Southern resident orcas delighted Whidbey residents, visitors and whale enthusiasts when they appeared off the island’s southern coast Thursday and Friday.
According to the Orca Network, J pod, K pod and at least some members of L pod were all present. On the mornings of Oct. 12 and 13, the whales, around 50 in number, stopped by Edmonds before making their way north to Whidbey Island waters.
On Thursday, the whales were spotted off Possession Point. On Friday, they were seen near Bush Point.
Last week’s sightings mark one of the first times the orcas have been in the area after what Orca Network called a prolonged absence from Puget Sound. Orca Network outreach coordinator Cindy Hansen explained that apart from one sighting near the San Juan Islands Sept. 12 and 13, the pods have not been seen in the area since last winter.
Hansen said the whales used to spend the summer in the area, but declining salmon populations have forced them to search for food elsewhere. On Thursday and Friday, they were seen foraging and breaching along Whidbey’s shoreline.
Hansen said people get so excited about whale sightings because the pods just don’t appear in the area as often as they used to. These appearances help “create a lot of advocates” for marine life conservation causes, and the endangered orcas’ plight in particular, she added.
Orca Network Board President Howard Garrett explained that salmon and orca habitat restoration efforts are immensely important in ensuring the longevity of the pods.
“The joy of seeing the sheer number of Southern Residents today is beyond description and serves as a reminder that despite the excitement and fanfare of their return, these beloved whales are still in peril as Fraser River salmon stock numbers remain at record low numbers,” he said.