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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

October 25, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Orcas back in local waters

Residents of the J, K, and L pod of orca whales have visited local waters three times already this month, from Admiralty Inlet to the south end of Vashon Island, where they were seen last weekend.

“Any time after Oct. 1 is fair game,” said Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center of Seattle, who added that the whales are here to catch returning runs of Puget Sound chinook and chum headed to local rivers to spawn.

1_J49_and_J37.JPG

A new birth to J pod in the summer of 2012. There are only about 85 Southern resident killer whales, which are protected as an endangered species.

Photo courtesy Center for Whale Research

The endangered whales also will make visits to the outer coast at this time of year, but likely will be back and back again to Puget Sound. Hanson, when the weather allows, follows the whales locally to get samples of fish scales and scat to continue researching the animals’ diet.

The abundance of salmon and orcas appear to be linked, a poignant situation in which an endangered animal is depending on a threatened one — Puget Sound chinook — as food.

Orcas also will eat chum in Puget Sound waters, Hanson said, choosing them at this time of year because they are good size and far more abundant than chinook in the fall.

NOAA and the Fisheries and Oceans Canada are expected to publish a report next month on the link between orca and salmon populations. More information about their research and joint workshops on the question is online.

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