The orca update…
There are lots of things happening with killer whales here on San Juan Island – here are the stories:
We all know the budget cuts for Washington State Parks have been very tough. But for Erin Corra, my 6th grade soccer coach and the former Interpretive Specialist at Lime Kiln, they have only redirected her passion.
After Erin’s position was cut two years ago, she despaired. It had been more than “just a job” to her; Erin had been convinced of her career path since she was in 5th grade. But she didn’t stay in that state for long. She recognized that whether she was compensated for her time or not, the Interpretative Center and its many services were vital to the health of Lime Kiln and needed to be kept open.
Enter the new nonprofit focused on keeping Lime Kiln open to the public while preserving, restoring and enhancing the area, Friends of Lime Kiln Society. Erin serves as the Founder and Executive Director, while a full board and staff of volunteers work extremely hard by her side. Without their help, the Interpretive Center and giftshop would be closed, visitor services such as tours to the lighthouse would be slashed, and the overall maintenance would be too much for Ranger Ted to handle. Most importantly, the visitors wouldn’t be able to gain an appreciation for Lime Kiln for anything besides its obvious beauty, as volunteer interpretive specialists help promote understanding of the entire ecosystem and the importance of sustainable living.
F.O.L.K.S. has already taken huge steps to making Lime Kiln rely less on state funding. They have secured a $4,300 grant to be used directly for lighthouse maintenance, which is great on its own but they have a grander scheme in mind. They plan to let people rent the lighthouse for hour long periods for weddings and photography purposes.
When Erin told me more about F.O.L.K.S. plan’s for the next few months, I was surprised she even had a chance to eat a bite of her lunch. The amount of possibilities are extensive, and the only thing holding them back are getting enough volunteers.
“Amazing things can happen- we just need the manpower to do them,” Erin told me with a grin. If you’re interested in volunteering, F.O.L.K.S. has a job for you. All that’s required is a desire to learn a few new things, readiness to shadow a volunteer, and time.
When I asked about what Erin hopes for F.O.L.K.S.’ future, it was pretty simple. Protect Lime Kiln by sending a message of stewardship. “People protect places they love and care about,” she said. I had laughed when Erin pulled out her ring finger and told me she was “married to Lime Kiln.” But the more I thought about it, the more I believed it. Anyone who has spent time at Lime Kiln understands the connection Erin feels, and how important it is to keep it available for anyone who wants to embrace it.
Stay updated with F.O.L.K.S. by liking them on their Facebook page or getting on Erin’s email list for seasonal announcements. Her phone number is 378-5154 and email is erincorra(at)folkssji.org.
Most exhibits take about two to three years to go from an idea to being available for public viewing. The Whale Museum plans to display the bones of young orca calf Sooke (L-112) starting in February, only a year after her body was discovered on the shore of Long Beach, Washington.
To put it simply, Sooke is a rare type of exhibit. Her young age of three years, mysterious cause of death, and status as a member of the endangered matriarchal species L pod all contribute to her uniqueness, in addition to her extremely intact bone structure upon discovery. Her skeleton will help greatly in educating visitors to the museum about her own family and the entire orca whale community which we are so privileged to see.
Sooke’s skeleton will also be displayed differently than other exhibits. A pulley system will allow her to be lowered to eye level for a close up view of each bone and raised to the height of the ceiling for safekeeping. This more personal vantage point will hopefully have a greater impact on the visitors and inspire them to care more deeply about the well-being of our beloved orcas.
Fundraising for the new exhibit has already been started but it is still an uphill journey. If you’re interested in getting more involved, please contact Jenny Atkison at jenny(at)whalemuseum.org or 378-4710 ext. 26. To learn more about Sooke, visit the Whale Museum’s website.
Jenny and everyone at the Museum are very excited about this exhibit, and I’m sure it will be a highlight for each person who experiences it this February.
There is a signing for Death at Seaworld at the Friday Harbor House at 5pm on Saturday, July 21st. The movie screening of The Whale is happening at the same location at 7:30. Click here to reserve your spot.
Bob Otis has dedicated the past 22 years of his life to whale research out at Lime Kiln. Every day, he takes many measurements in the 1 mile long and half mile out stretch of ocean, and every day he carefully cataloges his results.
What is he after exactly? When Bob first started his research in 1990, he was looking for scientific evidence that boat traffic was having a negative impact on the whales. As time progressed and he realized the technology necessary to determine that conclusion wasn’t up to snuff, his research morphed into a long term database on whale behavior in front of the lighthouse.
Bob can tell you everything about what happened in the small area by the lighthouse for almost a quarter century. He’s seen “over a thousand tail slaps and hundreds of breaches.” His measurements span a wide variety: how far the pod is spread from each other, the number of boats in the vicinity, how far offshore the whales are, their vocalizations (by use of a hydrophone in conjuction with the Whale Museum), and the tide.
A few of his observations that may surprise you include:
-There are currently much fewer boats out there on a consistent basis, from 107 counted in 1996 to a total of 55 this summer.
-70% of the time there is a flood tide by the lighthouse you’ll see the whales come by.
-Each pod can make all 26 different whale calls, but each pod will use a few particular ones the most often (for example, J-pod makes a “donkey-like” sound).
One of the biggest parts Bob does out at the lighthouse is education about the whales. He gives talks and has a videotape available for viewers in addition to a wealth of experience in answering any questions they might have. “The best hope for the whales is that people who come leave with more understanding,” says Bob. One of his videos is on Youtube thanks to his former intern Tamara Kelly, you can watch it right here.
One thing people rarely realize about Bob’s research is the fact that is accessible to anyone who wants to learn about it. People all over the country have requested it and used it in PhD dissertations and graduate projects. If you’re really invested, or as Bob jokes “have a spare 30 years” to work on the whale research, there are all sorts of options, including taking whale vocalizations from the past years and seeing how it relates to the surface behavior.