southern resident orcas | KNKX

southern resident orcas

The Capitol dome is seen across Capitol Lake in Olympia. The Legislature convenes today for the 2020 session, and environmental groups are identifying their top priorities.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

As the new session gets underway in Olympia today, environmental groups have released their legislative priorities.

Items topping their list this year are renewed attempts to pass a clean fuels standard to reduce carbon pollution from transportation, as well as a statewide ban on thin, single-use plastic bags. 

Southern resident orca whales, seen frolicking in 2008 less than 200 yards from shore near the light house at Lime Kiln Point State Park.   The one breaching is Canuck L-7, in the foreground is Faith L-57. Neither is still living.
Jeanne Hyde

Author’s note: Sometimes the best stories are not planned out or deeply researched in advance, but rather the product of simply listening and letting a narrative take you where it wants to go. This one came about because I had always wanted to learn more about how orcas communicate: the extent to which we know they have some sort of language. I asked around and learned the person to contact is Jeanne Hyde, a wonderful character who has devoted more than a decade of her life to constantly listening to killer whales. Jeanne’s passion for telling the stories of these orcas is infectious. And her collection of sounds provides unique perspective, especially on the tragic grief ritual of mother orca Tahlequah, who caught the world’s attention in 2018. You’ve gotta listen! (This story originally aired March 29.)

In this Aug. 7, 2018, photo, Southern Resident killer whale J50 and her mother, J16, swim off the west coast of Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew, B.C. J50 has since been declared dead, one of several deaths in recent years.
Brian Gisborne / Fisheries and Oceans Canada via Associated Press

The federal agency in charge of endangered orca recovery is proposing to add more than 10 million acres of Pacific coastal waters to the area it considers "critical habitat." The government does not expect the expanded habitat designation to affect coastal economies.

Rick Bowmer / AP Photo / file

Low numbers of Chinook salmon expected to return to the Columbia River this summer have led state and tribal officials to close that fishery until Aug. 1. They’ve also announced new restrictions on Puget Sound Chinook.  

A whale watching boat, from a distance, watches one of several transient killer whales during a whale watching trip last month.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Experts and enthusiasts agree, whether on water or on land: it’s difficult to describe the feeling people get in the presence of orcas.

“I wish you could bottle what happens when people see whales,” said Donna Sandstrom, while passing out binoculars to passersby in West Seattle. “The sheer joy and the awe is always moving.”

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca recovery task force and environmental groups supporting its work say they have four critical bills that are still in play this legislative session. They’re calling on state lawmakers to keep moving the bills forward.

Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

A de facto ban on whale watching boats that would have required them to stay 650 yards away from endangered Puget Sound orcas for three to five years has been stripped from revised legislation. The compromise goes against a recommendation from Gov. Jay Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

If you want to keep Puget Sound's endangered orca whales from going extinct, you have to make sure they have enough to eat. That’s a key message from members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca recovery task force.

In this February 2015 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale. A new calf was spotted Friday. No calf born in the past three years has survived.
NOAA, Candice Emmons / AP file

A new calf was spotted Friday among the population of critically endangered Southern Resident orcas.

Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research, told The Seattle Times that the calf — just weeks old — was first seen today at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

Water moves through a spillway of the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River near Almota, Washington. It is one of the four dams on the lower Snake River, which advocates have argued should be removed to provide better habitat for Chinook salmon.
Nicholas K. Geranios / The Associated Press

The Army Corps of Engineers has trimmed a year off the timeline for its court-ordered environmental review of the 14 dams and reservoirs in the Columbia River system. The agency is now aiming to sign off on a decision for how to manage the system and its impacts on endangered salmon by the end of September 2020.

A photo taken of J-17 on New Year's Eve showing "peanut head," which indicates starvation.
Center for Whale Research

Last year was bleak for the critically endangered Southern Resident orca population, and 2019 is showing little reprieve so far. A regional expert on the pods says two whales, J-17 and K-25, are ailing and likely will die by summer.

In this Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015 photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) a new baby orca swims alongside an adult whale, believed to be its mother, about 15 miles off the coast of Westport, Wash.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Candice Emmons / AP Photo

Environmental law in the U.S. regulates pollution, but often doesn’t protect the things we love.  A movement to change that by securing so-called "rights of nature" is taking hold globally – and locally, too.

Orca whales swimming
The Associated Press

People who love Puget Sound orcas and want to save them from extinction will rally in Olympia tomorrow. And Gov. Jay Inslee plans to join them, immediately after announcing his budget priorities for the coming year.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

The state Department of Natural Resources is asking the Legislature for nearly $90 million dollars to protect and improve aquatic lands. DNR chief Hilary Franz says the package will support the work of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force.

Nicholas K. Geranios / AP Photo

Gov. Jay Inslee has received a letter from the region’s leading killer whale scientists, calling for the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake river.

Katy Foster / NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786-03.

Experts say they’re preparing a plan to capture and treat a sick, critically endangered orca if there is no way to save it in the wild.  They're preparing to rescue the animal known as J-50 if she separates from her family or gets stranded while alive.

An emaciated orca from the Pacific Northwest’s critically-endangered resident killer whale population could get a pole injection of medicine under the latest prefered option of an emergency response team. 

An emaciated, 4-year-old Pacific Northwest orca is drawing alarm.

NOAA Fisheries spokesman Michael Milstein said feeding live Chinook salmon to the female orca, possibly laced with medication, is being considered.

Elaine Thompson / File / AP Photo

Despite a very bad summer for local resident orca whales, this winter is shaping up as a premium time to see them from the shore. Orca watchers say the Southern Residents seem to be foraging for chum salmon after finding less Chinook than usual this year.

NOAA Fisheries

Passions run high on the issue of how to best protect resident killer whales in the waters off the San Juan Islands.

A public comment period on a proposal that could help them ends Thursday.

Orca whales communicate underwater with complex calls that researchers say are a language all their own. And they use echolocation to find their way around.