Elder male Ruffles (J1), age 57, spyhops off Vashon Island.  Photo © Mark Sears

By Ann (Orca Annie) Stateler
Vashon Hydrophone Project Coordinator
December 2008

The Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP) for Puget Sound whale research is thrilled to report that Southern Resident orcas returned to Vashon-Maury Island waters on December 2. Historically, they first appear in late October or early November. The orcas’ late arrival this year is unprecedented. Migrating chum salmon attract these killer whales to lower Puget Sound in fall and winter.

VHP associates Ann (Orca Annie) Stateler, Mark Sears, and Odin Lonning observed approximately 40 whales from J, K, and L Pods foraging and socializing between Dolphin Point and the Vashon-Fauntleroy ferry lanes.

Working from boats that are permitted to approach within 100 yards of whales, Mark Sears and other NOAA researchers obtained ID photos and collected samples of fish scales and orca scat. The samples provide invaluable clues about diet, stress, disease, and parasite loads in our endangered Southern Residents.

The VHP’s underwater microphone in Colvos Pass identifies killer whale pods by their distinctive vocalizations. The project aids in Southern Resident recovery by recording orca calls to supplement photo-identification and other data. Learn more about the VHP at http://acspugetsound.org/VHP/index.html.

Thanks to an alert spotter at Luana Beach, the VHP was first to notify researchers on December 7 of another orca visit to East Passage. The VHP is grateful to Islanders and ferry commuters who phoned in sightings on December 2 and December 7!

Reporting whale sightings ASAP to the VHP at 206-463-9041 helps researchers obtain samples, ID photos, and recordings of orca calls. To protect our vulnerable orcas and preserve the quality of shore-based whale watching on Vashon-Maury, the VHP does not disclose sightings to whale watch boats.

Contact Orca Annie for more information
206-463-9041 • vashonorcas@aol.com