Saturday, August 3, 2013

Good News for Orcas on Two Fronts

— Killer whales that spend their summers in Puget Sound are a distinct population group and will remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service spent a year reviewing a petition to delist the orcas. The petition was brought by the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of California farmers who faced water restrictions to protect salmon the orcas eat. They argued the Puget Sound orcas were part of a larger north Pacific population and didn't qualify for the 2005 endangered species listing.
But NOAA spokesman Brian Gorman said those arguments were rejected.
"We have decided these killer whales are a distinct population group," Gorman said. "They have their own language, own food source. They don't interbreed with other groups of killer whales. They meet the legal standard for a distinct population group."
He added officials are continuing to work on recovery plan options.
There are now 82 orcas in three pods — J, K and L — which also spend much of the year in the Pacific off the West Coast.
They are known as southern resident orcas. Puget Sound also is visited by so-called transient killer whales that hunt harbor seals.
"It's great news that Puget Sound's orcas will continue to be protected," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.
"It was troubling to even think that the killer whales might have their protections stripped," she said in an email.
The Fisheries Service says there's no new information to make it change its opinion.
"Our determination that the southern resident killer whale population constitutes a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act and previous conclusion that the DPS is in danger of extinction and should retain endangered status all support our finding that the petitioned action to delist the southern resident killer whale DPS is not warranted," the service said in its finding.
Despite their popularity with whale watchers and symbolic value to the region, the orcas are "not in the best of shape," Gorman said.
Their numbers peaked at close to 100 in the 1990s.
"Water quality in Puget Sound isn't the best. There's lots of boat traffic, especially in the summer," Gorman said. "Their food — Chinook salmon are limited. And that's just in Puget Sound. We have no idea what goes on in the ocean where they spend most of their time."
A recovery plan issued in 2008 suggests actions to address threats from pollution, vessel traffic and noise and a limited food supply, NOAA said in a news release.
A lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation said he'll check with the family-run farms to decide whether the next step will be a lawsuit. The Empress Del Bosque and Coburn Ranch farms in the San Joaquin Valley south of Sacramento might receive no irrigation water next year in order to help protect salmon in the Sacramento River.
"Although we disagree with the service, the finding does tee up various issues that we would like to litigate over," attorney Damien M. Schiff said Friday.
The main one is the lack of a genetic difference between Puget Sound orcas and others that are not endangered.
"Our argument is the service is cherry picking to list a population of species," Schiff said. "You could take any species, and if you focus on a narrow subset of individuals you could decide they are not doing well and need protection."
Only by narrowing its focus to these three pods can the service say it looks like the population is in trouble, he said.

SEATTLE (AP) Aug 3, 2013— Washington state is getting a new officer — one who will protect and serve killer whales.
Federal funds will allow the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department to hire an officer to enforce laws protecting Puget Sound orcas.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says the department will use the $925,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to hire the enforcement officer for three years.
The killer whale cop is expected to spend 500 hours a summer on marine patrols, investigating violations, and working with other federal or Canadian agencies and community groups.
The officer will make sure boaters stay at least 200 yards away from the orcas. They have been listed as an endangered species since 2005, and NOAA turned down a petition Friday to delist them.


Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2013/08/02/3125772/noaa-puget-sound-killer-whales.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, June 17, 2013

Island Mariner maintains its 100% success rate for seeing whales in 2013

Ten sailings into the 2013 season, and our Island Mariner passengers have seen whales on every trip.  This past weekend, June 14-16, we spotted several members of a transient pod, including the seldom-seen T103.  Transients normally travel in small pods of 6-7 animals, dine on warm-blooded marine mammals, and are infrequent visitors to the Salish Sea.

Saturday’s Bellingham Herald reported that conservation efforts to save the North Pacific humpback whale have resulted in a dramatic increase in sightings in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  We’ve seen a humpback on one trip this season and we’ve spotted Minke whales on two occasions.  More whales in the area mean more chances for you to experience some of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring animals in our region.

Governor Jay Inslee has declared June 2013 as Orca Awareness Month, a statewide effort to educate the public and take action to improve conditions for the survival of our Southern Resident Orcas.

With the summer season in full swing, our cruises are filling fast.  We had 100+ passengers on each of our sailings this past weekend.  While there is usually space for last-minute, walk-on passengers, we suggest that you call ahead (360-734-8866) or reserve your seats on our website.

Monday, June 3, 2013

100% in 2013!

We are 5 cruises into our 2013 season and our guests have seen whales on every trip.  This past weekend (June 1 & 2) was especially eventful, as our Saturday passengers witnessed the first meeting of the season between J and L pods.  Lots of excitement in the water and on the Island Caper!  Not to be outdone, our Sunday passengers spotted three whale species: orca, Minke and humpback.  And with the great weekend weather we just had, it just doesn't get much better than that.

Our next cruise dates are Saturday and Sunday, June 8th and 9th.  We begin our Friday cruises on June 14th.  There is space available on all three dates.  Book your cruise to adventure at www.orcawatch.com or call us at 360-734-8866 or 877-734-8866.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

May 16, 2013

With the start of Island Mariner’s 35th whale-watch season at hand, here are some Orca facts to keep in mind, as you consider spending a day on the waters of the Salish Sea.

According to the Orca Network, the population of the Southern Resident Orcas declined an alarming 20% between 1995 and 2001.  Recent counts put the total population at about 88 individuals (J pod: 28 members; K pod: 20 members; and L pod: 40 members).  The newest member is J49, first spotted in Aug 2012. And for longevity, J2 – also known as “Granny” – is thought to be the oldest Orca in the world.  It is estimated that she was born in 1911!

In addition to our resident Orca population, killer whales known as transients can also be spotted in our area.  Transients are non-resident whales that, on occasion, come in to northwest waters from the Pacific Ocean.  Within the past week, there have been several sightings in the San Juan Channel.

As you prepare for your whale-watch adventure with Island Mariner, here is a list of some items you’ll want to consider bringing with you:

Layers of clothing – It may be warm and sunny at the dock, but conditions can change quickly on the water.  Wear clothes in layers, so you can adjust easily to the temperature, wind, and precipitation.
Camera – Every whale-watch cruise is different.  The Orcas may appear in the distance, or they may swim right up to the boat.  Having a camera at the ready is a great way to preserve the memories of a day at sea.
Binoculars – We have several pairs on board for your use but, when the whales appear, you don’t want to be left without a way to see them up close.
Food – We have a complete snack bar onboard that serves sandwiches, soups/chowder, beverages and more.  You are also welcome to bring your own snacks/meals with you.

Check out our blog throughout the whale-watch season for more information on sightings and on Island Mariner Cruises!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The 2013 Whale watching season begins May 18!

We hope you can join us this season for an enjoyable day on the water in search of whales, birds and other marine mammals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

We had a great time out whale watching Sunday with J pod. We found J pod out in Haro Strait on Sunday June 10th. L87, Onyx, an adult male from L pod was with J8 - Speiden (b. 1933)  (In picture above.)
We saw two bald eagles by their nest on Lummi Island on the way out. There was also a California Sea Lion taking a nap on a buoy. The weather brightened up, and the seas were calm.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You might like this version of Island Mariner Cruises 50th Anniversary logo. Details about Orca Whale sightings are coming soon!