Orcas get downright chummy

By Theresa Goffredo

Herald Writer

MUKILTEO — This time of year, the chum are heading inland to spawn in freshwater rivers, and hot on their tailfins are orca whales trying to catch a salmon dinner.

The chum numbers are so plentiful that a pod of 11 or so orcas seen this week between Clinton and Mukilteo are feasting on salmon sushi, and it may be another month before this whale party leaves the bar.

"For orcas, their job is to eat 10 percent of the fish," said whale expert Ken Balcomb. "Our resident whales here will eat bottomfish and rockfish, but they love salmon. They’re not stupid."

As executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Balcomb coordinates the monitoring of whales in Puget Sound, keeping track of their numbers and their overall health. And though the number of orcas that frequent Puget Sound has dropped, those recently observed appear to be in good condition.

"They are looking great right now," Balcomb said. "There’s a good chum run now, and there was a pretty good sockeye run up here, and so for the next month the numbers of orcas we see should be good."

That’s the kind of whale health report Michael Bennett likes to hear. Bennett has a personal interest in the whales’ well-being, but also owns and is captain of Mosquito Fleet, a whale-watching tour service.

"It’s nice to see a good year for them," Bennett said. "Their numbers are down overall … and you never know if it’s a catastrophic suffering or a lack of prey, and I’m very happy to see them here feeding."

The number of Puget Sound orcas has dropped from more than 90 to 78. Researchers know because they keep track of the whales’ family units or pods using an alpha-numeric system. For instance, the orca whales visiting this week are thought to be from L Pod. So each whale from L Pod will be given an identification, such as L-1.

Whale researcher Balcomb said that for the next month Puget Sound boaters can expect to see this particular orca pod, and even get pretty close to them as the whales are busy feeding.

"They’re dedicated. They’re going after the fish," Balcomb said. "They’re quite used to people and boats now. Thirty years ago we were killing them, but not any more. They’ve learned we’re on good behavior."

To maintain that relationship, Balcomb cautions boaters to keep 100 yards away from the pod and boat behind the whales or alongside them, but not in front of them.

"That diverts the school of fish," Balcomb said. "The orcas are herding the fish, and boating in front of them would disrupt that normal behavior, and that’s not being good to the whales."

You can call Herald Writer Theresa Goffredo at 425-339-3097

or send e-mail to goffredo@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyko Matsumoto-Wright on Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Mountlake Terrace, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
With light rail coming soon, Mountlake Terrace’s moment is nearly here

The anticipated arrival of the northern Link expansion is another sign of a rapidly changing city.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
1 dead in motorcycle crash on Highway 522 in Maltby

Authorities didn’t have any immediate details about the crash that fully blocked the highway Friday afternoon.

Photographs in the 2024 Annual Black and White Photography Contest on display at the Schack Art Center on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Black and white photos aren’t old school for teens at Schack Art Center

The photography contest, in its 29th year, had over 170 entries. See it at the Schack in Everett through May 5.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett mom charged with first-degree murder in death of son, 4

On Friday, prosecutors charged Janet Garcia, 27, three weeks after Ariel Garcia went missing from an Everett apartment.

Dr. Mary Templeton (Photo provided by Lake Stevens School District)
Lake Stevens selects new school superintendent

Mary Templeton, who holds the top job in the Washougal School District, will take over from Ken Collins this summer.

A closed road at the Heather Lake Trail parking lot along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Mountain Loop Highway partially reopens Friday

Closed since December, part of the route to some of the region’s best hikes remains closed due to construction.

Emma Dilemma, a makeup artist and bikini barista for the last year and a half, serves a drink to a customer while dressed as Lily Munster Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, at XO Espresso on 41st Street in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
After long legal battle, Everett rewrites bikini barista dress code

Employees now have to follow the same lewd conduct laws as everyone else, after a judge ruled the old dress code unconstitutional.

The oldest known meteor shower, Lyrid, will be falling across the skies in mid- to late April 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
Clouds to dampen Lyrid meteor shower views in Western Washington

Forecasters expect a storm will obstruct peak viewing Sunday. Locals’ best chance at viewing could be on the coast. Or east.

AquaSox's Travis Kuhn and Emerald's Ryan Jensen an hour after the game between the two teams on Sunday continue standing in salute to the National Anthem at Funko Field on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New AquaSox stadium downtown could cost up to $120M

That’s $40 million more than an earlier estimate. Alternatively, remodeling Funko Field could cost nearly $70 million.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.