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Nothing Compares 2 U

The Dorsal Spin

Like bears emerging from hibernation, we are a bit grumpy and out of sorts at Chez VHP. Papa Bear has a busted eye tooth that requires an extraction or a root canal. This tooth is one of the most examined and x-rayed choppers in the world! Papa Bear is inclined to have it pulled so he can just be done with it. Baby Bear Nashoba is on constant vigil for the stinky otters who are trying to den under her porch. Mama Bear is bummed out, wishing for a moratorium on the deaths of loved ones and cultural icons.

Speaking of the dead – in this case, whales -- Mama Bear gets cranky when people conform to grandstanding agendas and ignore protocol. Throughout April, a couple of emaciated and sickly-looking young Gray whales roamed lower Puget Sound. One created a stir when he visited the Ballard Locks on April 6. Several Islanders called the VHP (thank you!) to report a Gray whale in Tramp Harbor and later near Dolphin Point on April 8.

Because I am Vashon’s marine mammal stranding coordinator, NOAA’s answering service for the Northwest stranding network notified me on April 19 that a dead whale was floating between Fauntleroy and Vashon. I spoke to the reporting party, a polite state trooper who spotted the carcass on his commute from Fauntleroy. He was unsure of the species, so I asked him to email a photo. I forwarded it to the stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research. I called Mark Sears and urged him to scan for the whale from West Seattle – no luck; it was too far from shore.

At the time, I did not know that a bunch of folks had been gawking at a dead Gray whale drifting up Colvos Pass the day before. A KIRO news story online did not clarify whether Cascadia had retrieved the whale yet. I worried briefly that we might have two dead whales. To my relief, Cascadia Research confirmed that the whale in the photo I sent was the same one they collected on the 19th. From Mark’s vantage point, the hovering helicopters indicated that the carcass was secured off Dolphin Point in East Pass, roughly. That tells you something about the powerful currents in Puget Sound.
A timely reminder to Islanders who are unaware: Vashon’s authorized stranding responders are Orca Annie and Odin. Occasionally, we consult with retired and respected elder marine mammal experts on the island. Someone should have called us at 463-9041 about the deceased whale in Colvos Pass on April 18. Dead cetaceans and pinnipeds in good condition are of high priority for researchers. Now you know for next time, which I pray is not soon.

The poor Vashon Gray whale was the same one who wandered into the Ballard Locks -- a malnourished young male, 29 feet long and about 15 months old. The precise cause of death is still undetermined. Go to to read the preliminary necropsy results.

Our cherished Southern Resident orca population has dropped to 83 with the deaths of Baby J55 and 20-year-old Nigel (L95), a handsome, charismatic male who filled our hearts with joy. This week’s picture is a DFO file photo of L95. Nothing compares to Nigel.

In addition to J55 and L95, another dead female Southern Resident baby washed up at Sooke, BC, in late March. The tragic twist in L95’s death is the grisly and potentially incriminating discovery of satellite tag remnants in his body. Consequently, tagging is suspended for now.

From DFO’s initial necropsy report on L95 and the dead calf:
“A male killer whale was found floating dead near Esperanza Inlet, B.C. on March 30th, 2016. A necropsy was performed on April 1st, 2016, to determine the cause of the animal’s death. This animal was identified as L95, an approximately 20 year old Southern Resident killer whale, via a scar from a satellite tag deployed on the whale by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in February 2016. The Southern Resident population is listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act in Canada.

No clear cause of death was apparent in the initial necropsy. Results include:
•advanced decomposition,
•fair to moderate body condition,
•tag implant site at the base of the dorsal fin. Gross dissection and X-rays of the tag site indicated that the tag petals were left behind when the tag detached, but revealed no apparent localized or tracking inflammation.
•diffuse peritonitis (inflammation of the membrane that lines the inner abdominal wall and covers the abdominal organs) with pronounced spleen enlargement, and
•perforation of the caudal abdomen (near the posterior end) and herniated loops of intestine attributed to decomposition and bloat.

DFO can also confirm that the dead killer whale calf found near Sooke, BC on March 23rd, 2016 has been ID’d by the Vancouver Aquarium genetics team as a southern resident. The female calf was less than 2 weeks of age and had not yet been categorized. Further analysis will be done to determine which pod the calf belonged to. A necropsy was performed on March 25th, 2016. The initial/gross necropsy results did not indicate a cause of death, but given the young age of the animal, a birthing complication is suspected …”

I hate to end Earth Month on a downer, so go to Vashon Center for the Arts on First Friday, May 6, to see the “Shaman’s Kéet Amulet” that Odin carved from a chunk of the venerated Blue Heron white oak tree.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS and STRANDINGS ASAP to 206-463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of sightings for Vashon-Maury initiated three decades ago by Mark Sears. Send photos to Orca Annie at and check for updates at