Frankly, this past week or so has been pretty quiet. Bellingham is known by locals as the City of Subdued Excitement, and it lived up to its reputation last week. Richard and Caryn said they were taking some class, so I only got to go on walks around the neighborhood. All week, can you imagine? What class could be worth forsaking the woods, the water, the adventures?
Let’s just say I caught up on a lot of sleep. I hung out with my stuffed animals. (Caryn made that one in the picture. Does it look like anyone you know?) I did get an email from my friend Sato, who is also learning how to write. It’s amazing what we canines can accomplish during a stay-at-home pandemic. He wanted me to post his story here, so here goes:
My name is Sato. That sounds Japanese, but it actually means “mutt” in Puerto Rican Spanish. The funny thing is that I met someone who speaks Japanese, and they told me that (pronounced differently) it means “sugar!” So I am the sugar mutt, I guess. But right now I am mostly a lonely mutt because of this pandemic thing. At first, I thought it was all about bread because that’s what “pan” means in Spanish. But that was a pronunciation problem too. Now I call it the ban-demic. Get it? Everything I want to do seems to be banned. Luckily, I am pretty good at sheltering in place, as you can see from my picture. If things get super dangerous I might let my people under the coffee table with me.
Wouldn’t that be great if all we had to do was make lots of bread in order to set the world straight again? Caryn makes bread every week but it doesn’t seem to be enough. At least your people stopped what they were doing long enough to help you with that letter you sent me. And I want you to know you are not alone – everyone is feeling the ban-demic side of things these days. I was so glad to get your letter because it tells me that you are out (or rather, in) there being safe. Maybe I’ll try the under-the-table thing too. Especially if there is food on the table, it could be profitable….love, Tashi the Elder
Meanwhile….I was thinking things were pretty boring while Caryn and Richard were staring at (and talking to!) the computer screen (when Caryn could have just as easily been writing my thoughts down instead). But all of a sudden they said, “Let’s got to the beach, Tashi!” Music to my ears, I tell you. So off we went. I call this beach Ball Beach, because magically, every time we go there, balls abound! So I went swimming after balls
and then we went for a walk and you won’t believe what I saw…
And then this:
I tell you, I have been on this beach a lot this summer and I have never seen the likes of those creatures! I’m not really sure what to make of all this. But the world is changing, I can feel it from head to tail. I just hope it is for the better.
And then, this afternoon, I experienced THE MOST wonderful thing: I got to hear whales talking to each other! We live close to the Salish Sea, where there is a group of endangered whales called the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW’s for short). They look like this:
Since we heard them today, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about them. There are three family groups in the Salish Sea, called the J,K, and L pods (I know, marine biologists could’ve been more creative with those family names, but they are very busy people!) SRKW’s are special animals – they communicate with each other, and each family group has their own unique language.
If you want to hear them talk, try tuning in to live.orcasound.net. That’s where we heard them. Marine biologists placed hydrophones (waterproof microphones) in the water close to where the orcas come for food and play. You can listen live, but since the whales are not always close to the phones, the website also has recordings of their voices that your can listen to. There’s lots of links to information about them there too. And if you love whales as much as we do, you could also check out Orca Network, and the Center for Whale Research.
Sometimes Caryn keeps the hydrophone website open while she’s working, and we can hear the water lapping around the hydrophones. That is very soothing, until a motor boat comes along, which hurts my ears! The orcas also hear the boats; I wonder how it sounds to them. But the best ever is when you hear the orcas talking; they squeak and squeal and honk, and some of them sound like kittens! I wonder what they are saying.
Orcas live in matrilineal groups. That means that the offspring spend their entire lives with Mom. That can be a long time; Granny, last seen a few years ago, was over 100 years old when she disappeared into the great waters. Above is a picture of J21, also known as Tsuchi. Tsuchi is 25 years old, and next to her is her baby, Tofino (J56), who was born May 2019. Below is another picture of Tofino, doing a little “spyhop” out of the water, having a look at the scenery.
These amazing pictures were taken by an orca lover named Michelline Halliday. She sent them to Caryn, so that we could put them on our blog. I think she must spend every day running around San Juan Island looking for whales to photograph. Not a bad way to spend your day! She doesn’t like to look for them in boats, because getting too close in a boat can interrupt their feeding or socializing habits. Luckily, they sometimes come really close to land, so people get to see them in their beautiful, wild, home.
Here’s some of the amazing things orcas do:
They can jump way out of the water!
You may be wondering how orcas get their names, and how anyone can tell them apart. Scientists know which orca is which by looking at the saddle patch behind the dorsal fin, which is the fin that sticks up on their back. That gray patch is different on each orca, just like our fingerprints are unique. Scientists number the orcas in the order that they were first seen and identified, and the letters refer to the different language groups, or pods, of multi-generational SRKW families. Each letter group speaks a different language. Because people around here love the orcas, there are contests to give them real names too, like Oreo (get it?) and Shachi and Blackberry.
As you can see, we love our resident orcas. But there are fewer and fewer of them, for a lot of reasons. One big reason is that their primary food, king salmon, are endangered. When one thing in the food chain is in trouble, it affects many beings, because everything is connected. So biologists are trying to figure out how to bring the salmon back so that they can also support the whales and keep them around. You can help by learning about them, and telling people how special they are.
Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Take care, stay safe, and enjoy life!