Friday, January 30, 2015

Way of Whales 2015!

Last Saturday, Port Townsend Marine Science Center staff and volunteers attended Orca Network's annual Way of Whales Workshop at Coupeville Middle School. The halls were filled with displays ranging from the region's many stranding networks to the Vaquita Fund. The Whidbey Audubon Society was a hoot as they gleefully gave passerby's temporary Pigeon Guillemot tattoos.

PTMSC's table shared how toxic chemicals make their way from our homes to the marine environment. Our table was a hit! Workshop attendees were especially interested in our Green Cleaning Recipes. In fact we ran out of copies by lunch!

The workshop also included speakers from across the cetacean world. Local musician, Dana Lyons, kicked it off with a performance of the title track from his new album, The Great Salish Sea. If you would like to hear some fantastic music about our region, click here!

Next, Howard Garrett of Orca Network gave updates on the organizations activities. They have recently compiled a Google map of Puget Sound's Whale Sighting Viewpoints. Howard also spoke of the Lolita the Orca. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should deciding whether or not to end her exclusion from the Endanger Species Act listing of Southern Resident Killer Whales by the end of the month. Last, Howard discussed the plight of Chinook salmon, the key food source for Southern Residents. Much of the Chinook salmon's critical habitat is inaccessible due to four dams on the Lower Snake River. For more information on Lolita and Chinook salmon, check out Orca Network's website.

After Howard, Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research took the stage. He focused on the population trends of the Southern Residents and their positive correlation to Chinook salmon abundance. Though the outlook appeared bleak, there is some hope with the birth of J-50!

Then came the hexacopters! John Durban of NOAA Fisheries presented the use of hexacopter drones to study Northern Resident Killer Whales. The hexacopters can fly over the orcas and take detailed pictures, all the while not disturbing the whales! These pictures can then be used to identify individuals and take body measurements. This new technology is an amazing step in non-invasive monitoring. Through this research, NOAA will be able to keep track of orca health in real time. Check out this video to learn more.

Erin Ashe from Oceans Initiative presented her research on Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. In recent years, the dolphins have become more common in Johnstone Strait. As part of her PhD. thesis, Erin has created a photo catalog of the population. By identifying individuals, she has been able to study the population's abundance and social bonds.

The last speaker was John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective. He discussed recent research on the populations of large baleen whales along the West Coast. These whales can often become the victims of ship strike. Through the use of various archival tags and photo ID, John has been studying whale behavior and distribution. John's research is now being used to inform shipping lane managers on how to reduce and prevent collisions with whales.

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