Region’s resident orca whales make their fall debut

If Vashon’s orca season begins in October, then the whales were right on time this year. On Friday, Oct. 1, a large group of Puget Sound’s resident orcas was seen off the northeast tip of the Island.

Anne Stateler, who runs the Vashon Hydrophone Project and is better known on the Island as Orca Annie, said she received multiple calls from ferry riders who saw the whales that morning. Thanks to those calls, Stateler’s research partner Mark Sears was able to get on the water, see the whales and take samples.

“There were whales from all three pods present,” Stateler said. “Definitely J pod, a few members from K pod and one L pod whale for sure.”

Sears said the large group of whales was scattered but definitely together.

“I’d say there were 50, give or take. ... It’s one big extended family,” he said.

Though the orcas didn’t stick around long this time, Stateler believes the Southern Resident pods, which are most active November through January, will return.

“They were back in the San Juans the next day,” she said. “That tells me there’s not enough fish around to make it worth their while, and that will hopefully change.”

Stateler said she would encourage Islanders not only to report marine mammal sightings to the Hydrophone Project but to remember that orcas are protected animals.

Puget Sound’s resident whales were declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. By law, boats and kayaks must keep at least a 100-yard distance.

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