June 19, 2016
Hawaii’s whale watch for humpbacks is done for the year, but across the pond, the watch is still on for killer whales.
Vashon Island has seen an encouraging return of blackfish.
There are three resident pods of killer whales that roam the waters off Washington state. Each is centered around the older females and all feed primarily on salmon, except the transient orcas who come near shore to feed on marine mammals such as seals.
Once seen in nearly every waterway of the Puget Sound, including Quartermaster Harbor off Vashon Island, killer whales have been here for thousands of years. They have learned to co-exist with humans even though we have not always deserved their trust.
One particular channel was frequented by pods of orcas until 1965 when the marine park business was taking off. Hunters chased a resident pod of killer whales up the channel toward the harbor.
“The plan was to herd them into the harbor here because it is a smaller confined space,” said Annie Stateler of the Vashon Hydrophone Project.
The whales were able to avoid capture that traumatic day, but just two days later, down the coast in Carr Inlet, a well-known capture was made.
“They did succeed in capturing a juvenile female,and she became the first Shamu killer whale,” Stetler said. “She was eventually shipped to San Diego.”
The rest, of course, is history. Captures took place for another dozen years and many more whales were taken out of the wild to be put on display at amusement parks.
Whale families began steering clear of narrow bodies of water. According to residents on Vashon, killer whales didn’t return to Quartermaster Harbor for some 50 years until just a few months ago.
Resident Bob Lane said “Hopefully, coming back in to Quartermaster Harbor is a positive sign for our fishery.”
All this is happening at a time when there is an outcry to ban all killer whales in amusement parks once and for all.