What can I say? With their resilient spirit and razor-sharp intelligence, Orca whales have captured my heart, mind and imagination. In an effort to learn more about them, I’ve begun an independent audio study of our “local” population of Orcas, a group known as the Southern Resident whales. While they migrate to parts unknown each Fall, these Orcas call the waters of Puget Sound and southern British Columbia (aka the Salish Sea) their home, returning to the area each Spring to hunt for Chinook Salmon. The Southern Resident group, which consists of J, K and L pods, currently numbers around 80 whales (significantly decreased from 200 in the 1800’s). In the 1960’s an estimated 47 Southern Resident whales were captured live for oceanarium displays which reduced their population severely. They are currently on the endangered species list.
LEARNING TO EAVESDROP…
Amazingly, you don’t have to be a marine biologist, zoologist or even a scientist to explore the mysterious world of the Orcas. Thanks to the information, software and data shared by the Salish Sea Hydrophone Project, anyone can actively learn about the whales and their high-functioning social culture, which is anchored in the unique vocalizations of each pod. These vocalizations (or calls) are passed down matrilineally, from mother to child, and are used by the Orcas for identification, socialization and communication when hunting or traveling together.
Listening to Hydrophone streams is a sonic journey into an elusive, fascinating world. Courtesy of the SSHP, we are able to hear live underwater audio from several different Hydrophone locations in the Puget Sound area (San Juan Island, Lime Kiln Park or Port Townsend Marine Center). The SSHP also provides direction on the protocol for documenting vocalizations–recording and editing sound clips, creating spectrograms and comparing them to Orca vocalizations on the Salish Sea Sound Tutor to try and ascertain if any of the calls are those of Southern Resident whales. By logging any significant sounds in the shared Salish Sea Hydrophone Observation log, it will bring the sound in question to the attention of area experts who can analyze the recording further if warranted, and add it to the growing collection. Logging whale calls is helpful in monitoring these endangered pods and contributes valuable information about the Orcas’ location, travel patterns, and much more. (Additionally, the goose-bump payoff is pretty large when you do hear marine animals in the wild–like from the Vashon Hydrophone Project where you can listen to Southern Resident orca calls on their home page!)
ORCA LINKS GALORE
Feel free to browse all of the links here. Along with the links I use to explore various hydrophone projects, I have also collected my favorite Orca facts, maps of the Orcas’ Salish Sea travels per the Orca Network Sighting Reports and links to my favorite Orca videos and websites devoted to the scientific study, preservation and protection of the Orcas.
If you have even the slightest interest in Orcas, I highly encourage you to take the time to learn more about them and find your own way to become involved in ensuring their future.