Captain’s Blog

Meet the Whales of L-pod in 2019 from the Southern Resident Orca Population!

March 4, 2019

L-Pod is the largest of the three pods that make up the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. Not only are they the largest, they also include the oldest living Southern Resident, Ocean Sun (L-25) who is estimated to have been born in 1928. The youngest member in the population also belongs to L-pod.  L-124 was first seen in Puget Sound in the beginning of January 2019 and appeared to be a few weeks old. Ken Balcomb who has studied the Southern Residents for over four decades at the Center for Whale Research, has named L-124 “Lucky”.

The secret to identifying individual whales is to look at their unique dorsal fins and saddlepatches. Like a human fingerprint, the dorsal fin and saddlepatch of a killer whale is completely unique to them. From the black pencil shape in Matia’s (L-77) saddlepatch to the one large and one small nick found on the trailing edge of Mega’s dorsal fin, each member of the family can be distinguished. Learning to identify each whale is all part of the fun and privilege in getting to see these amazing orcas of the Pacific Northwest on a whale watching tour!

Providing information about each whale would not be possible without the work of the Center for Whale Research, the Adoption Program of the Whale Museum and the incredible documentation of this community by Orca Network.

L-22 Spirit, F (1971)
Spirit has always been recognized as an excellent mother. She is never found far from her son Solstice (L-89). Spirit’s oldest son Skana (L-79) passed away in 2013 at the young age of 34. During that summer, all of L-pod left our area for several weeks, except for Spirit and her two sons. During that time they stayed off the shores of San Juan Island and eventually one day Skana was no longer there. It is believed that Skana may have been ill and unable to travel, thus Spirit and Solstice stayed by his side until he passed away. Spirit is believed to be Onyx’s (L-87) sister, but Onyx actually travels with J-pod.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-25 Ocean Sun, F (1928)
Ocean Sun has the honour of currently being the oldest Southern Resident orca! Ocean Sun does not have any living immediate family, but she does travel with the large and lively L-12 matriline who seem to have adopted Ocean Sun as their granny. This mixed family also includes orphaned adult male Mystery (L-85).

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-41 Mega, M (1977)
Mega is currently the oldest and largest male amongst the Southern Resident community. Mega is one of two males who have fathered 52% of all Southern Residents born since 1990 where DNA analysis has been conducted. Mega is very easy to identify because of his dorsal fin that dishes in on the leading edge. He also has a large nick near the center of the trailing edge of his dorsal fin, followed by a smaller nick closer to the base. Mega has two sisters- Matia (L-77) and Calypso (L-94) that he travels very closely to. He is a caring uncle to his two nieces- Joy (L-119) and Cousteau (L-119), his nephew Windsong (L-121) and to his new niece or nephew, Lucky (L-124) who was born in December 2018. Mega’s family has a close bond with Ocean Sun (L-25) and Mystery (L-85).

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-47 Marina, F (1974)
Marina is the matriarch of her family’s matriline which has grown to a large size! She is very close to her two daughters Moonlight (L-83) and Muncher (L-91), and her son Mystic (L-115). More “M” names were added to the brood when Moonlight had her son Midnight (L-110) in 2007. Marina is also the grandmother of Magic (L-122), Mucher’s first son. Marina had four babies and lost each one before Moonlight was born, which may be part of the reason why she is such an attentive mother and grandmother to her big family.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-54 Ino, F (1977)
Ino has a unique shape to her dorsal fin because it has a slight kink near the top. Ino gave birth to her first offspring Indigo (L-100) in 2001 but she sadly lost him when he was just 12 years old. She has had two more sons Coho (L-108) and Keta (L-117). Ino has adopted two mature males who have lost their immediate family into her little family, as resident orcas are known to do. Nyssa (L-84) and Wavewalker (L-88) are often seen close to their adopted mom.

L-55 Nugget, F (1977)
Nugget is part of a very large family and she is a very successful mother. She has one son named Takoda (L-109) and three daughters- Kasatka (L-82), Lapis (L-103) and Jade (L-118). She is a loving grandmother to two boys named Finn (L-116) and Lazuli (L-123). Nugget has a kink in her dorsal fin much like Ino (L-54), but she also has small black openings at the top of her saddlepatch on both sides similar to Blackberry’s (J-27) right-hand side.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-72 Racer, F (1986)
Racer is one of the easiest female Southern Residents to identify because she has a skinny pencil-shaped black mark in her saddlepatch on both sides. The only other whale with a similar marking is Matia (L-77), however the nick at the base of Racer’s dorsal fin sets her apart from Matia who has a nick towards the top of her dorsal fin. Racer has one son named Fluke (L-105).

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-77 Matia, F (1987)
Matia is part of an extremely close family unit with lots of rambunctious youngsters. Matia’s brother is Mega (L-41) and her sister is Calypso (L-94). Matia’s first offspring, Joy (L-119) has a very spunky and curious personality that keeps her Mom busy. She is also an Aunt to Cousteau (L-113) and Windsong (L-121). Matia was the first female in the entire population to have a calf since 2015 when she gave birth to Lucky (L-124) in December 2018. We do not know yet if Lucky is a boy or a girl. Matia’s family has adopted Ocean Sun (L-25) as their pseudo-grandmother along with Mystery (L-85), an L-pod male with no other living immediate family.

L-82 Kasatka, F (1990)
Kasatka is a Russian word for the terms “darling” and “killer whale”. Killer whales are darling so it makes sense! Kasatka inherited her mother’s kinked dorsal fin and became a mother herself in 2010 to Finn (L-116). Kasatka travels close to her family including her siblings Lapis (L-103), Takoda (L-109) and Jade (L-118). She is also an auntie to little Lazuli (L-123), Lapis’s first offspring.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-83 Moonlight, F (1990)
Moonlight is the oldest daughter of Marina (L-47). She has a sister named Muncher (L-91) and a brother named Mystic (L-115). Moonlight has only had one calf, a male named Midnight (L-110) who was born in 2007. Magic (L-122) was Moonlight’s first nephew. The left side of Moonlight’s saddlepatch has a large boomerang shape in it, similar to Spock’s (K-20) from K-pod.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-84 Nyssa, M (1990)
Nyssa is one of L-pod’s mature males. He is the sole survivor of his matriline and has been adopted by Ino’s (L-54) family where he enjoys spending time with Ino’s sons. Wavewalker (L-88) has also been adopted into this matriline and is often seen in the same area as Nyssa. Nyssa has a very distinctive opening in his bright white saddlepatch on the left side that looks like a skinny triangle. Nyssa also has a small nick in his dorsal fin almost half-way down the trailing edge.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-85 Mystery, M (1991)
Mystery is the only whale left from the L-28 matriline. He travels closely with the L-12 matriline which includes Mega (L-41), Matia (L-77), Calypso (L-94), Cousteau (L-113), Joy (L-119), Windsong (L-121), and yet to be named L-124. Ocean Sun (L-25) also travels with this family unit. His favourite companions are Matia and her daughter Joy. Mystery has a wide-based dorsal fin with a distinctly rounded tip and a plain saddlepatch on both sides.

L-86 Surprise!, F (1991)

Surprise! got her name because she was born 14 years after her older sister Nugget (L-55).  Surprise! is the mother of Pooka (L-106) who was born in 2005.  Surprise! lost her second offspring Sooke (L-112) whose skeleton now hangs at the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, Washington to honour her life. Surprise! is also an auntie to Nugget’s four offspring and a great aunt to Finn (L-116) and Lazuli (L-123).

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-87 Onyx, M (1992)
Onyx is a very special whale as he is the only resident killer whale in the world known to have switched pods. After Onyx’s mother Olympia (L-32) died, he started to travel with the matriarch of K-pod who was Lummi (K-7). But in 2010 he switched to traveling with J-pod and specifically close to Spieden (J-8) and Granny (J-2) who were two very old females that acted like mothers or grandmothers to Onyx. He does have a sister named Spirit (L-22), but with her having two sons around the same age as Onyx, she may have been preoccupied with raising her own offspring and did not develop a strong bond with her brother. Now that both Spieden and Granny have passed away, it is unclear if Onyx has attached to someone new.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-88 Wavewalker, M (1993)
Wavewalker is the last whale alive from the L-2 matriline. He is easy to identify because his left-hand side saddlepatch has a hook-like shape in it, and his right-hand side has a large black opening similar in shape to that of Rainshadow (K-37) and Cappuccino (K-21), but he does not have any nicks in his dorsal fin. Wavewalker has been traveling close with Ino’s (L-54) family for several years.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-89 Solstice, M (1993)

Solstice is the only living offspring of Spirit (L-22). His older brother Skana (L-79) was his best friend and this family of three was never seen far apart from each other. In 2013, all of L-pod disappeared from our area for several weeks, except for Spirit, Skana and Solstice who remained off the west side of San Juan Island for approximately three weeks. One day Skana was no longer there and was assumed deceased. He may have been sick and unable to travel with the rest of L-pod, so his mother and brother remained by his side until he died. Solstice has a dorsal fin that protrudes posteriorly starting halfway down, making him easy to identify.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-90 Ballena, F (1993)
Ballena does not have any offspring of her own but she always had a strong bond with her nephew Crewser (L-92). Unfortunately Crewser passed away in the spring of 2018 at the young age of 23. Ballena is most often seen traveling with the Nugget’s (L-55) or Marina’s (L-47) families. Her name means “whale” in Spanish.

L-91 Muncher, F (1995)
To identify Mucher, we look for solid saddlepatches and a small nick towards the top of her dorsal fin. She is typically surrounded by her large extended family including her son Magic (L-122). Muncher has one sister named Moonlight (L-83) and a brother named Mystic (L-110). Muncher has one nephew named Midnight (L-110) and her mother is Marina (L-47).

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-94 Calypso, F (1995)
Calypso is a member of the very famous and independent L-12 matriline, named after her grandmother Alexis (L-12). Calypso has two older siblings, Mega (L-41) and Matia (L-77). Calypso and her offspring are named after Jacques Cousteau and his research vessels. Her oldest offspring is a female named Cousteau (L-113) and her son is named Windsong (L-121). Calypso is an auntie to Joy (L-119) and the newest addition to the family, Lucky (L-124). This large family unit has adopted two other L-pod whales into their tight-knit circle, Ocean Sun (L-25) and Mystery (L-85). She has a black pencil-shape on her left-hand side saddlepatch, very similar to her sister Matia’s, except Calypso’s is less defined.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-103 Lapis, F (2003)
Lapis is named after Lapis lazuli which is a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone. Lapis’ first offspring is named Lazuli (L-123), a boy born in 2015 during the so-called “baby boom”. Lapis is one of four offspring born to Nugget (L-55). Her siblings are Takoda (L-109), Kasatka (L-82) and Jade (L-118). She also has a nephew named Finn (L-116).

L-105 Fluke, M (2004)
Fluke is the only offspring of Racer (L-72) who is now a teenager and sprouting a tall dorsal fin. His name is Fluke because researchers were unsure for a long time who his mother was. Fluke has large black openings on both sides of his saddlepatch, similar to that of Cappuccino (K-21).

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-106 Pooka, M (2005)
Pooka’s name is drawn from mythology. Pooka is known to be a creature of myth that is an adroit shape and mainly takes the form of a sleek black or white horse. He is the only offspring born to Surprise! (L-86). He has a very close bond with his mother and is often see swimming in close proximity to her. Pooka has entered his teenage years and will start sprouting a tall, straight dorsal fin.

 

L-108 Coho, M (2006)
Coho was named after a species of wild Pacific salmon that the Southern Residents occasionally prey upon and is the second son born to Ino (L-54). Keta (L-117), his brother is also named after a species of Pacific salmon, which is a term used to describe Chum salmon. Coho’s family is often seen traveling close to two mature males in L-pod named Nyssa (L-84) and Wave Walker (L-88), who you could say have been adopted by Ino. Coho and Keta seem to enjoy having two big brothers to look up to and learn from.

L-109 Takoda, M (2007)
Takoda is the only son born Nugget (L-55). He has three sisters named Kasatka (L-82), Lapis (L-103), and Jade (L-118). Takoda is already an uncle two times over to his nephews Finn (L-116) and Lazuli (L-123). Like many members of his family, Takoda has a slight kin towards the top of his dorsal fin. Both sides of his saddlepatch are solid with no black shapes within them.

L-110 Midnight, M (2007)
Midnight belongs to a matriline where everyone’s name starts with “M”. Midnight’s mother is Moonlight (L-83) and his grandmother is Marina (L-47). His auntie Muncher (L-91) has a son named Magic (L-122) who Midnight can mentor as he grows up. Midnight’s uncle Mystic (L-115) is actually three years younger than him! Midnight was born the same year as podmate Takoda (L-109) and they are often seen playing and traveling together.

L-113 Cousteau, F (2009)
Cousteau, her mother and her little brother are all named after the famous Jacques Cousteau and his research vessels. Cousteau is the first daughter of Calypso (L-94) and an older sister to Windsong (L-121). She enjoys playing with her cousin Joy (L-119) and has a new cousin named Lucky (L-124) who was born in December 2018. Her uncle Mega (L-41) is a helpful hand in wrangling in all the youngsters in her family.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett- Orca Spirit Marine Naturalist

L-115 Mystic, M (2010)
Mystic is part of a large matriline in L-pod whose names all start with “M”! Mystic is the seventh calf born to Marina (L-47), but only has two living siblings, his sisters Moonlight (L-83) and Muncher (L-91). Mystic is an uncle to Mucher’s firstborn, Magic (L-122). Mystic is becoming a mature male, sporting the tall, straight dorsal fin characteristic of adult male orcas.

L-116 Finn, M (2010)
Finn is part of a large family and was born during a time when lots of male calves joined the Southern Resident population. Finn, Mystic (L-115) and Keta (L-117) all share the same birth year which was an exciting time to observe the Southern Residents. Finn’s mother is Kasatka (L-82) and his grandmother is Nugget (L-55). He is surrounded by lots of love from his two aunts, Lapis (L-103) and Jade (L-118) and by his uncle Takoda (L-109). He even has a younger cousin to play with named Lazuli (L-123). Many members of his family have an obvious kink in their dorsal fin which Finn has inherited as well.

L-117 Keta, M (2010)
Keta’s name comes from another term used for Chum salmon which is a type of fish that the Southern Residents feed on. His brother Coho (L-108) is also named after a species of wild Pacific salmon. Ino (L-54) is Keta’s mother and she travels close to both of her sons. Nyssa (L-84) and Wave Walker (L-88) spend much of their time with Keta’s family as they are the sole survivors of their matrilines.

L-118 Jade, F (2011)
It took researchers a long time to determine whether Jade was a male or female. She has three older siblings named Kasatka (L-82), Lapis (L-103), and Takoda (L-109). Jade is an auntie to young Lazuli (L-123) who is the son of Lapis. Jade’s mother is Nugget (L-55), who is one of the most successful mothers in the Southern Resident Orca population.

L-119 Joy, F (2012)
Joy is a member of a matriline in the L-pod who is known to separate from the rest of L-pod for extended periods of time. Joy’s mother is Matia (L-77) and she has a new sibling named Lucky (L-124) whose sex is still unknown. Joy has an uncle named Mega (L-41) and an aunt named Calypso (L-94). Joy occupies her time playing with her two cousins Cousteau (L-113) and Windsong (L-121). Her immediate family has adopted two other members of L-pod into their group- Ocean Sun (L-25) and Mystery (L-85). Joy is known for her spunky, playful personality. She is often seen breaching many times over and over and she loves to play with Bull Kelp, holding pieces of it between her teeth and tail notch while leaping in the air.

L-121 Windsong, M (2015)
Windsong was named after one of Jacques Cousteau’s research vessels and so was his mother Calypso (L-94). His sister Cousteau (L-113) was named after the famous researcher and explorer himself. Windsong’s uncle is Mega (L-41) and his aunt is Matia (L-77). Windsong often plays with his cousin Joy (L-119) and he now has another cousin named Lucky (L-124). His family is always seen with Ocean Sun (L-25) and Mystery (L-85).

L-122 Magic, M (2015)
Magic was born during the so-called “baby boom” that took place between 2014 and 2016. He is the son of Muncher (L-91). He has an auntie named Moonlight, an uncle named Mystic (L-115), and his granny’s name is Marina (L-47). He can be seen hanging out with his cousin Midnight (L-110). Magic is surrounded by family to play with and help him catch salmon.

L-123 Lazuli, M (2015)
Lazuli and his mother Lapis (L-103) are named after a deep blue metamorphic rock that is prized as a semi-precious stone called Lapis lazuli. Lazuli is cared for by a big family including his aunties Kasatka (L-82) and Jade (L-118), and his uncle Takoda (L-109). Lazuli has a playmate in his older cousin Finn (L-116) who is five years his senior. Lazuli was born with a sharply curved dorsal fin, characteristic of his entire matriline.

L-124 Lucky, Unknown (2018)
Lucky was first seen in January of 2019 and was suspected of being a few weeks old by Center for Whale Research head biologist, Ken Balcomb. Lucky is the first calf to survive past birth in over three years in the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. We do not yet know if Lucky is a boy or a girl. Lucky’s mother is Matia (L-77) and he or she has a firecracker for a sister in Joy (L-119). Lucky also has an aunt named Calypso (L-94) and an uncle named Mega (L-41). Lucky was born in to a large family as he or she also has two cousins named Cousteau (L-113) and Windsong (L-121). Lucky is lucky to have two more whales to watch over him or her as their family travels with Ocean Sun (L-25) and Mystery (L-85).

 

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