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Momma Says… A Short L35 Story from 1995

Clockwise top left: L1 and L35, L1 and L35, L35 Breach, L1 breach 1995, photo by Mindy Zushlag, L1 and L35 1995, L35 with rest of L pod in 1990. Photos courtesy of Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research. Map below shows Turn Point, Swansons Channel and Boundary Pass.

September, 1995

L35 was always one of my favorite matriarchs in the Southern Resident Community. This might have been due to the fact that the L35 subpod (as it was called in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s) was not always present when the rest of L pod came in and they were the least frequently seen SRs at the time. But L35 also had a cool look with her pointy fin and beautiful open saddle. We get asked all the time about pod leadership and who is making the decisions-and this is one of the only anecdotes I have where it looked like a matriarch was calling the shots.

It was an early morning on a nice late September day. I had just arrived home the previous evening from a two week NOAA cruise to Southeast Alaska. I was trying to sleep off my jet lag in the 1968 pick-up camper that I was staying in that Summer, (and for another nine Summers after that), when I heard fellow staff person Stefan Jacobs yell to me from the driveway that whales were heading north. I didn’t think I could move that quick so soon after my trip so I told Stefan to go away. I immediately felt guilty and lame about wanting to sleep in so I yelled to Stefan to go ahead and wake up the Earthwatchers who were on the boat that day. It ended up being a good decision to get up and go—it is almost always worth one’s while to get out of bed and get moving for early morning whales.

We moved quick enough to get our trimaran, “High Spirits” off the dock and to the whales while they were still in Mitchell Bay heading slowly north toward Kellett Bluff and then Turn Point. We had L pod minus the L12s, and K pod was also around. We spent most of our time with a group consisting of the L35s (L35, L1, and L54) and most of the L9s since they were the whales we usually saw the least of. The whales traveled slowly north toward Turn Point spread out in groups in pretty early morning light.

As they neared Turn Point, L pod began to group up some. There seemed to be some confusion as the whales milled at Turn Point. Some looked like they wanted to head on a more northerly direction toward Swanson Channel. L35 and L54 had begun heading northeast up Boundary Pass like the whales usually did in those days.

The whales milling nearest us began splashing just a little as they tried to point north. L35 then did a big breach before she continued pointing up Boundary Pass. As if to emphasize her point, L1 then did a huge breach —he was a huge whale—beside us in the midst of the other L pod whales. And then all the L pod whales angled northeast and began traveling up Boundary Pass…

We all chuckled at the matriarch’s wishes being backed up by her hulking son!

The whales spread back out in groups and singles as they headed up Boundary Pass. We stuck with the L35s and L9s for most of the time since it was hard to leave a group that had both L1 and L33 in it. Along with L38, these two were probably the largest adult males in the community at the time and they all had towering dorsal fins of the kind we don’t see anymore. We finally caught sight of the K pod whales present near East Point as they porpoised north toward Pt. Roberts. L pod grouped up again at East Point into a tight line up of whales. They gave us one last surprise of the day when the whole pod turned right toward the boat and passed all around and under us as they headed north toward the Frasier River. This would be my last memorable encounter involving L35 as I barely saw her in 1996.

So remember, the early birds sometime get the best whales-so learn to move quickly in the morning!

L1 Oskar, male, 1959 – 2000

L35 Victoria, female, 1942 – 1996


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