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Gray whales and Orcas continue to frequent Vashon's waters

These transient Orca whales were spotted off Vashon’s shores in March. - Mark and Maya Sears photo
These transient Orca whales were spotted off Vashon’s shores in March.
— image credit: Mark and Maya Sears photo

Gray whales and transient orca whales are continuing to visit the waters of Vashon Island, according to Ann Stateler, who runs the Vashon Hydrophone Project.

Early Sunday morning Stateler received a report of a gray whale in Quartermaster Harbor. She and her husband Odin Lonning went to Burton and spotted it from near Camp Burton, she said. They were able to get a good enough look at it to see that it was a different gray whale than had been in Quartermaster Harbor the week before.

The whale that was first reported on Easter appeared to be a sickly juvenile, she said, with a large depression behind its blowhole, a sign that it is underweight. She believes that gray whale left late Monday or early Tuesday. The whale spotted this Sunday was an adult, she noted.

Just three days before the latest gray whale sighting, another group of transient orcas were spotted near the north-end ferry dock. Since the middle of March, transient orcas have been spotted a dozen times, all roughly in the same area.

Stateler thinks the transient orcas might be using the engine noise from the ferries to mask their presence.

“They hunt animals with really good hearing,” she said.

This is proving to be an unusual year for whales, Stateler noted. Neither she nor her research partner Mark Sears, who lives in West Seattle, can recall a time when so many transient orcas visited. She has microphones in Colvos Pass to pick up whale sounds, and she has not heard any of the whales, including the resident orcas.

She thinks it is possible that the transient orcas here are affecting the behavior of the grays, as the transient whales have been known to attack gray whales, though typically that happens out in the ocean as part of the gray whale’s migration, not in Puget Sound. But that changed last Sunday, when a group of whale watchers near Whidbey Island watched a group of transient orcas attack a full-grown gray whale. King 5 news first reported the story and ran a video from a member of the group, which shows the orcas diving below the gray whale and forcing it to the surface, where it broke water, belly up. The gray whale survived the attack, but appeared to be dazed and hurt initially, according to the report.

Stateler continues to ask that people report whale sightings to her at 463-9041. She would also appreciate any photos people might have taken; e-mail her at vashonorcas@aol.com.

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