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Orca Whale’s K Pod off the Mendocino Coast


Local photographer Ron LeValley took this picture off the Mendocino coast.

Located at Puget Sound, one of the most closely studied groups of killer whales in the world is taking its annual trek to the central coast and just recently passed through the Mendocino coast waters. This group of 18 to 20 orca whales, known as “k pod”, passed Crescent City the other day, and local biologist enjoyed a rare encounter with them.

Through a network of West Coast whale researching, Arcata-based biologist Jeff Jacobsen, was asked to get on the ocean to find K pod, specifically to check the health of a whale that was tagged with a GPS transmitter while in Puget Sound on December 29.

A Hiouch-based biologist, Darell Warnock with a photographer were taking photos of the orcas. the ocean is huge and to find an individual like that was incredible. On Tuesday, the K pod was observed from Table Bluff County Park in Humboldt county. They were traveling within 3 miles off shore, doing about 3 knots of speed all the way down, except around Eureka where it was reported that the whales were feasting on salmon.

Killer whales are distinguished by their diet, and although it was known that the K pod whales are a salmon eating bunch, what they eat while travelling south has never been documented. The salmon diet of K pod is a significant characteristic. There are 3 eco-types of orcas in the Pacific Ocean largely defined by diet. Fish (i.e. salmon) marine mammals (i.E. seals and sea lions) and an off-shore group that primarily feeds on sharks. The guess is that they are making their trek down here is because of the salmon stock. The salmon in the Puget Sound area are highly contaminated. They are so contaminated with PCB’s that they exceed toxic waste levels. It’s dangerous to touch them if they wash on the beach.

Orca Facts:

Type: Mammal

Diet: Carnivore

Average life span in the wild is 50 – 80 years.

Size: 23 – 32 feet. Size is relative to a bus.

Weight: up to 6 tons.

Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. 

They feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales, employing teeth that can be four inches (ten centimeters) long. They are known to grab seals right off the ice. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds.

Though they often frequent cold, coastal waters, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator.

Killer whales are protective of their young, and other adolescent females often assist the mother in caring for them. Mothers give birth every three to ten years, after a 17-month pregnancy.

Killer whales hunt in deadly pods, family groups of up to 40 individuals. 

Resident pods tend to prefer fish, while transient pods target marine mammals. All pods use effective, cooperative hunting techniques that some liken to the behavior of wolf packs.

Whales make a wide variety of communicative sounds, and each pod has distinctive noises that its members will recognize even at a distance. They use echolocation to communicate and hunt, making sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back, revealing their location, size, and shape.

Orcas are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black and white coloring and are the intelligent, trainable stars of many aquarium shows. 

To help scientists track the population, report orca sightings to the orca hotline: 1 866-ORCANET. The satellite-tracked trek of K pod can be found on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center website, by searching “southern residnet Killer whale satellite tagging.”

Some parts of this story is from the Del Norte Triplicate and the National Geographic.

To spot whales here off the Mendocino coast, you don’t have any farther to go than 15 minutes from the doorstep of Stevenswood Spa Resort, to the Spring Ranch Headlands, which is part of the California Coastal Trail.

For dinner phone 707-937-2810 or online at urban spoon.

For lodging phone 707-937-2810 or online at reservations.

For spa reservations phone 707-937-2810 or online at Indigo Eco-Spa.

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