Sunday, October 26, 2008
Seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and feared dead in what could be the biggest decline among the sound's orcas in nearly a decade, say scientists who carefully track the endangered animals.
"This is a disaster," Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, said Friday.
While the official census won't be completed until December, the number of live "southern resident" orcas now stands at 83.
Among those missing since last year's count are the nearly century-old leader of one of the three southern resident pods, and two young females who recently bore calves.
The loss of the seven whales, Balcomb said, would be the biggest decline among the Puget Sound orcas since 1999, when the center also tracked a decline of seven whales.
OK, so why am I now posting about whales? Well, two reasons: First, many may not know this, but they are my favorite animal. (Mammal, I know, I know).
Secondly, I've been on four or five whale watching expeditions, and while the humpback remains my favorite of the species, the Orca whales of Puget Sound gave Wendy and me the most joyous adrenaline rush we've experienced on vacation. Here's what happened...
The year was 1997. We'd been whale watching the year before off of the coast of Maine and only saw one small Minke whale. So, we entered into our second whale watching experience, off of the coast of Washington State, with a bit of trepidation and a lot of cautious hope. We'd been out on the water a couple of hours when the guide began to spot Orcas. Lots of them. In fact, she said she thought we were approaching an entire pod of Orcas - a traveling band of about thirty whales.
The boat stopped and we watched from a distance. Suddenly, from another direction, a second group of whales began to move in. Markings, size, and behavior allowed the guide to recognize these whales by sight. Each had a name, each a distinct personality.
We watched approximately 60 whales begin to play, spy-hop, breech, and communicate.
The word must've spread, because a few moments later came the remaining pod of Orcas that inhabit the Puget Sound area. Even the guide was in speechless awe. She said she'd never seen this happen before, but the 90 whales we saw dotting the horizon made up what they call a "Superpod".
We stayed and watched in silent joy for what felt like hours.
I hope these whales can be saved. I know a 'Save the Whales' statement would get scoffed at in this day and age when we are having a hard enough time saving ourselves. But, these majestic giants of the sea are a glimpse at something divine. I hope, if we can't save them ourselves, we can at least stay far enough out of their way so they can thrive, and we can still watch from just off the mainland.