Orca tracking resumes along outer coast

March 1, 2016

An orca, possibly L72, was photographed just off the mouth of the Columbia River on Friday afternoon, Feb. 26. The NOAA vessel Bell. M Shimada is pictured in the background. The orcas are here hunting spring Chinook salmon, their preferred food. Resident orcas from the J, K and L pods do not eat sea lions or other marine mammals.

ONG BEACH — Washington state’s resident orcas have been foraging up and down the outer coast in the past week, spending considerable time at the mouth of the Columbia River, according to updates by NOAA Fisheries West Coast Science and Management.

A satellite tag that allowed researchers to track the location of orca K33 fell off Feb. 17, but on Feb. 24 the scientists were able to attach a new tag to adult male orca L95. This has permitted the Newport-based research vessel Bell M. Shimada to stay in touch with orcas as they hunt for Chinook salmon returning to the vicinity of the coast in preparation for upriver migration and spawning.

This Tuesday morning, March 1, the Shimada was westbound near the western entry to the Strait of Juan de Fuca; the orcas also may be in that area. The are capable of transiting the length of Washington’s outer coast in about a day.

NOAA’s most recent detailed update was made Feb. 25:

“In the previous update posted on the 24th L95 and likely most of L pod were off the Quinault Canyon on the evening of the 23rd, trending southeast. They continued south and we were with them most of the day on the 24 off the Grays Harbor area. The whales were extremely spread out such that we lost contact with them for a couple of hours due to reduced visibility and no vocalizing. By the afternoon we relocated them and were able to stay with them all night.

“This morning (the 25th) they were off the entrance to the Columbia River and after traveling a few miles south, they turned north and were just north of the shipping channel entering the Columbia River by this evening. Weather conditions in the afternoon were spectacular and we were able to conduct small boat operations with the whales.”

The scientists took photos of the orcas in the Columbia plume, including the one printed here.

Source: chinookobserver.com

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