July 2, 2020
Southern Residents K Pod on the West Side of San Juan Island Once Again!!!
Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 7/2/2020 | 13:30
Today was a magical day on the west side of San Juan Island! I am ecstatic to report K pod received the upmost welcome back as they made their way up and down the shoreline, foraging and enjoying their time back home! There are 17 individuals left in this pod, and we were all able to see them spread out and moving through the water in their natural habitat, a heart-filled experience that hopefully we will be able to see again one day.
The Southern Resident population of killer whales are in a severe decline and are critically endangered, receiving full protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. The highest population count took place in 1995, totally 98 individuals in all. Since then, the Southern Residents have faced so many hardships in their home waters and have been on a steep decline, which has been devastating to whale enthusiasts and environmentalists. This keystone species is a great representation of what our waters are truly like, imbalanced from overharvesting and polluted with POPs and PCBs, a far cry from what the Salish Sea was like centuries ago. Over 80 percent of the Southern Resident killer whale diet is Chinook salmon and unfortunately this species is close to being completely decimated in this area. Industrialization has added dams along riverways and extensive logging in the PNW, preventing adequate spawning sights for the salmon population to recover. Our oyster and mussel populations have also been on a sharp decline when compared to estimates hundreds of years ago. These natural water filters and cleaners are unable to keep up with the demands of current pollutants, effecting our sea grass and kelp beds. This vicious cycle has derailed our marine food chain and we are seeing a rapid ecological shift that left unchanged could have irreparable damage, which we are already seeing plainly with our beloved Southern Residents.
As passengers enjoyed being surrounded by orcas from miles around, it was a glimpse of what life could be like every day on San Juan Island if as a collective society make the effort to fix our surrounding waters, both in the sea and rivers alike. Salmon have been the heart of coastal societies for the past 5,000 years and have been inhabited rivers and estuaries for roughly 18-22 million years. The fact that they are not able to survive in the 1900’s and we have almost wiped out this species entirely in just a 100-year span is a blatant indication that we are not treating our waters sustainably and are doing something incredibly wrong with current management tactics. Coastal societies have had plentiful salmon harvesting for thousands of years without threatening populations, so we need to step back as an entire species and decide if we want to be the factor that altered the planet’s work over the past 20 million years due to greed, disrespect, and mismanagement.
K Pod has the smallest number of members in its family of all the Southern Residents, just 17 individuals. The youngest is K44, a male born in 2011, and is the first known calf of K27. It is heart-wrenching to see so few members making up this family, as there has not been a calf born in almost a decade. If there were more members of K Pod like there should be, K44 would have been born into a large family with several siblings and cousins around his own age to socialize with, learn from, and play. Since these animals were so close to our shore today, passengers were able to spend a great deal of time with them and soak up the beautiful surrounding scenery! We had a few large males in the area, one potentially being K33, born in 2001. We have not seen K Pod in such a long time these males have grown up and sprouted large dorsal fins, making their identities a little tricky to figure out! There were also several females foraging and milling in the area. Everyone on board was appreciative to have such a fantastic whale watch! I am not sure when K Pod will be close to San Juan Island or in the Salish Sea again, as they are constantly on the search for an area plentiful in Chinook salmon, an unfortunate position to be in. I was so grateful to spend so much time with these beautiful beings and I cannot wait to see them playing up and down the west side again, like their ancestors have done for millennia. Thank you all for coming out with us today, it was truly a most memorable experience!