Identifying important habitat areas for the Southern Residents and designating them as critical habitat was one of the benefits of their listing under the Endangered Species Act. When critical habitat was first designated shortly after the whales were listed, NOAA Fisheries deferred including the coastal waters of Washington, Oregon, and California due to a lack of information. NOAA Fisheries spent years collecting data on the coastal movements and activities of Southern Residents - where they were in coastal areas, and how they were using the habitat. They accomplished this through passive acoustic monitoring, dedicated boat surveys, diet sampling, and satellite tagging of individual orcas to learn more about the movements of the pods. Several adult males were tracked with satellite tags between 2011 and 2016, and the information gathered helped address the data gap in the orcas’ winter distribution. While this information helped grow our understanding of the orcas’ use of coastal areas and helped to show how important this area is for them, it did come at a cost. On March 30, 2016, the body of 20-year-old L95 Nigel was found in British Columbia, about a month after a satellite tag was deployed on him. His cause of death was determined to be a fungal infection, at least partly introduced into his system by the tag. Following his death, the project was suspended and has not resumed. While the tagging research came with unacceptable risks, it did lead to critical habitat revision that now protects the entire known U.S. range of the Southern Residents. This is Nigel’s Lasting Legacy.
Check out the blog post below to read a story about L95 Nigel and his mother L43 Jelly Roll from happier times, written by naturalist Bonnie Gretz.
Photo: Drawing of L43 Jelly Roll and L95 Nigel ©Bonnie Gretz. 7/11/99.
L95 Nigel and L43 Jelly Roll
While attending "Whale School" in the San Juan Islands with a professor from Orange Coast College in California, Dennis Kelly, I had a lovely encounter with L43 Jelly Roll (named after Jelly Roll Morton for some reason!), and her young calf, L95 Nigel (born in 1996). We found L pod in Haro Strait and were slowly cruising with them, when Jelly Roll surfaced right behind our boat, practically on the swim step! She went under the boat, and surfaced again within 5' of us, with the calf right next to her. Then she disappeared, and left him bobbing around on the surface. He checked us out, but patiently waited for mom to reappear. He then took off, and we could see her underneath him. The encounter lasted about 10 minutes, and I felt privileged to have "baby sat" little Nigel for Jelly Roll! I did see him again as he grew into a beautiful young male, and was devastated when I learned of his death in March of 2016. The drawing is from my whale journal, which I have kept from the beginning of my adventures with wild orcas and other cetaceans, from 1994....and happily still adding wonderful encounters to the third volume!