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  • Debbie Stewart

K44 Ripple




Skagit K13 and Ripple K44 Photo by Sara Hysong-Shimazu, Story by Debbie Stewart



It was a glorious Independence Day in 2011. Azure blue skies with a few wispy clouds provided a canopy over Tahoma and Kulshan bursting from the horizon like sentinels shielding a carefully guarded secret of evergreen and marine jewels. My mother and nephew were in town visiting (I was in the last couple of weeks of a six-month temporary work assignment with my permanent home in Austin, TX). We had a lot of activities planned for the week and one of the highlights we were most looking forward to was a whale watch. As our good fortune would have it, members of all three Southern Resident orca pods had gathered to the southwest of San Juan Island.


The Southern Resident orcas were new to me. Until about six weeks prior to this day, I was unaware of the capture period. I was unaware of the different orca ecotypes. I was unaware of the many tribulations facing the Southern Residents with lack of prey, toxins, noise and how these things impacted the reproductive capabilities of this endangered pod.


I met J2 Granny, the oldest living orca and matriarch and her companion L87 Onyx and many other members of all three pods. I heard their stories. I started to understand their culture, language and rich social bonds. It was nice to see them foraging, socializing and presumedly having a good day for a wild orca. I could feel something awakening in me. A hint of something yet to come that these orcas would not go quietly from my life even as I prepared to depart the Pacific Northwest for what I expected to be forever. And little did anyone know that they had a big secret in store that would be revealed very soon.

Less than 48 hours later, on the morning of July 6, the secret was revealed. K27 Deadhead was seen with a newborn calf K44 born sometime in the previous few hours. It was great news! However, by this time, I also knew that he had an uphill battle ahead of him to survive his first year. I spent the next many months following Orca Network sightings for news of the pods and reports of K44 and his family. At long last on April 26, 2012, K Pod was back in Puget Sound and K44 was with them! I felt elation and relief.


K44 was been given the human name of Ripple. For me there could not be a more apt name as Ripple has left an indelible impression which swelled into a wave that washed me to the shores of Puget Sound on this very day in 2015. I have been inspired to become a certified naturalist, a board member of a local non-profit dedicated to whales, and spend countless volunteer hours toward causes related to orcas and the Salish Sea ecosystem.


Ripple is nearly ten years old now. He remains K27’s only living calf and the last calf born to K-Pod. I have only seen him a handful of times in his young life, but those memories are vibrant and precious. Some days it is difficult to come to terms with the endangered status of the Southern Residents and the failed policies that have led us to this place. But alas, that wave was started by a “Ripple” continues to inspire and propel me forward.

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