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Why is Family Structure so Crucial to J-Pod’s Resident Orcas?

May 24, 2016

Imagine cruising around in your family’s chosen mode of transportation (when I was a kid that meant a robust, 80’s style Ford Bronco that fit approximately 24 children). You go everywhere together in this vehicle. Someone’s hungry? Let’s whip through the drive through at McDonald’s. Someone has swimming lessons? We’ll drop ‘em off in the Bronco and then go shopping for groceries.

Well, I bet you never thought you’d see the day where a blogger would compare a pod of Killer Whales with a family transporting themselves around in a Ford Bronco.

But here we are. For the resident orcas of J-Pod, family structure is the hierarchy upon with the entire pod is built. Right down to the swimming lessons and the grocery shopping, the orcas of J-Pod care for their extended families and ensure everyone knows how to eat, swim, and play.

Feeding Habits of J-Pod’s Resident Orcas

A couple weeks back on May 9th, our Pacific Explorer got a tip about the location of the J-16 orcas of J-Pod near San Juan Island. Sure enough, residents Slick, Mike, and Echo, along with new orca babies Scarlett and Sonic were enjoying a feast of fish along Salmon Bank.
From breakfast to dinner time, these residents spend their time together munching away and teaching the young’n’s the ropes.

Orca whales use unique tactics to cooperate and keep every animal in their family fed. The residents of J-Pod will work together and share food while transient orcas coordinate their hunting strategies in order to land the biggest and best bounty of food.

The J-Pod Resident Orca Protection Program

Imagine dropping off a young child in a field with no means to find food, let alone hunt it down and consume it. Obviously there are instincts at play with young orca whales, but just like young humans with instincts of their own, a child’s natural behaviour will only get them so far.

In addition to feeding, orcas cherish and protect their family from potential threats. Distinct vocal dialects allow orcas to recognize each other across great distances. This makes it easier to stay close to familiar orcas, diminishing the danger of unwanted guests such as hungry transients straying far from their clan.

J-Pod Family Reunion

“What turned out to be a mix of J and K pod were spread out far and wide across the channel.”

That’s from a May 13th Orca Spirit diary recounting the events of a typical whale watching adventure near San Juan Island once again. Our naturalists give names to orcas because they each have distinct personalities and obvious roles within their pods. A popular large resident adult male, Blackberry, continually makes his presence known when our boats float near. Shortly after an exploratory encounter with Blackberry on May 13th, a curious young calf ventured near with its mother close by just to keep an eye on things.

Just like a soccer mom standing by as her offspring investigates something new, the resident orcas of J-Pod take their families quite seriously. It’s always an intense experience when we witness these intimate interactions first-hand in the wild.

For most people, family is the most important element in our lives. Your sisters, brothers, parents, and children are the scaffolding upon which our entire world is built.

For the resident orcas of J-Pod, the scaffolding might be built beneath the rippling waves of British Columbia’s west coast, but the importance of family shines just as brightly underwater.



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