Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baby Killer Whales, Their ID Numbers, Their Names, And Their Parentage

Ken Balcomb, CWR founder.
By K.C. Balcomb
 22 August 2010
            The Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population underwent a genetic bottleneck sometime between one and two-and-a-half whale generations ago that has resulted in a very small and fragile effective population size – only about 25 whales currently parent any offspring, while the remaining 60 or so whales are either too old or too young to contribute to population growth. That fact alone makes every baby whale precious, or at least it should be precious, to everyone on this planet that cares about the survival of these charismatic icons of the Pacific Northwest. Being born is one thing, surviving in the modern world is another
          My goal is to encourage our human society to make it possible for the effective population size of SRKW’s to grow during the current generation, and for the foreseeable future. Too often, for too long, and too recently we have seen it decline. In order to see increase we must give priority to allowing the whales sufficient food = salmon to survive, year-round, and that amounts to a lot of fish.

           At the risk of designating a baby whale an ID number or a name when there is a good chance that it will not survive, and thereby perhaps offending some and wasting numbers, I am going to exercise my prerogative and name a few:

            In J pod, there was a new calf born in November 2009 to a sixteen-year old new mother designated J28. I earlier designated the new female calf J46 and called her “Star” for the starring role I hoped she would play in inspiring the public interested in conserving the fish resources needed for the entire SRKW population (and for humans).

 Also born into J pod in January 2010 was another new calf, this time a young male whose very young mother is twelve-year old J35. I designated this new male calf J47, and now call it “Looker” because it frequently (and delightfully) raises its head high above the water as if looking around when swimming alongside its mother.

 In K pod, there was a new calf first seen in February 2010 with an experienced mother K12, who is also a grandmother. Virtually every time we see and photograph this new rambunctious baby whale it is racing alongside its mother, so I have called it “Speedy” and have designated it K43 - the newest member of slow-growing K pod.

 In L pod, a new calf appeared in the summer of 2010, itself an unusual event because most new SRKW’s are born in winter months. The births typically occur in mid-winter seventeen months after the party times of historically abundant summer salmon migrations to these inland marine waters. 
          Conception of this new calf, designated L115, must have occurred around January or February 2009 when all three pods made an unprecedented mid-winter appearance off Victoria (see Encounter 3, 2009 CWR webpage). The mother is L47, who has lost her previous four consecutive babies (L99,L102,L107,L111) since giving birth to her two successful daughters (L83 and L91), in 1990 and 1995. Without yet knowing the sex of L115 the newest calf of L47, I am going to call it “Hope”, for obvious reasons. “Toast” was submitted, but it is not very optimistic for a whale name when we hope it survives.
        L113 was born in the autumn of 2009 to fourteen-year old first time mother L94, and she is healthy and doing well as of this writing in late summer 2010. This year has been a relatively good year for salmon in the local waters, so we are wishing all is well for her. I am going to call her “Molly” after a very good friend whose ashes were spread as L113 and her extended family swam nearby in Haro Strait this summer.


 Two other recent L pod calves are worthy of mention: L112 born to L86, probably in January 2009 and first documented in the afore-mentioned Encounter 3 of 2009 when she was less than a month old; I am going to call her “Victoria” for the beautiful city waterfront where she was first seen. [Hold your nose until the sewage issue is resolved! Maybe we should call her “Stinker”?]


And, last but not least, we have L110, a very rambunctious young male born to a young mother, L83 first daughter of L47. We first saw him in August 2007, still showing evidence of fetal folds from recent birth; but, by October he had clear evidence of a mark that will no doubt remain with him for the rest of his life: a large flap of his upper right lip had been torn askew and was protruding awkwardly from the starboard side of his face, perhaps from an encounter with the steel leader of a fishing line. He also now has evidence of a bulbous tooth abscess just in front of the flap. I am going to call him “Flapper”, in anticipation that a bit of Aussie humor will be good for him. He probably does not mind his easily remembered name, though others might.

            My apologies to those who may be offended by the names and numbers I have given these whales. I’ve given the subject a fair amount of thought over three decades, and have refrained from giving them meaningless, stupid, or unpronounceable names. You may call them anything you wish, but I have been keeping the official records of these whales from the beginning of their study, and these names and numbers are what we will write in our books. The paternity paper is in preparation and due out soon; and it is likely to be at least as interesting reading, if not downright scandalous. Here’s a little teaser: the whales apparently live up to the motto: “Old Guys Rule” and you can guess what that is about.

            We will discuss the reasons for the SRKW population bottleneck in another writing. Meanwhile, do whatever you can to promote healthy wild salmon populations, particularly Chinook salmon, in the Pacific Northwest if you would like these babies and the SRKW population to survive.


R.I.P., L114
  Another new calf in L pod, L114 born to L 77, first appeared in February 2010, but it did not survive to summer. No name, but only a number for its tombstone in our records. (see Matriline guide on our website).

Photos by the author, Ken Balcomb

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Orca Calf 'Star' Continues To Shine

Eight month old orca calf 'Star'

Last November, when this calf was born the Center for Whale Research broke from custom and gave the baby the name 'Star' in addition to assigning it the usual number (J-46, 'J' for its family pod, and '46' for the fact that it is the 46th J pod member identified):

The new baby is designated J46, and we are going to call it "Star", for the role that it will play in showing the human inhabitants in this region that it is important to clean up Puget Sound and restore healthy abundant salmon populations to the Pacific Northwest. That mission brings a message to all of the relevant human nations – USA, Canada, First Nations, Treaty, and non-Treaty – that the first intelligent mammal residents of the region are also investing in these efforts. We could not ask for a more charismatic indicator, a baby whale, to measure the success of our renewed efforts for restoration.

J pod is the most watched family of whales in the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps in the world; and, this is the first year in recent decades that they have produced three babies within one year. We will all be watching, here and worldwide, carefully and respectfully, to see if they beat the odds and all survive. This is the reality show that really means something.

'Star' at two months old.

All of the J-pod calves born last year look healthy, and if you look carefully at the picture below you will see all three of the calves together with Star's mom and grandmother, the calves no doubt enjoying some play time together.

'Star' swimming with mom J-28, grandmother J-17, uncle J-44 and cousin J-47

So far, Star's future is shining brightly, as people continue to increase efforts to restore Chinook salmon populations and modify commercial fisheries. This little whale is indeed an icon of humanity's progress, and we'll keep an eye on this Star and report her progress as time goes on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

From the L.A.Times: Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier

The following was sent to us from, a group which is working in part to help re-establish Chinook salmon populations, the Southern Resident orcas main food. Please go to the original article and make comments if possible.,0,6168522.story

A culture of politics trumping science, many say, persists despite the president's promises. The use of potentially toxic dispersants to fight the gulf oil spill is cited as just one example.
By Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau
9:42 PM PDT, July 10, 2010
Reporting from Washington
When he ran for president, Barack Obama attacked the George W. Bush administration for putting political concerns ahead of science on such issues as climate change and public health. And during his first weeks in the White House, President Obama ordered his advisors to develop rules to "guarantee scientific integrity throughout the executive branch."

Many government scientists hailed the president's pronouncement. But a year and a half later, no such rules have been issued. Now scientists charge that the Obama administration is not doing enough to reverse a culture that they contend allowed officials to interfere with their work and limit their ability to speak out.

"We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration," said Jeffrey Ruch, an activist lawyer who heads an organization representing scientific whistle-blowers.

White House officials, however, said they remained committed to protecting science from interference and that proposed guidelines would be forwarded to Obama in the near future.

But interviews with several scientists — most of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation in their jobs — as well as reviews of e-mails provided by Ruch and others show a wide range of complaints during the Obama presidency:

In Florida, water-quality experts reported government interference with efforts to assess damage to the Everglades stemming from development projects.

In the Pacific Northwest, federal scientists said they were pressured to minimize the effects they had documented of dams on struggling salmon populations.

In several Western states, biologists reported being pushed to ignore the effects of overgrazing on federal land.

In Alaska, some oil and gas exploration decisions given preliminary approval under Bush moved forward under Obama, critics said, despite previously presented evidence of environmental harm.

The most immediate case of politics allegedly trumping science, some government and outside environmental experts said, was the decision to fight the gulf oil spill with huge quantities of potentially toxic chemical dispersants despite advice to examine the dangers more thoroughly.

And the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based organization, said it had received complaints from scientists in key agencies about the difficulty of speaking out publicly.

"Many of the frustrations scientists had with the last administration continue currently," said Francesca Grifo, the organization's director of scientific integrity.

For example, Grifo said, one biologist with a federal agency in Maryland complained that his study of public health data was purposefully disregarded by a manager who is not a scientist. The biologist, Grifo said, feared expressing his concerns inside and outside the agency.

Most of the examples provided by Ruch, Grifo and others come from scientists who insist on anonymity, making it difficult for agencies to respond specifically to the complaints. Officials at those agencies maintain that scientists are allowed and encouraged to speak out if they believe a policy is at odds with their findings.

The director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, John P. Holdren, said in a statement last month that the president effectively set policy in his March 2009 memorandum calling for administration-wide scientific integrity standards.

"There should not be any doubt that these principles have been in effect — that is, binding on all executive departments and agencies," Holdren said, adding that "augmentation of these principles" will be coming soon.

Still, Grifo said, the volume of the complaints indicates a real problem and makes it "vital" that the Obama administration issue additional instructions. While overall respect for science may have improved under Obama, several scientists said in interviews that they were still subject to interference.

Ruch, referring to reports from government scientists in Alaska, said that under Bush, the agency that issues oil and gas drilling leases "routinely prevented scientists from raising ecological concerns about the effects of oil spills, introduction of invasive species, and any other issue that might trigger the need for fuller environmental review."

In keeping the Bush Interior Department managers and policies in place, Ruch said, Obama appointees have "turned a blind eye toward federal court rulings that said Bush-era lease reviews were environmentally deficient, as well as a GAO report documenting how agency scientists were routinely stifled and ignored."

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman at the Interior Department, disagreed with Ruch's assertion, saying that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "has made it very clear that decisions will be made based on a cautious, science-based approach."

Ruch's organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, also said it had been contacted by an EPA toxicologist who said a request for review of the toxicity of oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico was rebuffed.

EPA analyst Hugh B. Kaufman, a 39-year veteran, said he had heard similar complaints from colleagues. Kaufman believes that his agency "gave the green light to using dispersants without doing the necessary studies."

A past EPA administrator, William Reilly, said in an interview with CBS last month that he had refused to allow the toxic chemicals' use after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska because of the potential effect on salmon.

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who has proposed legislation to prohibit dispersant use until further scientific studies are completed, said the EPA "has been entirely irresponsible" in its review of dispersants.

In May, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged that dispersants could be problematic, but that "they are used to move us toward the lesser of two difficult environmental outcomes."

EPA Press Secretary Adora Andy said, "The data we have seen to date indicate that dispersant is less toxic than oil."

"If the science indicates dispersants are causing more damage than they're preventing, [Jackson] will be the first to sound the alarm," Andy said.

White House officials say the administration's commitment to science has not wavered.

"It is important to appreciate that this administration has made scientific integrity a priority from Day One — in the people we've appointed, the policies we've adopted, the budgets we've proposed, and the processes we follow," says Rick Weiss, an analyst and spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

White House science advisor Holdren told the House Science and Technology Committee in February that his office had been delayed in releasing its guidelines on scientific integrity due to "the difficulties of constructing a set of guidelines that would be applicable across all the agencies and accepted by all concerned."

Scientists and environmental groups have lauded Obama for appointing highly regarded scientists to top posts within the administration. But so far, critics said, those appointments have not eliminated the problems faced by lower-level government scientists.

For example, Ruch said, he has been contacted by two federal scientists who charged that their efforts to implement stricter water-quality rules had been suppressed.

In the Pacific Northwest, Ruch said, his organization has heard in the last 16 months from multiple federal fisheries biologists who report that they are under pressure to downplay the impact of dams on wild salmon.

And in Western states, federal biologists report that they are under pressure not to disclose the full impact of cattle grazing on federal lands, according to Ruch's group and others.

Katie Fite of the Western Watersheds Project, an organization that monitors grazing, backs those allegations. Fite said that scientists had complained to her that "all of the incentives are geared to support grazing and energy development," which could adversely affect plants and other animals.

"Basically, science is still being scuttled," Fite said. "We are heartbroken."

Most critics said they were disappointed that protection of science and scientists did not become more of a priority after the election.

Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington attorney who has filed suit to block projects approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, said he had expected the culture to change under Obama.

"The administration's been in long enough that if that was going to happen, we should have seen it by now," he said. "We simply haven't."

Please go online L.A.Times and make a comment, or email the authors. Your opinion counts!
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

Monday, June 28, 2010

Obama Administration officials are coming to Seattle and they want (need!) to hear from you!

There is no issue more crucial to the survival of the Southern Resident orcas than assuring them of a reliable source of Chinook salmon, please attend if you can, and spread the message of this important event.

Sent to us by

"Likely attendees, from what we hear, include:

Secy of Interior
Head of National Park Svc
Head of EPA
Head of White House Council on Environmental Quality

And see and for more info

> Obama Administration officials are coming to Seattle and they want (need!) to hear from you!
> "America's Great Outdoors" Listening Session will be held on Thursday July 1st at Franklin High School. This is the most important opportunity in years to have your voice heard to help shape how our Northwest lands, rivers, fish and wildlife will be managed for the foreseeable future.
> And it represents a great opportunity to show Northwest support for restoring a healthy Snake River that works for everyone - salmon and other wildlife, and people in the fishing, farming, recreation, and other economies.
> Seattle's Listening Session may be the only one in the Pacific Northwest. It is an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face with senior administration officials and tell them about the opportunity to restore a working Snake River by removing four federal dams in eastern Washington so that this important river can once again support healthy populations of wild salmon and steelhead, family wage jobs, and diverse recreational opportunities, while supporting prosperous farming communities at the same time.
> Please help Save Our Wild Salmon and many other salmon, fishing, and conservation advocates take advantage of this opportunity and send a clear message to the Obama Administration - please put this important Listening Session on your calendar and join us on July 1st at Franklin High School!
> See details below.
> If you can attend, please contact Dan or Sam right away, and we can answer any questions you have and make sure you have "Salmon Talking Points" to guide your comments on July 1st.
> Dan Drais: 206-286-4455, x107
> Sam Mace: 509-863-5696
> Everybody is welcome - but you can help the planners by signing up to attend here now.
> Northwest Listening Session and Discussion Information:
> WHEN: Thursday, July 1, 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
> WHAT: Public Listening Session on the President's America's Great Outdoors Initiative
> WHERE: Franklin High School at 3013 South Mount Baker Blvd, Seattle, Washington, 98144

> WHO: YOU! And representatives from DOI, USDA, EPA, and CEQ who will be present to hear your thoughts and to participate in a conversation with you about landscape conservation, salmon restoration, recreation, and reconnecting Americans to the great outdoors.
> You can find more information here at the America's Great Outdoors Initiative Online
> Dan Drais: 206-286-4455, x107
> Sam Mace: 509-863-5696
> In April, at the White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors, President Obama established the America's Great Outdoors Initiative to develop a conservation and recreation agenda worthy of the 21st century and to reconnect Americans with our great outdoors. The President understands that protecting and restoring the lands and waters that we love and reconnecting people to the outdoors must be community-driven and supported.
> The President directed the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality to lead this effort and to listen and learn from people all over the country. Please join senior representative of these agencies for a public listening session and discussion on land conservation, recreation, and reconnecting Americans to the great outdoors.
> In the Northwest, you and many other citizens and organizations are deeply involved in the conservation of working farms, forests, lakes, and rivers, scenic lands, and historic areas, and in celebrating and enjoying the region's rich outdoor and cultural heritage.
> This public listening session and discussion is an opportunity for leaders of the America's Great Outdoors Initiative to hear from you about solutions for building a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnecting all Americans with the outdoors.
> We look forward to seeing you there!
> Joseph, Sam, and Dan
> Save Our Wild Salmon

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saving Snake River salmon will save Puget Sound killer whales

From our friends at

“This new baby will not have a life without salmon. Salmon make up the majority of their diet and they are good at finding and catching them; but, what happens if salmon populations continue to decline?"
- Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research reacting to the recent identification of a new member of the K-pod from the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, June 2010

Scientists Call for Lower Snake Dam Removal to Help Endangered Orcas
Full Text of the Letter from Scientists

The Threats Facing Endangered Puget Sound Orcas
Killer whales, or orcas, are found all over the world. And yet their geographically distinct populations are actually genetically distinct populations. That is, the Southern Resident orcas found during the summer in Washington’s Puget Sound do not travel with other orcas, will not breed with other orcas, have a highly particular diet, and exhibit a variety of social and family traits that are completely distinct from any other orcas on the planet.

But this endangered population faces several dangerous threats. Their food is very often contaminated with long-lived poisons (PCBs and PBDEs). Being dependant on a form of sonar called echolocation, they have suffered with the increased noise that accompanies increases is the size and number of vessels on Puget Sound. Their population is so tiny (fewer than 90 whales) and their reproductive rates are so slow that it takes them a long time to add to their population. And, perhaps most importantly, these giant marine mammals require a lot of food – and they aren’t getting enough.

The federal agency responsible for trying to recover these whales won’t say which problem is “primarily” responsible for their decline, but clearly these five-ton mammals cannot recover without enough food to eat. Insufficient prey leads not only to starvation, but to increased mortality from disease and increased susceptibility to toxins, increased calf mortality, and drastically lower reproductive rates.

Smoltinpipe2That’s where Columbia/Snake salmon come in.

Southern Residents feed primarily on chinook salmon. In fact, the government estimates that even at its current depleted population level, this population of fewer than 90 animals may require 1.75 million chinook each year.

When the Southern Resident orcas are in the San Juan Islands off the northwest coast of Washington, they feed overwhelmingly on salmon from Canada’s Fraser River. But when they leave this area and head into the Pacific each winter, they must rely on chinook salmon from the other major salmon rivers – the Sacramento, the Klamath, and the Columbia. None of them is a shadow of what it used to be.

At the turn of the last century, up to 30 million salmon returned to the Columbia-Snake River Basin, making it the most productive salmon-producing river system in the world. But today, only than one percent of that historic number returns to spawn. Chinook (like other salmon populations) have plummeted, due largely to dam construction and habitat degradation on the Columbia and its largest tributary, the Snake, which have wiped out entire runs and severely limited the food supply of Puget Sound orcas. All species of chinook salmon on the Columbia- Snake are either listed as endangered or already extinct. This has proved devastating for the salmon, the fishermen, and now the killer whales.

Restoring Orcas’ Food

Leading Northwest scientists and orca advocates have called for the government to remove the four outdated federal dams on the lower Snake River. They say this will restore Columbia-Snake River salmon and renew a critical food source for endangered Puget Sound orca populations.

The science is clear that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the key to saving the Snake River’s four distinct salmon populations, including the chinook that are so important to the Southern Residents. Coupled with appropriate harvest controls, sound land-use regulations, renewable energy alternatives and hatchery reform, lower Snake River dam removal could restore salmon abundance to 15 million acres of forest, high-desert and wilderness areas, for productive use by people, communities and iconic predators like the Southern Resident orcas.

orca.smThe Southern Resident Recovery Plan

The government initially opposed listing Southern Residents as an endangered species. After a federal court rejected the government’s position, Southern Residents were listed in 2005. The government then developed a plan to help guide efforts to recovery Southern Residents to a healthy population. Prepared with input from the leading orca scientists in the United States and Canada, the plan contains two findings that should remain front and center as we contemplate the perils facing these spectacular icons of Puget Sound:

- “It is vital that meaningful increases in salmon abundance be achieved above and beyond those associated with periods of favorable ocean productivity.” SRKW Recovery Plan, p. V-8 (emphasis added).

- The SRKW population must increase by an average 2.3 percent per year for 28 years – that is, to 164 whales – in order to be removed from the Endangered Species list. The population today is 88, the same as it was when it was listed as endangered five years ago. p. IV-4.

For more information, contact:

Save Our Wild Salmon
206.286.4455 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Orca scientists and advocates sound off

“Restoring Columbia River chinook salmon is the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales. We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked."
— Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Wash.

"The new Federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than previous plans in providing access to the basin’s best remaining salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River. The resulting declining salmon runs have a very real impact on the 88 endangered southern resident orcas that depend on these fish, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry."
— Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network.

"Our leaders must look for solutions not only in Puget Sound, but also in the rivers that bring the salmon to the sea throughout the Northwest. The great salmon rivers like the Columbia and Snake can once again produce the healthy runs of chinook, on which our majestic orcas feed, but only if we recover salmon habitat. We must act quickly to restore clean water, abundant, sustainable salmon populations, and a safe home for orcas. The scientists tell us there is no time to waste."
— Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound

Friday, April 2, 2010

Name the next WA ferry "Tokitae"

Sponsored by:
Orca Network

The WA Transportation Commission is looking for suggestions for the 2nd new 64-car ferry (for the Keystone-Pt. Townsend run) now under construction (

Orca Network suggests that this ferry be named "Tokitae." ... Tokitae is a Coastal Salish greeting, used all around the Salish Sea, meaning "Nice day, pretty colors." Tokitae was also the name given to the orca captured at Penn Cove, near Keystone, in 1970 who is still alive in Miami at a marine park. Her clan, the Southern Resident Community, was declared endangered under the ESA in 2005. Orcas are the Washington State marine mammal and 2010 is the 4th consecutive year that June has been proclaimed "Orca Awareness Month" by the Governor.

Sign the petition here.
Signature goal: 1,000

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Sound Is So Important In The Marine Environment

Without the ability to optimize the use of sound, many marine creatures would be unable to exist. In the ocean environment; sound takes over where sunlight leaves off.

Find out more here as we explore this subject.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Candace Calloway Whiting