The Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada are actively searching today, Wednesday, November 4, 2015 for an adult male transient or Bigg’s killer whale seen and photographed Monday off the Thetis Island-Chemainus Ferry in Stuart Channel, BC, possibly entangled with a rope and float.
(left) 19-year-old male transient killer whale T077A seen Monday with possible rope and float entanglement. Photo: DFO Canada.
Leading the effort on the PWWA side is Capt. Hobbes Buchanan of San Juan Island Whale & Wildlife Tours, who’s enlisted his Capt. Alan Niles to traverse wide swaths of the Salish Sea over the last few days on an intensive, dedicated search for the 19-year-old T077A… on his own dime. With no paying passengers on board the Natsilane, Buchanan’s company is covering the fuel and other costs associated with the effort, and promises to continue looking until the whale is found – not just because he loves these animals, but also because of his particular affinity for this one.
T077A together with another adult male T49C make up a tandem of orcas known by whale watchers as “the twins” (right), because they’re often seen traveling side-by-side and have identical shaped dorsal fins and notches on the trailing edges of the dorsal. They also seem to enjoy each other’s company, frequently socializing together. They’ve become a quite popular duo.
THE TWINS_T077A and T49C_Photo Capt Hobbes Buchanan_San Juan Island Whale & Wildlife Tours_San Juan Island WA
“The twins are my favorite male transient orcas because they’re just plain funny,” explained Buchanan, who together with fellow Capt. Alan Niles has been traversing wide swaths of the Salish Sea over the last few days searching for T077A. “They’re so social and curious. Doing what I do for a living you just can't help but get attached to these animals. I have to help these guys when they need it!”
“We have our expert disentanglement team ready to go,” said Paul Cottrell, Pacific Marine Mammal Coordinator for the DFO Canada. “Hopefully the gear has come off on its own,” Cottrell says, but if the orca is sighted and the gear is still attached, he asks that people do not engage the animal or gear but immediately call the British Columbia Marine Mammal Response Network at (800) 465-4336.
This isn’t the first time an orca has run into trouble with tackle. In August, a PWWA crew spotted and photographed a 12-year-old male orca J39, a member of the endangered Southern Resident Community, off San Juan Island with a salmon flasher stuck in its mouth (left: Photo by Naturalist Barbara Bender, All Aboard Sailing, San Juan Island, WA).
“And we immediately went into action then,” explained Michael Harris, Executive Director of PWWA, representing 36 operators in BC and Washington. “Within a couple of days we found J39 and sure enough, as we hoped, we were able to confirm the flasher had come out of his mouth. He looked fine.”
Bigg's killer whale T077A seen Monday in Stuart Channel, BC with possible float and rope entanglement. DFO photo
“Entanglements like this don’t happen often with killer whales as they do other whales,” Harris continued. “And when they do happen, they often find a way to get themselves out of trouble. But we don’t take anything for granted out there. We’ve got the expertise and the resources to help, so our attitude is, all hands on deck.”