Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Whales and Oil Spills Don't Mix

This is about what has occurred on August 13 through August 16, my thoughts, etc.

(There are many sites that have detailed information on some of what was going on.  Do a search for San Juan Island Oil Spill)

Word came that many SRKWs were inbound in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Center for Whale Research reported in their encounter report that all Js, Ks, and most of the L Pod whales were present, except, of course, the L54 group.  They often do not come in with the others, so it's not surprising that they were not present.

They were a good distance west in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  They might not get to the west side until close to dark.  Ah, but they did and then they went down island toward Eagle Point area where they will sometimes 'camp out' for the night and come up at the crack of dawn the next morning.  That is something they have done often this year.

Well before the whales reached the west side there was an INCIDENT that occurred.  Not directly related to the whales but something that has the potential to cause great harm to them, the ecosystem and all the aquatic and non-aquatic beings.

There was a purse seiner boat that was off County Park. It was in the afternoon and 'all of a sudden' the boat started taking on water. It sank. A Good Samaritan rescued the five people who were on the sinking boat.  The boat sank to the ocean floor.  How deep?  Ocean floors are not necessarily level as we think of a 'floor'.  At first it was at about 100' but later it moved and evidently ended up being a lot deeper. 

The response by the USCG was awesome and continues to be that way. Other agencies as well, but I just don't remember them all.  However, they are local, state and federal and all working together to contain the fuel and oil on the surface.  - Yes, it is a real horrible thing that has happened along the west side. 

The oil spill at the early stages was said to be almost 2 miles long. Later it spread out into Haro Strait going into Canadian waters, and that's about 2 or more miles from shore. Booms were set up at the opening to some small bays, a place where the oil could easily end up.

So what did the whales do?  It was an all-nighter listening to the hydrophones hoping to NOT hear any calls, which is what occurred.  Whew!  However, the whales will sometimes come up Haro Strait totally undetected over the hydrophones - not even a whisper.  

Early morning Augst 14 - okay, where are you whales? But would it be an 'easy find'?  Of course not.  There were whales seen in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and as luck would have it, 3 or 4 very knowledgeable SRKW people were able to ID SRKWs!  Yay?  But it was only a dozen or so...hmmm where were the other 50?  Another group of whales were seen in Active Pass...likely some of the SRKWs which would have meant they went right through the fuel/oil spill. Oh, no!

Now to add a bit of levity to it all, though this is a very serious subject.

Why would the whales come all the way in and then turn and leave before going north to check out the salmon availability near the Fraser River?  Here's the 'levity':  The whales realized that who they came to visit was Ken Balcomb, but he wasn't here he was over on the Olympic Peninsula and not far from there is where the SRKWs were spotted in the morning and later a report came that the only ones not seen were the L54s - as I mentioned - that's what the L54s will do!

A huge sigh of relief went through the whale community to know that none of the SRKWs had gone through the spill in the night.

The whales continued going west and kept on. As of Tuesday, August 16 they have not returned. I didn't think I would ever 'ask the whales to Stay Away' but that's what many have been saying.

The response teams from the many agencies had their hands full with the spill work and the whales helped by not being here.  Let's hope they stay out to sea a bit longer.

Today, Tuesday August 16, there was a group of humans learning/practicing coordination and the how-tos to deter the whales should they come in and head toward 'dangerous' water for them.

People have asked, 'Don't the whales know enough to stay away?  No, they do not.  Look up: Exon Valdes oil spill. 

So, for now, I've put my observations and thoughts here so I won't forget.  

This is a HUGE 'wake-up call' for making plans, preparation, practice, and to always be ready to go the distance for the environment and all it's creatures.  Oh, that includes us too. 


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