The Hungry Residents of San Juan Islands

Origin: San Juan Islands

Most of us learn rituals from our parents, whether that be going for a walk on a Sunday or eating dinner together at the table each night. We may even pass these traditions down to our children. They create a sense of identity, belonging, and comfort.

In the animal kingdom, traditions are passed from parents to children in much the same way. Orcas, for example, learn their migration patterns, diet choices, distinctive languages, and even the characteristics they look for in a mate, from their mothers. The resident orcas of the Salish Sea return to the waters around Vancouver and Puget Sound to feed every year. They live on a diet of chinook salmon and have a reputation for being unusually frolicsome. They wag their tails, slap their pectoral fins and “spy hop”-- bob into the air to get a better look at the above world. They also engage in “greeting ceremonies” in which whales line up in two opposing rows before tumbling together into a jostling killer whale mosh pit.

These orcas return to the Salish Sea every year because their mothers taught them to, but today their preferred food, chinook, is a scarce resource in the area due to overfishing. The orcas are struggling to survive, yet their upbringing makes them reluctant to eat sockeye and pink salmon, which are abundant. Last year, an orca calf starved to death, and to send us a signal, its mother carried its corpse for 17 days. Let’s hear her call and leave the Pacific Coast salmon alone. Follow @PNWProtectors to see how you can help and have a look @cristinamittermeier and @georgekarbus who often reminds us how beautiful these creatures are.

Photo credit: @georgekarbus

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