LONG BEACH — Members of the L pod of Southern Resident Killer Whales were observed off the south Washington coast near Westport on Feb. 13, according to Greg Schorr, a research biologist with the nonprofit Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research.
L pod is one of three groups of orcas that inhabit Puget Sound for much of the year. Research in recent years has shown that the L and K pods each spend an extended period each winter hunting for Chinook salmon off the West Coast, with their efforts often focused around the mouth of the Columbia River. Long Beach Peninsula residents see them with some frequency from the southwestern section of Discovery Trail during the late winter through much of the spring.
Writing on the Orca Network website, Schorr said, “On Feb. 13, researchers from Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research, in collaboration with Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Cascadia Research Collective and the U.S. Navy, conducted a small boat survey out of Westport, WA for Southern Resident killer whales. Weather conditions were excellent, and members of L pod were encountered north of Grays Harbor, WA during the latter part of a 91-nautical-mile survey effort.”
The scientists took identification photos and made an effort to collect prey remains and fecal matter, but no samples were obtained. Additional surveys are planned throughout the winter and spring, when permitted by the weather and logistical constraints.
The extent to which the famous Puget Sound orcas utilize the outer coast was under-appreciated until a series of satellite-tracking experiments that concluded in 2016.
“We have suspended tagging indefinitely after the potential tagging-related mortality of L95 in 2016. We never envisioned tagging as a long-term methodology and the data we gained over the past few years has been extremely informative and is sufficient for our needs at this time,” Brad Hansen, who leads NOAA’s West Coast orca-research efforts, said Tuesday. L95, a member of the L pod, died after a tagging wound became infected.
That tracking effort showed orcas often ranging quickly down to Northern California waters before turning back north to intercept Chinook runs in the Columbia River plume.