Members of the critically endangered southern resident orca population are chasing salmon into central Puget Sound.
Orcas were back in the central Puget Sound again Friday, thrilling onlookers at Alki Point.
The whales are here likely foraging on chum and coho and resident chinook salmon, said Brad Hanson, biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. It’s been unusual to see the orcas so frequently, including two weeks in November when the whales wowed ferry riders and residents all over the region.
Friday’s arrival was right on time with the whales’ more typical pattern. The southern residents often visit Seattle’s inland sea in December. It is J pod that most frequently visits the inland waters of Puget Sound in December but K pod was putting on the show Friday.
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For writer and photographer Trileigh Tucker of NaturalPresenceArts.com the thrills started at 1:30 p.m. when she got word from a friend the whales were just offshore of Tucker’s home in West Seattle. A quick dash to Me-Kwa-Mooks Park in West Seattle brought the first sight of dorsals, and even the sweet moment of watching the orcas rest, all in a line, breathing sequentially, one whale, then another, Tucker said.
It was the delight on people’s faces as she walked toward her car, preparing to leave, that alerted her she needed to turn around — just in time to see the giant leaps the orcas were making. Such a show that she took about 300 pictures in all, running from Constellation Park to Alki to follow the whales. She shared the photos on Flickr.
It seemed like the orcas just all of a sudden decided to start breaching and tail slapping, Tucker said. “The humans were so excited and the whales seemed to be, too.”
The orcas’ preference for chinook in their diet in summer is well known, when the largest, fattiest salmon of them all makes up more than 90 percent of their diet. But with the arrival of fall and winter, the orcas shift their diet to other species, including coho and steelhead, in addition to chum and resident chinook, also called blackmouth, which the southern residents will chase all the way into central Puget Sound.
Critically endangered, there are only 74 southern resident orcas left in the J, K and L pods.
There’s no way to tell how long the whales will stick around. But their fans are waiting: an orca parade at noon is a highlight of festivities Saturday at Alki Beach Bathhouse, 2701 Alki Ave. SW., from 10 to 2 p.m. sponsored by the Seal Sitters and the Whale Trail, and other environmental nonprofits and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Also on the agenda is a lecture Dec. 4 featuring researchers from UW Superfund Research group. Pesticides and Orcas: Making the Connection is scheduled to begin at at 7 p.m. at C & P Coffee in West Seattle.