (SRKW in government jargon) now numbers 86, though that number could change at any time with births and deaths.

Please be respectful of the new baby and its family and keep more than a two hundred yard distance away when viewing from a maneuverable vessel. The professional whale watching operators will no doubt be extra cautious on the whales’ behalf.

For the media- here is a link to a few full sized photographs of the calf and mom.  These photos are for media publications only, not for personal use. Please credit the Center for Whale Research: J49

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Superpod II

Killer Whales in the Wild Versus in Captivity - 

Meet the experts and participate in the discussion.

Saturday July 21st, 2012
Friday Harbor, Wa
For the second time in just over one year a diverse collection of killer whale (orca) experts & former trainers will congregate and share information regarding orca populations, including wild and captive animals.  Superpod (SP) events are held during July in conjunction with the Southern Resident orcas which are swimming around San Juan Island chasing Chinook salmon. The combination of J, K, and L pods together is called a "superpod."
Superpod II is a face-to-face gathering of 3-4 dozen experts/enthusiasts in an all day event that will include presentations, movies, a book signing by author David Kirby of the soon to be released "Death at SeaWorld", and a benefit showing of the documentary film "The Whale".
These free public events will be held on Saturday, July 21st 2012 at Friday Harbor House in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Wa.  Drinks will be available for purchase. Some events have a separate sign-up (please see below).
Among the scientists who will be in attendance are Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, Dr Ingrid Visser, lead scientist and founder of the Orca Research Trust, in New Zealand, andDr. Naomi Rose, senior scientist for Human Society International (HSI). Naomi oversees HSI campaigns to protect wild and captive marine mammals and is a member of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee. Dr. Rose is also the lead protagonist in David Kirby's much anticipated scientific thriller called Death at SeaWorld.
Tentative schedule for public events Saturday, July 21st:
10:00 a.m. Attorney Steve Wise speak about the Nonhuman Rights Project. The "NHRP" is devoted to gaining rights for animals who have no voice.
"The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that some nonhuman animals should have the capacity to possess common law rights. What is the common law and why do we take that approach as opposed to using federal laws, which only provide for minimal protection of certain animals? ".
Noon to 2:30 p.m.  Brown bag lunch and films, presented by Cara Sands of Friends of the Dolphins. Two films are scheduled which show the capture process of wild dolphins and whales, and which explore the consequences of captivity; "The Cove" and "A Fall From Freedom".
3 p.m.  Young activist Ella Van Cleave, who recently gave a presentation at the esteemed "Ted Talks," will speak on the powerful youth movement.
3:30 p.m. Legal counsol to PETA, Jeff Kerr, will speak on recent legal challenges.
5:00 p.m.  Book signing of "Death at SeaWorld" by author David Kirby, plus panel discussion with Humane Society International marine mammal expert Dr. Naomi Rose and 3 former SeaWorld orca trainers; Carol Ray, Jeffrey Ventre & Samantha Berg. (Please sign up for this event here).
We hope to have at least one live "call in" Twitter event during David Kirby's book signing. Our understanding is that two documentary film crews will be on island capturing parts of Superpod II. So look for at least one film in 2013...
7:30 p.m. A benefit showing of "The Whale" for the Center for Whale Research.  Filmmakers Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit will present their heartwarming film, and signed posters will be available for purchase.  All donations and proceeds from sales at the film showing go exclusively to support the Center for Whale Research in their continued efforts to save the endangered population of Southern Resident orcas.  (Please sign up for this event here).
The Whale, a family film about a friendly whale

Benefit Event for the Center for Whale Research

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Calf in L pod! L119

We encountered J,K,and L pods coming in together from the Pacific Ocean to the Salish Sea yesterday  for the first time this year. J and K pods have come in to these
interior waters several times earlier this spring; but, this is the first time that all of surviving members of L pod have been encountered in interior waters in 2012. All three pods were moving slowly toward San Juan Island with a new calf in tow.  One of the adult females in L pod, twenty-five year old L77, has a new calf, designated as L119, who looks to be only a few weeks old. The sex is not yet known. The new calf appeared healthy and vigorous, and we are hopeful that this one will make it. Her previous calf in 2010 was only seen for one day, and it is not known whether she has had other calves that did not survive to be documented.  We will be providing more updates on the new calf as well as our superpod encounter  in the next few days.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SRKW's off Westport WA, April 29th

While on a survey out of Westport, Washington, Cascadia Research Collective encountered a southern resident killer whales including individuals from both K and L pods. From the photos sent to the Center for Whale Research, we were able to ID 36 whales.  This is not a complete census.  Cascadia was able to photograpg many, but not all of the whales present. Here's a list of the whales we were able to ID from the photos: K12, K13, K14, K20, K25, K26, K27, K34, K36, K37, K38, K42, K43, K44, L5, L25, L27, L41, L53, L55, L72, L79, L82, L84, L85, L86, L89, L91, L94, L103, L105, L106, L109, L113, L116, and L118.
Photograph of L105 by Greg Shore.

Recent update on killer whales from NOAA Fisheries

Below is some recent information on killer whales from NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region 

Did you know?A recent review of photos by DFO scientists have confirmed that Southern Resident killer whales were sighted in Chatham Strait, Southeast Alaska, back in June 2007. Southern Residents were previously thought to range as far north as the Queen Charlotte Islands, B. C. This sighting extends their known range about 200 miles to the north.

L112 stranding investigation progress reportThe investigation into the death of Southern Resident killer whale L112 continues. We posted a progress report on our website at We’ll continue to provide updates as we get the results from outstanding analyses and generate a final report.

Update on satellite tagging project
The Northwest Fisheries Science Center has updated website information on the three-day deployment of a tag on J26:

Canadian marine mammal regulationsAs the federal department responsible for the protection of marine mammals, their habitats, and their migration routes in Canadian waters, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has finalized a set of proposed amendments to the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) of the Fisheries Act. The amendments are designed to provide enhanced protection for marine mammals against human disturbances.
The proposed regulatory amendments were published on March 24, 2012, in the Canada Gazette, Part I. The Canada Gazette is the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. See it online at: The public has 60 days from the publication date to provide comments on the proposed amendments.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

L112 washes up in Long Beach, WA

- The following is copied from an email message from NOAA:

"On Feb. 11, 2012, a stranded killer whale washed up just north of Long Beach, Wash. Photographs of the dorsal fin and saddle patch were matched to catalogs of known killer whales by biologists from NOAA Fisheries and the Center for Whale Research.

The whale has been identified as a member of the Southern Resident L Pod known as L112, a female calf of L86. A full necropsy was conducted on Feb. 12.

Samples were taken for a variety of analyses. Processing of samples could take several weeks or months, and will hopefully provide insight into the origin of the traumatic injuries or other factors that may have contributed to the death of this whale. More information is available on the Cascadia Research website at:

Candace Calloway Whiting