Orca Network Celebrates Orca Month

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Governor Jay Inslee has declared June, 2013 the seventh annual
Orca Awareness Month

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Orca Awareness Month Events

Saturday, June 1, 11 a.m.
Blackfish
This film peels back the glitzy circus act to show the real lives of the whales, compared to their true natural history and social lives. After seeing Blackfish it's clear to any viewer that captivity is torture for orcas. What a thrill it was to be a part of this powerful production. Blackfish will show in Seattle on Saturday June 1 at 11 am, at AMC Pacific Place theater, and will show in a theater near you in July, especially if you call your local theater to make sure they get it.
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Saturday, June 1, 3 - 8 p.m.
Shoreline, WA
Whale Scout Launch Party!
Richmond Beach Saltwater Park - Upper picnic shelter (Left off entrance road)
2021 NW 190th Street, Shoreline, WA 98177
Join us to celebrate the launch of Whale Scout, a new non-profit organization providing the public with educational and inspirational shore-based whale watching experiences with knowledgable and charismatic naturalists. Learn more about the organization and our whales in Puget Sound, including orcas, gray whales and even beautiful humpbacks!
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Friday, June 7, 2 p.m.
HomePlace of Oak Harbor
"Orcas and Oreos" Slide Show and Lecture
"Orcas and Oreos" is the theme for a slide show and lecture presented by Orca Network during Orca month. HomePlace invites you to join us as we learn about our local black and white whales. Orca Network will have information on the local Orca named Oreo and her offspring Double Stuff and Cookie. Enjoy Oreo ice cream as you learn! This presentation is part of our Life-Long Learning Program at HomePlace, 171 SW 6th Ave, Oak Harbor. Please RSVP to 360-279-2555 or HPOakHarbormktg@frontiermgmt.com.
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Saturday, June 8, 7 p.m.
The Hall at Fauntleroy, West Seattle, WA
Erich Hoyt - Adventures with Orcas in the North Pacific, from A1 Stubbs to Iceberg, the White Russian Bull Orca.
Erich Hoyt is author of more than 20 books including Orca: The Whale Called Killer.
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Saturday, June 22, 5 p.m.
OrcaSing at Lime Kiln Point State Park, San Juan Island WA
This year we will also celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Washington State Parks. The music performance will be acoustic. While there is no guarantee, we hope that the orcas will grace us with a pass-by. The event is free and open to the public. Participants are encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy the beauty of Lime Kiln. Tours of the historic lighthouse will be offered before and after the concert. A Discovery Pass is required for parking at the State Park and can be purchased through the Lime Kiln Point State Park Interpretive Center Carpooling is encouraged as parking is limited. For more information, contact The Whale Museum at (360) 378-4710 ext. 30. The Whale Museum can be found on-line at www.whalemuseum.org.
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June 12 (not a public event)
Lolita Mural dedication
Tina Jordan, 5th grade Teacher at Olalla Elementary
Olalla, WA 98359
(360)443-3362
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June 30 A "Pub Talk" at the Greenbank Grille! Meet with us at 4 pm at the Grille, for a fun and casual chat about Orcas. Enjoy the Grille's wonderful food and beverages while learning about our whale neighbors, and help us celebrate the wrap up of Orca Month!

Orca Tidbits for Orca Month

June 1:

J pod and the L12s foraged and socialized all the way up Haro Strait to Boundary Pass today. They have their own schedule unbeknownst to us, but this is June 1, the first day of Orca Awareness Month for 2013, so here's your Orca tidbit of the day.

In the realm of demographics, field studies over the past 40 years have shown that orcas have lifespans, reproductive years, post-reproductive years (for females), birth rates, and other parameters very similar to humans' demographic profile. The greatest difference may be in male mortality rates. Orca males seem to die decades earlier than females, at around 30 on average (although J1 Ruffles lived to about 60), leaving far more females than males in the overall population.

It should be noted however, that these numbers are based almost entirely on the 4 decades of continuous photo-ID field studies on the Southern and Northern Resident communities in WA and BC. These populations, especially the Southern Residents, have been seriously perturbed for decades, starting with random shootings probably since hunting with guns began, followed by a decade of unlimited captures, followed by an influx of persistent organochlorine toxins into the food chain, and all accompanied by periodic, but gradually decreasing runs of Chinook salmon, now known to be the mainstay of the Southern Residents' traditional diet. Between 1995 and 2001, extreme el nino years when Chinook runs were all drastically reduced, the Southern Residents lost almost 20% of their small number. They seem to rely almost exclusively on Chinook, although in the fall months they often subsist partly on chum salmon. All this is to say that the population data from the No. and So. Residents may or may not apply to other orca populations worldwide.
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June 2:

For today's Orca tidbit, let's look into those calls we've been hearing today on the Orcasound hydrophones. The calls were a mix of J and L pod calls, reflecting the mix of pods off San Juan Island today, but there were some very strange ones picked up today.

Usually most of the calls we hear are the dozen or so "stereotyped" calls that seem to serve as identifiers, to alert the others of one's presence, location, direction of travel, and probably a wealth of other information in the subtle qualities of the calls.

Along with the recognizable calls today were a variety of unusual calls, or variations on calls, that may not have been previously recorded and analyzed. This wide array of sounds, known as "abberant" calls, often come out when the orcas are socializing, especially when mixed pods or matrilines are mingling or traveling together. Researchers have virtually no idea what any of the calls mean, but they are discrete calls, often repeated, that must mean something to the whales making and hearing them.

But the calls probably don't mean much to other types of orcas. Though they must hear each other often, Bigg's/Transient calls probably don't mean much to So. Residents, and vice versa. With one exception - an apparently universal call that has been called an "excitement" call - each population uses its own complete set of calls. No. and So. Residents also have completely separate vocabularies.

No other species of wildlife is known to use such elaborate, but completely separate, communication systems, but there is very little discussion in the scientific literature of the potential uses or meanings of these calls, except as indications that orcas are members of traditional cultures. It seems that some calls change over the years, and some don't.

But if the calls carry meanings that are shared only among members of the community, then the calls are symbols used to communicate. Whether we're comfortable saying so or not, the orcas that passed by Lime Kiln lighthouse today are using symbol systems, otherwise known as language.

Among the sciences known as the Humanities, there is a well-established scientific discipline devoted to the study of how symbols are used to communicate. It's called symbolic interactionism, but the scientists studying symbolic interaction don't seem to be aware of the use of symbols by orcas, and those who study orca communications don't seem to be aware of symbolic interactionism. Like Transients and Residents, the two sciences don't communicate with each other.
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June 3:

Today's Orca Month tidbit asks if there are enough babies on the way to restore and grow the So. Resident orcas to a healthy size. Are there enough reproducing females now and in the future to sustain or increase the population?

We've talked about why there are so few So. Resident orcas - only 84 at last count: Lack of sufficient Chinook salmon, shootings and captures for entertainment prior to 1976, PCBs and other toxins in the food web, probably military training exercises, and vessel noise. Of these, toxins, especially PCBs (and now PBDEs) not only harm living whales but have the potential to reduce future generations.

The chemical structure of these "endocrine-disruptive" toxins fit like a key into a lock that won't quite open the door, so they block the real keys - normal hormones - from turning the locks that trigger normal growth and responses. Hormones control everything, from fetal development of vital organs like reproductive systems, nervous systems, etc., to healing and immune systems in adults.

These hormone mimics were banned from industrial use in the early 1970s, and were then dumped by the barrel into Puget Sound and all over the Salish Sea, apparently without knowing they attach themselves to living cells, don't biodegrade, and do great harm to everything that ingests them at high levels. They are gradually settling into sediments and disappearing from the food web, but for the past 40 years or so PCBs may have caused reproductive failures in both male and female orcas.

Two years ago Astrid Van Ginneken, co-principal investigator for the Center for Whale Research, summarized the reproductive prospects for J, K, and L pods. Her data (all from CWR's demographic field studies), updated with new data since then, shows this picture of how the pods are doing.

J Pod:
3 post reproductive females
8 reproductive females
3 adult males
6 juvenile females
6 juvenile males
Stable pod - every matriline has sufficient female reproductive capacity

K Pod:
2 post reproductive females
5 reproductive females
3 adult males
2 juvenile females
7 juvenile males
Concerning because there are some older females but very few juvenile females to take their place and because the juvenile male/female ratio is so skewed toward males.

L Pod:
5 post reproductive females
12 reproductive age females – includes L53 (36), L90 (20) and L91 (18) of reproductive age but no calves
8 adult males
3 juvenile females
9 juvenile males
2 unknown sex
Concerning because three matrilines are dead-end and five more matrilines are at risk of dying out if they do not have a female calf in the near future.

Conclusion:
J Pod is stable with all matrilines viable and a balanced gender of juveniles - 6/6.
K Pod has 3 viable matrilines (K4, K7, K8), 1 dead end matriline (K18), and an over-representation of juvenile males with a ratio of 7/2.
L Pod has 3 viable matrilines (L4, L21, L12) 3 dead-end matrilines (L2, L25 L28), 5 at risk matrilines (L9, L35, L26, L32, L37), and an over-representation of juvenile males with a ratio of 9/3.

Take-home message: Female babies are needed soon, especially in K and L pods.
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June 4:

For today's Orca Month tidbit let's look back, way back, to when orcas first appeared on Planet Ocean. Long before there were orcas, the first ancient whales came from four-footed, grazing mammals that waded into a warm, shallow ocean called Tethys around 55 million years ago. Food in the Tethys Sea must have been plentiful and predators few, so they mastered the challenges of swimming, breathing, and eventually giving birth at sea.

Gradually they shed their hairy coats, their nostrils moved to the tops of their heads, their forelegs became flippers and their hind legs slowly disappeared (almost), and they became whales.

A wide variety of these strange ancient whales swam the world's oceans until about 35 million years ago when they died off or morphed into something more like the whales we see today, including both baleen and toothed whales. The earliest forms of dolphins (there were many) showed up a little over 25 million years ago. For about ten million years their brains grew ever larger, until around 15 million years ago when they reached the cranial capacity found in dolphins today, which is about the same as in humans, or slightly larger in some cases.

With one exception: orcas. There's no clear, step-by-step fossil record to tell us exactly when Orcinus orca first appeared in their present form and size, including brain size, but at some point between 8 and 12 million years ago orcas must have looked pretty much like the ones plying the world's oceans today.

This means that orcas with very large-brains (4-5 times the size of human brains) have populated Planet Ocean for roughly ten million years. For reference, human evolutionary history goes back about one million years. And in all those ten or so million years, orcas were the undisputed biggest dogs in the seas. Orcas have had no known predators for millions of years. They are so big, so fast, so smart, and so cooperative, that nothing can touch them, and they are capable of eating anything.

Extrapolating from the dozens of distinct, tradition-bound orca cultures now known worldwide (a topic for another day), each with its own language, diet, social systems, etc., we can safely presume that for much of the past ten or so million years orca communities have devised ways to live as complex, cohesive societies, without depleting their ecological foundations or battling other orca cultures to extinction. Not bad for a grass eater that learned how to swim.

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