Weeks of: April 23rd-29th
Written by: Marisa Price, Senior Naturalist
The sun is shining and the Salish Sea is not holding back on the wildlife sightings! This week we’ve been spending a lot of time with our Bigg’s Killer Whales. The Bigg’s Killer Whale ecotype is the marine mammal eating ecotype; often indulging in harbor seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, and the occasional whale! The specific whales we encountered multiple times this past week were the T046’s and T046B’s. The T046 family is a well known family to those who frequent the Salish Sea.
The paramount of T046, Wake
The family’s matriarch is T046, Wake. Wake is a crucial whale in the Bigg’s ecotype as she is paramount for calf birth with an estimated 8 calves; this makes Wake nothing short of a super mother considering the gestation period for a killer whale falls anywhere between 15-18 months. Wake is believed to be born in 1966 making her 57 years old. She has shown incredible resilience with her birth, however she was almost unable to start a family. In the 1970’s Wake was a whale in the Budd Inlet Six, had the project gone forward, this key family would not be swimming in our waters today.
The Budd Inlet Six
One day in March 1976, six whales were herded into Budd Inlet, Washington. T013, T014, T026, T027, T047, and T046, Wake did not stand a chance of escape against the array of planes, speedboats, nets, and explosives used to capture them. Nearby, a conference on Killer Whales was happening at a state college, those attending became witness to the horrific events and tactics used against these individuals. The capturing of Orcas with intention of selling them to marine parks was legal, yet this particularly brutal capture resulted in a call to action, a demand to release these whales. Weeks of deliberation and court sessions ensued. In the end, the capture permit was revoked as the capture method was deemed inhumane. Although it was legal to capture these animals, the people of the Pacific NorthWest were already questioning the ethics of it. The sensationalism of marine parks was dying out as those opposing grew stronger in their word. The events of the Budd Inlet Six was a cornerstone event in ending the exploitation of whales in marine parks. The release of T046 (Wake) was a second chance for her to have a family. Now, she is the matriarch of one of the largest Bigg’s families in the Salish Sea with an estimated 24 whales in her lineage.
The believed family of T046. Sex: pink=female, blue=male, green=unknown. (Diagram from Cetus Research)