As someone who loves cetaceans, I thought I knew a good deal about orcas. But today in Vancouver, British Columbia, I spent hours out on the water with T137 pod, one of the transient pods from the local area, and discovered so much more. Most of my knowledge of these endangered animals was of the beautiful Southern Resident Killer Whale resident pods J, K, and L – those who rely on salmon for food – who I had spent time with while visiting the San Juan Islands of Washington. I also know about the transient orcas who frequent Monterey Bay whenever the gray whales are migrating north with their new offspring. I tend to avoid the Bay that time of year because I don’t enjoy the front-row seat to any orcas who hunt and kill newborn gray whale calves. I know it’s the natural cycle of life but it’s not one that I enjoy witnessing. And so it was off of Vancouver this week – I had some trepidation being out on the water when T137 showed up. I didn’t want to have a front-row seat to any seal or porpoise hunt. But I cherished the time with these beautiful, large dolphins who call these waters home.
I lucked out on this day as they were not hunting while I was out on the water. But I did learn a bit more about transients. Interestingly, while the offspring from resident pods (families) stay near their mother throughout their life, only the firstborn male of a transient family will do so. And unlike the large resident pods, the transient pods are very small – typically the mother and two to three of her offspring. I have also always enjoyed how social the resident pods are, and having lots of gestures similar to humpbacks with breaching and tail slapping among one another. Apparently transients are much quieter and subdued unless they’ve just made a kill, at which time they leave their “stealth” mode and take more liberty to have their presence known. With T137, we enjoyed the company of the mother and 2 offspring, one a big boy T137A, and the other, his “sister”, T137B. T137A stayed with our boat off and on most of the hours we were out, and I enjoyed just watching him glide through the water, as that big tall, wobbly dorsal fin would emerge from the water, ever so slowly, over and over throughout the day. At one point, his mother or sister decided to do a tail slap with her fluke, and then continued on her way.
It was nice to be back out on the water with orcas this year. It was the beginning of this year that we were saddened by the news that Granny (J2), the matriarch of J pod, was declared dead when she was not seen again with her pod. Granny had an amazingly long life – 105 years(!) - and she contributed much to killer whale research over the years. I recall seeing her up in the San Juans and marveled at both her size, and her age even at that time. Even though this day was with the transients and not her pod, this day on the water was a way to pay my respects to Granny and celebrate her life – especially at a time when we are very concerned for the well-being of these special endangered animals. Rest in peace, our old girl – and Godspeed to all of these beautiful orcas who I am eternally grateful get to swim freely.
Let’s not forget about Lolita, and think positively she will one day swim free again, as T137 does on this day –