Orcas

J Pod swims in the San Juan Channel on its visit to the Salish Sea on April 10.

While Bigg’s orcas, humpback whales and other species of whales have been spotted off the shores of Fidalgo Island, there are some orcas that aren’t showing up – the Southern Resident whales.

J Pod, one of the three Southern Resident pods, hasn’t been seen in area waters for 100 days.

“There are whales here, but there is no replacing the Southern Residents,” Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Orca Behavior Institute, said in a statement. “We all feel it. We trust that they are doing what they need to do, but it is not the same without them.”

The J Pod was last spotted in the San Juan Islands on April 10. K Pod was spotted in the area July 1 before heading back out, but neither the K nor L pods have been seen inland since February.

No members of the pods have been seen on their typical summer route to follow migrating chinook salmon, according to institute staff.

“We published a study in 2018 showing the declining spring presence of the Southern Residents and its correlation to the crashing of the Fraser River Chinook salmon runs,” Shields said in the statement. “We never thought their summer visits would also diminish so soon. We never thought we would see an absence of more than three months.”

Normally, J Pod whales are spotted every month of the year, according to the institute.

“For the first time since Orca Survey began in 1976, we have gone 100 days without the most ‘resident’ of the three pods in our waters during the peak season,” Michael Weiss, a biologist with the Center for Whale Research, said in the statement. “This is a sure sign of dire, drastic changes in the Salish Sea and Fraser River ecosystems.”

Cindy Hansen of the Orca Network said she hopes the whales are not coming this way because they are finding food elsewhere.

“As much as we miss seeing the Southern Residents, we all hope that they are finding plentiful food off the coast, enough for the population to grow and thrive,” she said in the statement. “They used to spend their summers here, having greeting ceremonies, and socializing with one another. The lack of salmon may be impacting more than their health and ability to reproduce. It may also be depriving them of an important part of who they are as a society.”

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