By Orca Annie Stateler
For The Beachcomber
On Thursday, Nov. 12, 41 endangered Southern Resident orcas — 24 in J Pod and 17 in K Pod — visited Vashon-Maury waters.
Pictured here are Suttles (J40) and baby Tofino (J56). Suttles has served as a babysitter and nanny since Tofino’s birth in May of 2019.
The two pods traveled about one and a half miles apart in East Passage. At Point Robinson, J Pod swept by first, with vivacious babies J57 and J58 and their families at the front of the group. Minutes later, K Pod streamed by the point.
As if they were on a mission, both pods continued south at a brisk pace. J Pod fanned out in Dalco Pass to forage for a few hours in the late afternoon. K Pod opted for socializing and a highly tactile nap not far from the Tahlequah dock. K Pod was drifting toward Neill Point when rain and poor visibility impeded our effort to observe what the orcas did next. Both pods departed central Puget Sound during the night.
K Pod has not been here since January 2020. The intricate open saddle patches and stately dorsal fins of these orcas are striking. To our relief, no one was missing; however, no K Pod females had newborns. The last surviving calf in K Pod was born in 2011. Among Southern Resident females, the pregnancy failure rate is nearly 70%. With nine males and only eight females, some of who might be post-reproductive, K Pod is particularly fragile.
Our research partners, Mark and Maya Sears, collected valuable prey and fecal samples on Nov. 12 that will aid our understanding of why Southern Residents struggle to reproduce.
— Orca Annie Stateler is a whale advocate, activist and founder of Vashon Hydrophone Project.