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Southern Resident orcas, from Pt. Robinson, Vashon Island, Jan. 24, 2020, by ON WSN Volunteer Marla Smith

September 25, 2020

* More photos available upon request

CONTACTS: Susan Berta/Howard Garrett (360) 331-3543     (360) 720-7176 or (360) 661-3739 cells


LEARN MORE - SHARE THE WATER WEBINAR # 2: Sept. 29, 7 - 8 pm
How to be Safe with Southern Resident Orcas in Puget Sound this fall and winter , with special guest Capt. Alan Myers, WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement

The webinar is free, but registration required. Please register HERE.

Whidbey Island, WA ~
Fall is the season Puget Sound orca lovers have been waiting for, signaling the return of Southern Resident orcas to our urban inland waters, creating many opportunities for amazing shore-based encounters with our favorite pods as they swim past our neighborhoods following salmon. This is also an important time for boaters in our urban waterways to be aware of the presence of whales, and to give the Southern Resident orcas plenty of space - especially with the birth of little J57 and J58, the newest members to this endangered community of orcas, and with the knowledge there are other known pregnant females in other pods. Stay 300 – 400 yards from Southern Resident orcas, slow to 7 knots or stop your boat and just enjoy, and do not get in the path of orcas.

For decades Southern Resident orcas have begun their annual visits into Puget Sound around early October, spending fall and early winter months coming and going feeding on Puget Sound salmon. Southern Residents traditionally spent the summer months feeding on Fraser River Chinook in their core summer habitat - the San Juan and Canadian Gulf Islands, Georgia and Juan de Fuca Straits. With Fraser River salmon stocks still at record lows J, K, and L pod have had little food to bring or keep them inland during the summer, and they again spent more time off the BC/WA coast and less time in their core summer habitat this year. But they seem to continue to find enough salmon in Puget Sound during the fall and early winter, and we expect them to return to these waters any day now. The inland Puget Sound habitat provides an especially important foraging opportunity during these years of declining salmon runs in other regions the remainder of the year, and is especially important this year for the new and expectant moms in the pods.

Though for twenty years Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network (WSN) has focused on shore-based whale watching, we also realize there are many boaters out in the more urban areas year round. With the impacts of COVID19, Washington has seen a huge increase in boat sales, and with many people working from home, there has been an increased number of boats on the Sound this summer and fall. Our Share the Water project has been launched to reach out to boaters to make sure they are aware of the regulations, and to educate them about orcas and other whales in the Salish Sea, to inspire and motivate them to want to be more careful boaters, for the safety of the whales, and for their own safety as well. Join our Share the Water Facebook page.

Trained WSN volunteers and citizens document the travels and behaviors of J, K, and L pods during these Puget Sound fall/winter forays, providing important information on habitat use and salmon runs most important for Southern Residents. Orca Network asks boaters to always remain aware of orcas and other whales with which they share the Salish Sea, and to follow the Be Whale Wise regulations and guidelines. We encourage boaters and shore-based observers to report boaters who are not observing these guidelines to NOAA Fisheries enforcement at 800-853-1964, or via the BeWhaleWise website.

Anyone who sees orcas (or other whales/dolphins) can help by calling in sightings immediately, and when possible photographing (from a safe distance) the whales to provide IDs. Whale reports may be called in to our toll-free number: 1-866-ORCANET, emailed to, or posted on our Orca Network Facebook page. You can sign up for our weekly Whale Sightings Report at

The Orca Network website Sightings page also posts and maps whale sightings, with archives back to 2001, and includes our Whale Sighting Viewpoints map for volunteers and citizens to use to see whales from land-based viewpoints around the Sound, with descriptions of over 100 public viewing locations and directions to help find them. The map can be zoomed in to each location.

The map and current sightings are also displayed at Orca Network's Langley Whale Center at 105 Anthes Ave, Langley, Whidbey Island, along with exhibits and displays about orcas and the many other inhabitants of the Salish Sea. And for the most recent whale sightings, go to our Orca Network Facebook page.

Or listen for the whales to arrive at - choosing Orca Network's hydrophone at Bush Pt, Whidbey Island, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's hydrophone, or the San Juan Island Orcasound Lab hydrophone. Listening to the hydrophones not only provides opportunities to hear whales, but also gives us an idea of what the acoustic underwater world is like for whales and other marine mammals, who have experienced an increase of marine traffic.

Susan Berta and Howard Garrett
Orca Network

Contact: Susan Berta, Orca Network 360-331-3543



Please join Orca Network on Wednesday September 2nd at 7:00 pm for the first in a series of webinars about responsible boating around whales, and how to Share the Water. Given the increase in boat sales in our region the past few months, and the impacts of COVID19, we have been seeing many more boats on the water, especially in the more urban waterways in central and south Puget Sound. We encourage ALL people who spend time on the water to join us, whether you use a sailboat, kayak, power boat, or paddle board. Any type of vessel can harass and harm whales and other marine mammals when not following the regulations and guidelines.

We are pleased to have Lynne Barre from NOAA's Protected Resources Division as our first presenter for our September 2nd webinar. Our goal is to reach out to boaters before the holiday weekend, to remind them we share these waters with many whale species, and educate boaters about the BE WHALE WISE laws and regulations in place to protect both whales and boaters. Always remember, when you are on the water, you are visiting whales and marine mammals in THEIR home, please be safe and respectful.

The Share the Water – Whale Safe Vessel Project was launched in July 2020 as a way to increase our education and outreach to help the public adopt safe etiquette when around whales on the water. By educating and engaging vessel operators we believe they will be motivated to be more careful boaters, and inspired to learn more and take action to help the whales of the Salish Sea. As a part of this project we are offering a series of webinars featuring guest speakers from around the region.

To begin the webinars, Orca Network staff will spend a few minutes introducing our new Share the Water - Whale Safe Vessel Project, share our position on watercraft and whales, and briefly review the whales & dolphins you are likely to encounter in the Salish Sea. Lynne Barre joins us to discuss Be Whale Wise - a partnership of governmental agencies, non-profits and other stakeholders in the Salish Sea to research, implement and educate best vessel practices.

Learn about vessel safety and how to lawfully and safely share the waters when you see marine mammals of the Salish Sea; learn the importance of keeping your distance for the safety of the whales and yourself; and where/when to report if you observe someone not following the Be Whale Wise regulations and who is harassing whales or marine mammals. We will have a few minutes at the end of the presentation for your questions.

REGISTER HERE for the webinar.

Or visit Orca Network's website at

For more information on the Share the Water project: For more information about Be Whale Wise, visit:


NEWS RELEASE - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JULY 22, 2020 FROM: ORCA NETWORK - Connecting whales and people in the Pacific Northwest

CONTACTS: Susan Berta/Howard Garrett ( - 360-661-3739; or Cindy Hansen Cindy Hansen, ( - 360-223-5666

ORCA NETWORK LAUNCHES "SHARE THE WATER" WHALE SAFE VESSEL PROJECT Orca Network, a Whidbey Island based nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the whales of the Pacific Northwest, has just launched their new project "Share the Water" Whale Safe Vessel Program.

For two decades Orca Network has worked with NOAA Fisheries, Washington State Ferries, the Center for Whale Research, Cascadia Research Collective and others to collect and share whale sightings data throughout the Salish Sea and along the Pacific coast. Through the popular Whale Sighting Network, people throughout the region are engaged through this community science effort to observe, collect and share whale sightings. The Sighting Network provides important data on habitat use and changes over time by multiple whale species, helping to inform agency decisions and management plans for endangered Southern Resident orcas and other species. Orca Network reaches over 170,000 people via Facebook pages, and 14,000 receive weekly whale reports with photos, videos, news, research and links to educational events and materials.

Though Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network has focused on shore-based whale watching and onshore education, outreach to boaters has always been a part of the Sighting Network. For years Orca Network has provided education to watercraft operators through distribution of Be Whale Wise materials, frequent postings of whale safe vessel etiquette on social media, our website, and weekly whale reports, and outreach to tens of thousands through our Langley Whale Center, community events and workshops. Said one member of the Sighting Network, “The sighting reports arriving in my inbox are always interesting and encourage me to be a more careful, sensitive boater.” All of the education, outreach and advocacy done by Orca Network focuses on helping people in the Salish Sea make a real connection with the whales - so they want to learn more about them, which leads people to care and take action to help the whales.

One "side effect" of the Whale Sighting Network has been many eyes on the whales from shore, watching and reporting on not only the whales, but the behavior of vessels/watercraft around them. Orca Network refers all complaints to NOAA enforcement and the Be Whale Wise website, where observed infractions and/or harassment can be reported. The vessel/whale issue has become so polarized in the Salish Sea, the result has been many people becoming angry with all watercraft of every type, regardless of their behavior. Given we and the whales all live in an urban waterway, where there will always be many watercraft or vessels on the water, Orca Network thinks there is a better approach.

Orca Network would love to see increased efforts in education, awareness, and enforcement for recreational watercraft of all types, particularly in the narrower inland waters of Puget Sound. Extended visits by Transient/Bigg’s orcas, humpback and gray whales are increasing, especially during spring and summer boating seasons; and Southern Resident orcas rely on Puget Sound for late fall/early winter foraging. The situations observed in Puget Sound the past few weeks clearly demonstrate more needs to be done to address this issue. “What we are seeing in Puget Sound is the perfect storm of an increasing human population and associated increase in recreational and marine traffic, along with greatly increased use of this same habitat by several species of whales” said Orca Network’s co-founder Susan Berta.

Orca Network received partial funding from Patagonia's Seattle Store for our "Share the Water" Whale Safe Vessel Project early this year, and have been in discussions with regional ports and other partners about this program as one of several ways to increase safety for whales and vessel operators in Puget Sound. The COVID19 pandemic has slowed this process and averted some hoped for funds, but we have decided to move forward with the launch of the program, beginning with the distribution of materials and a series of webinars beginning in August. Orca Network believes education is key as a proactive approach and often is better than enforcement alone. Through the use of the Share the Water Facebook page and distribution of Whale Safe Vessel information (including Be Whale Wise, Washington State Parks Orca Safe boating stickers, and Share the Water information cards (which will include resources on regulations, where to report whale sightings and harassment, and where to report marine mammal strandings) we can continue to broaden our education and outreach to help others adopt safe etiquette when around whales on the water. By educating and engaging vessel operators about whales and marine mammals in the waters around them, we believe they will be motivated to be more careful boaters, and be inspired to learn more and take action to help the whales of the Salish Sea.

In the coming weeks Orca Network will begin distributing Share the Water Information and reaching out to ports, marinas and boating and yacht clubs throughout Puget Sound, and will be holding a series of Whale Safe Vessel Webinars. Check out the Orca Network and Share the Water Facebook pages, and our Website Sightings page for more information and to sign up for Orca Network's Whale reports (see links below). Please report whales to the Whale Sighting Network at 1-866-ORCANET, or on the Orca Network Facebook page.

Website and Facebook Page links:
Orca Network Whale Sightings webpage
Orca Network Map of Puget Sound Whale Sighting Viewpoints
Orca Network Facebook page
Share the Water Facebook page
Langley Whale Center Facebook page
Be Wale Wise website


Photo by Amanda Wegner


NOAA Includes The Killer Whale Known As Lolita In The Endangered Species Act Listing Of Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Late on February 3, a new page went up on the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region website stating: *February 6, 2015: *We announced a final rule that amends the ESA listing of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment by removing the exclusion for captive members of the population, hence recognizing, "Lolita" as a protected member of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment.

The date given seemed incongruous with the date it appeared, but the meaning is clear: The L pod orca called Lolita, brutally captured along with six others in August, 1970, has now been granted status as a protected member of her family under the Endangered Species Act, making it illegal to harass, harm, deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship her in interstate or foreign commerce, in the course of a commercial activity, or to sell or offer her for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.

This announcement does not lead directly to Lolita's return to her native waters. The terms harass and harm may or may not mean that confinement in a small concrete tank amounts to harm. We certainly think it does. Lolita is in surprisingly good health, which helps ensure that she would accommodate the trip home and re-adapt well when returned to her familiar waters, but all the other 40 or so captured members of her family had succumbed to the stresses of captivity almost 30 years ago, so there is reason to believe captivity is harming her despite her patience, courage, and resilience.

A simultaneous law suit against the USDA, now on appeal and set to be heard the week of March 23, could prove that the Seaquarium whale tank violates three provisions of the Animal Welfare Act - the dimensions are unlawfully small, there is no protection from the Miami sun, and she has no orca companionship. These regulations are designed to prevent harm, so if it is established in court that the Seaquarium is in violation of them, the harm done by the violations will also be established, so it may be a violation of the ESA to continue to keep Lolita there.

We believe the only remedy for the harm being done to Lolita in captivity is to return her to a protected seapen within a cove in the Salish Sea, her native habitat Orca Network's Retirement Plan. She would be provided all the care and companionship she experiences now, but eventually would be able to swim long distances in the San Juan Islands she likley remembers well, and have the chance to communicate with and ultimately reunite with the family she was taken from 50 years ago.

Keiko's release was successful except for not finding his family - he was able to fish and survive for five years, independently swimming across the ocean, but without other orcas from his extended family to socialize with he turned to humans for companionship. Lolita is a much better candidate for release - she is in good health, and we know her family - they are one of the best known and most studied communities of orcas in the world.

Our proposal for Lolita's return to the waters where she was born has been available for 20 years and has been refined and improved over the years, and provides the best and most humane option for Lolita's retirement years.

This ruling is a huge step toward interjecting some mandated concern for Lolita's health and welfare that can override the strictly monetary considerations that got her there in the first place. Our society doesn't like animal abuse, and the more we learn about orcas the less we can tolerate seeing them locked up as circus acts. The legal initiatives that led to this ruling have been brilliant and effective, as the mood of the country shifts from acceptance to rejection of captive orca entertainment enterprises. Things that seemed impossible a year ago seem doable today.


Howard Garrett & Susan Berta
Orca Network
360-320-7176 (cell)

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