Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Our current website URL http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov has changed to https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov. Please note and change your bookmark to our new, encrypted URL to ensure that you are connecting to an official NOAA website and visits to our site are secure and confidential.

2016 Southern Resident killer whale satellite tagging

2016 Southern Resident killer whale satellite tagging

24 February - Research teams from the NWFSC, Cascadia Research Collective, and Biowaves Inc departed on Sunday 21 February aboard the NOAA vessel Bell M. Shimada from Newport, Oregon. We transited north to the area where the most recent signals from K33 had been obtained before the tag stopped transmitting on 17 February - between the Columbia River and Westport. After three sweeps through that area with no detections we headed up the Washington coast Monday night in the nearshore waters. As we neared LaPush this morning, with 25 knots of wind howling out of the east, we saw numerous small blows close to shore heading south. About an hour later we were able close on the whales and confirm that we were with members of L pod. The wind subsided about noon allowing us to launch our research boat from the Shimada. About 1400 we were able to deploy a tag on adult male L95 - (see attached photo). The whales have moved offshore this evening - near the head of the Quinault Canyon (see map). We are hoping for a tag attachment duration that allows us track L pod for the rest of the cruise to gain insights about not only their movements but also their behavior in their coastal winter range.

24 February  




22 February - On our previous update on 16 February K33 and likely the rest of K pod were off the Columbia River, having just turned north. They traveled about half way up the the Long Beach Peninsula by that afternoon before turning south. On the morning of the 17th they were off the Columbia River again. Unfortunately, we received our last transmission about noon that day. We suspect that the tag detached as the battery levels were still good and this deployment of about 50 days was very similar to what we obtained for J27 last year. We are putting all the location data from K25, L84, and K33 to use as we attempt to locate the whales from the NOAA vessel Bell. M Shimada.

22 February  




16 February - As of the last update on the morning of 9 February K33 and the rest of K pod were near La Push on the outer Washington coast heading south. By the evening of the 10th they were off the entrance to the Columbia River, where they turned north. They gradually continued north reaching the Quinault Canyon area off the Washington coast on the 13th. Here they turned south again such that by the morning of the 15th they were off Willipa Bay. As of this the morning (16th) they were off the mouth of the Columbia River. We are hopeful that K33's tag continues to remain attached into the near future as the NWFSC cruise on the NOAA vessel Bell M. Shimada to locate and follow the whales during their winter coastal movements is scheduled to get underway 20 February.

16 February  




31 January - Since our on the morning of the 27th K33 (and likely the rest of K pod) were traveling south had moved inshore and were off Hoh Head on the northern Washington coast. They continued south to just offshore of the entrance to the Columbia River by the morning of the 29th. They turned back north, traveling about about half way up the Long Beach Peninsula by the evening 29th before turning back south. They were off the mouth of the Columbia River by the morning of the 30th and then turned back north to off the entrance of Willapa Bay before again heading south. They were again off the Columbia by the morning of the 31st.

31 January  




27 January - As of the last update (24 January) K33 ( and presumably the rest of K pod) were headed north off Cape Elizabeth on the central Washington coast. They continued north up into the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to just off of Pt Renfrew on southern coast of Vancouver Island on the afternoon of the 25th. From there they turned and traveled west, and then south and were over the Juan de Fuca canyon on the afternoon of the 26th. By the morning of the 27th they had moved inshore and were off Hoh Head on the northern Washington coast.

27 January  




24 January - On the last update (the morning of 21 January) K33 and others were off Tillamook Head, Oregon heading south. They continued south and by the late afternoon of the 22nd had reached the southernmost point of this southerly excursion, off Alsea Bay in central Oregon. There they turned north and by the afternoon of the 24th they were nearing the Cape Elizabeth on the central Washington coast.

21 January  




21 January - As of 19 January K33 (and likely the rest of K pod) had just passed Heceta Head on the central Oregon coast. They continued traveling north such that by the morning of the 20th they were off Tillamook Head. By the afternoon of the 20th they were off Willapa Bay where they turned back south and were again off Tillamook Head this morning (21 January).

21 January  




19 January - On the morning of 15 January, K33 (and likely the rest of K pod) was southbound and had just rounded Cape Blanco in southern Oregon. They continued south over the next two days reaching the southernmost extent of this coastal trip, just north of Cape Mendocino near Arcata, California, on the afternoon of 17 January. They reversed direction and for the last two days have retraced their route and as of this morning (19 January) had just passed Heceta Head on the central Oregon coast.

15 January  




15 January - Our previous update (12 January) found K33 (and likely the rest of K pod) just north of the Columbia River, traveling south. They continued their southbound trek such that by mid-day on the 13th they were off Depoe Bay, Oregon. On the morning of the 14th they were nearing the Umpqua River, an area we had followed L84 to last year during our winter cruise in late February (see 2015 blog). By this morning (15 January) they had just rounded Cape Blanco in southern Oregon. This southerly excursion in January is similar to what we observed in 2013 when we had K25 tagged (see 2013 blog).

15 January 




12 January - On the previous update (7 January) K33 (and likely the rest of K pod) had arrived in the northern Strait of Georgia. They headed back south later that day and traveled through the San Juan Islands the night of the 8th. By the evening of the 9th they were at the west entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and spent most of the 10th near Swiftsure Bank before heading south down the Washington coast that evening. They continued south on the 11th and by the morning of the 12th were nearing Cape Disappointment near the mouth of the Columbia River.

12 January 




7 January - The previous update (4 January) found K33 (and presumably the rest of K pod) at the western entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On the evening of the 4th the whales headed east into the Strait of Juan De Fuca and by the afternoon of the 5th were headed up Haro Strait (with J pod based on the calls on the San Juan Island hydrophones). They spent the 6th in the southern Strait of Georgia and by this morning they were in the northern Strait of Georgia, an area that we have previously seen J pod to commonly frequent

7 January 




4 January - We are continuing the satellite tagging project that we began in 2011 to help us understand where Southern Resident killer whales go in the winter, and thus their winter habitat use. Last Thursday afternoon, 31 December, we deployed a satellite-linked transmitter on an adult male, K33, in central Puget Sound. The location data transmitted from this, and the previous tags we have deployed, tag will be key for NOAA Fisheries in our efforts to address the data gap in winter distribution identified in the Recovery Plan as well as provide information for the designation Critical Habitat in coastal waters. This project is a collaborative effort between the NWFSC, Cascadia Research Collective, and the University of Alaska, with supplemental funding provided by the U.S. Navy.

In 2013 we gained our first detailed look at the coastal movements and habitat use of Southern Resident killer whales with the tag deployed on K25 (see 2013 blog). In 2015 we obtained another 3 months of location data from a tag deployed on L84 (see 2015 blog), which showed movements and habitat use similar to those exhibited by K pod in 2013. Understanding the full degree of this whale community’s movements and habitat use is important to informing the winter data gap and Critical Habitat designation needs. As such, with the expected development of a major El Nino in the North Pacific Ocean this winter, the location data obtained from the tag attached to K33 could provide important insights into how the whales’ respond to the impacts this perturbation may have on their prey. We may deploy additional tags later this year to assess their movements compared to the early winter movement data we obtained previously because little is still known about where the whales go during the spring months (April-June).

The tag deployed on K33 is similar to the tags previously deployed on J26, J27, K25, L88, and L87. In response to an attachment failure of the tag deployed on K25 in 2013 (resulting in retention of an orphaned dart in the fin of K25 which we documented to have been lost sometime this past year) and as required by our research permit, we assessed the cause of the failure and worked with the tag manufacturer on a modification to mitigate for this possibility. The redesign incorporates a petal at the base of each dart to put more drag on the dart in the event of transmitter loss, which will reduce the time the dart remains in the fin.

The tag was deployed on K33 as K pod was traveling north out of Puget Sound on 31 December, 2015. By the Friday, 1 January, the whales had arrived at the west entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They have remained in the area between the entrance to the Strait and Swiftsure Bank since then. An interesting aspect of them remaining in this area for the past several days may have to do with our observation that the K14 matriline was not with the rest of K pod during our encounter. However, on Saturday, the Center for Whale Research encountered J pod, with the K 14s, as they headed south in Haro Strait and then west toward the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca – likely to rejoin with K pod.

We will post updated information and maps on this page for the duration of the tag deployment. For more information about the Satellite Tagging Project, see our FAQs.

4 January