We were taking a lunch break from office details when I shouted, “Orcas swimming by!” Immediately we headed out the door and toward the beach stairs.
We could see a group of orcas loblolling and circling as they actively fished for salmon about four miles off shore in a surprisingly calm Puget Sound. These extraordinary animals, sometimes called “the wolves of the sea”, were clearly working together to corral salmon.
Puget Sound resident orcas feed exclusively on salmon. Our resident J, K, and L pods are among the most intensively studied marine mammals in the world and yet many months of the year their whereabouts are a mystery.
The most famous member of these pods is Granny, (J-2), who will be 102 years old this year! She became a great, great, great grandmother in the summer of 2012 and is the oldest known orca in the entire world. As the matriarch of this pod, she still plays an active part in guiding pod movement, babysitting, and teaching the young.
As we headed back to the office, I was lost in my own thoughts. What a privilege to see these magnificent creatures! They represent the wild, spectacular edge of our lives here. But I am well aware of their tenuous status. Salmon are their sole source of food and salmon numbers in the region continue to decline.
And then I think of Granny and I am inspired. Since her 1911 birth here, she has experienced stunning changes—massive amounts of logging, industrial and population growth, and declining water quality. She and her clan have changed and adjusted through it all. I am not planning on living to 102, but I am dedicating my elder years to making this region better for my wild friends.