July 11, 2010

Jumpin' Jehosaphat

I do not know what has the orcas so wound up this season, but I have seen more breaches in the past week than I saw all of last season.  I love that they are being so enthusiastic and since it always seems to be paired with aggressive feeding I would like to think that this means that we are having an extraordinary return of salmon.  I expect this sort of behavior from the calves and juveniles, but there have been some monster shows of aerial acrobatics from the adults as well.  A few of our lucky guests have had their cameras pointed at the right place at the right time and have been rewarded with exceptional photographs.  Including a 12 year old girl who definitely has the eye of a professional.

Breaches are a favorite trick of the zoo and aquarium world and we are no different out here.  At least in our enthusiasm for a "good show".  How we are different though, is that we know that our wild orcas do all of the same behaviors that the captive ones do, but that they do them for a reason and because they want to, not because their dinner is dependent on it.  Researchers do not know specifically what the triggers are that preclude a breach, especially since we see them from all members of the population and at various times.  The breaches that occur during feeding are almost certainly tied to the need to control the movements of fish to facilitate catching them.  But what about the calf that breaches 9 times in a row?  Is it simply extra energy or is he practicing his "moves"?  And does he exasperate his mother in the process?  What about the breach that comes when they are simply traveling or even resting?  I would imagine that that would disrupt the group.  We are talking about a highly specialized society with rules that we can not even begin to comprehend.  What ever the needs for their airborne displays, orcas are definitely powerful and graceful creatures, even in their bulky size.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you movers and shakers out there, thank you and we will...

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist