Captain’s Blog

Remembering Mega (L-41) of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Family

February 12, 2020

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Mega (L-41) of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population is missing and likely deceased. We cherish all the whales we encounter, but Mega held a very special place in our hearts, which makes this news all the more tough to handle.

On January 30th, the Center for Whale Research announced that Mega was not present with his family when they were encountered in local waters on January 24th. Resident killer whales have very tight-knit social groups and remain close to their immediate family for their entire lives. The last time Mega and his family were seen was on August 11th in the western region of the Juan de Fuca Strait. The only other sighting of Mega and his family, known as the L12’s, was in January of 2019 and researchers report that he was looking thin.

Photo: Mega surfaces in the evening light in Haro Strait in 2015.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett – Orca Spirit Adventures Marine Naturalist

Mega was born in 1977, one year after the Orca Survey started to track the whales of the Southern Resident orca population. The Southern Residents were devastated by the live-capture industry where orcas were removed from the wild and sold to aquariums. Mega along with eight other offspring was born the year following the end of the live-capture. They brought new hope that the Southern Residents may be able to recover after suffering devastating losses over that past decade.

Photo: Mega’s silhouette in a beautiful sunset with his family the L-12 matriline.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett – Orca Spirit Adventures Marine Naturalist

Mega did bring hope and with that, life. Mega and Ruffles (J-1) who passed away in 2010, sired more offspring than any other males known to the population. Mega is the father to 14 known offspring that are alive today and according to genetic studies by Mike Ford of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Mega was the father of at least 21 known calves in total. It is comforting to know that when we see whales like Kelp (K-42) and his younger sister Yoda (K-36), that we are seeing a piece of their Dad, Mega, in them.

Photo: Slick (J-16) and little Scarlet (J-50) who was named for the scars on her back. According to genetic data from NOAA, Mega was Scarlet’s father.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett – Orca Spirit Adventures Marine Naturalist

Mega was one of the easiest Southern Residents to identify because of his huge dorsal fin that dished in on the leading edge and because of one large and one small nick in its trailing edge. Mega was always seen close to his two sisters, Matia (L-77) and Calypso (L-94).  He was also an attentive Uncle to his nieces’ Joy (L-119) and Cousteau (L-113) and nephews Windsong (L-112), and one-year-old Whistle (L-124). In addition to his immediate family, Mega was close with Ocean Sun (L-25), the oldest member of the population and adult male Mystery (L-85), who both traveled with Mega and the rest of his family.

Photo: Mega (L-41) traveling close to other L-pod whales on an evening tour.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett – Orca Spirit Adventures Marine Naturalist

For those that have spent many years watching Mega grow from a tiny calf into a huge adult male and father of so many of the Southern Residents, it is especially hard to accept that he is likely gone. It is extremely rare that a whale is still alive after being reported as missing by the Center for Whale Research. By watching these whales, we come to know them as individuals who have families, playmates, unique personalities and tendencies. Their lives are important to the lives around them and to the very environment in which they live. For many of us, they become more like family than anything else. We are always excited to see them and feel grateful to have known them in the limited way that we can.

Photo: Mega was well-known for the large nick in the trailing edge of his dorsal fin.

Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett – Orca Spirit Adventures Marine Naturalist

One Orca Spirit naturalist, Rachael Merrett, who has watched the Southern Residents for a decade recalls one of her favourite memories of Mega. “I remember being on an evening tour in 2015 and we were near the westside of San Juan Island. We shut down our engines so that we could hear the mesmerizing breaths of all the whales around us. I was sitting at the edge of the sliding door of the Orca Spirit II watching the L12’s a couple hundred yards away. Mega’s little niece Joy was three at the time and all of a sudden she started to porpoise towards our boat!  She was leaping right out of the water as she approached before diving under us just as she got to the door where I was sitting. I looked up to see the entire family cruising over after her. She has always been a spunky little whale, seeming determined to investigate the world around her. Mega brought up the rear. I remember being in awe at his size as he swam up to and then under us. His dorsal fin was so tall and those small nicks in the back edge of his fin did not look so small anymore! It was a moment I will never forget. My heart still races at the thought of that memory.”

“I have so many memories of Mega. He was one of the first whales I could identify the first year I became a marine naturalist at Orca Spirit Adventures. I adopted him through the Whale Museum for my Dad’s birthday years ago.  I always liked to call him “Megatron” because he was so big, guests loved that. He has always been and always will be very special to me. I am thankful for my experiences with him. We will all miss his presence, his grandeur, and his wonder. I hope his spirit is riding the waves somewhere out there.”

Photo: Mega (L-41) creating a misty rainbow as he surfaces. Photo Credit: Rachael Merrett – Orca Spirit Adventures Marine Naturalist

Orca Spirit Adventures contributes to many research and conservation initiatives to help address the threats that face the Southern Residents and other marine wildlife. We donate $2 from each guest’s ticket to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, who operates as a conduit for Salmon Conservation projects all along the BC coast. Projects aim to increase the population of wild Coho and Chinook in the Salish Sea. Chinook are a favourite food source for the Southern Resident Killer Whale Community. We also adopt Southern Resident Orcas through the Whale Museum on San Juan Island, where adoption fees are used for research, education, and outreach to help protect this Endangered community of orcas.

Thanks for all the memories Big Guy. We will always miss you “Megatron”.

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