Photos left to right: K25 Scoter with salmon, Monika Wieland Shields. K25 Scoter dorsal with tag, Connie Bickerton. NOAA map tracking K25 Scoter. L84 Nyssa, Monika Wieland Shields. NOAA map tracking L84 Nyssa. L84 Nyssa passing Lime Kiln lighthouse, Monika Wieland Shields. A young L84 Nyssa, Cindy Hansen.
K25 Scoter 1991 – 2019
L84 Nyssa 1990 – 2019
Story by Colleen Weiler
We owe so much to two special members of the Southern Resident community, K25 (Scoter) and L84 (Nyssa), both of whom are no longer with us, but whose roles as “tagged orcas” gave us a glimpse into where their families went and what they did when they left the Salish Sea. The use of these tags was controversial from the start of the project, and studying a highly endangered population can create a difficult conundrum: how to gather the information needed to develop the best possible regulations, but in a way that doesn’t cause more stress. I won’t dive into a debate on that topic here, because I want to remember K25 and L84 and how they helped (even unknowingly) advance protective measures for their extended family.
They both carried tags for months, two of the longest deployments of the handful of Southern Residents who were tagged. The information they provided is the basis of the recent proposal to protect the Southern Residents’ coastal range as critical habitat, and showing us when and where the orcas looked for food also shone a spotlight on just how important the Columbia Basin is. It’s a salmon hotspot for the orcas, and they spend a lot of their time in coastal waters moving around the mouth of the Columbia River, especially as the spring Chinook start to gather. With this information, the argument to restore Columbia-Snake salmon to increase the food available to the Southern Residents is even stronger, and I’m hopeful that real change will happen soon in the Columbia Basin to bring back salmon.
Living in Oregon, I don’t often have a chance to see the Southern Residents, but they are always on my mind. Sadly, Oregon weather in the late winter and early spring is not the best for spotting whales – especially the quick fins of orcas a few miles off the coast – but I love just knowing they’re out there. Thanks to K25 and L84, I know when the Southern Residents are off our coast, traveling with their families and looking for food. They are going to the places they’ve always gone, looking for the food they’ve always eaten, and living the traditions they’ve learned from their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters. K25 and L84 may be gone know, but in opening a brief window into the world of the Southern Residents, they’ve created a lasting legacy. With what we’ve learned from them, we can create better protections for these truly “Pacific Northwest” orcas.