Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Onyx's Story Through My Eyes - Whale of A Purpose

Originally posted 2-16-14 to tell Onyx's unfolding story.  This is one long post that is updated from time to time.

See bottom of this post for encounters added. 
Updated with text on 11-29-2017

February 16, 2014
Onyx L-87 is getting a lot more attention these days because he is a whale who was satellite tagged by NOAA researchers in late December, 2013.
Some people have asked about his story...so here's what I know.

Short version: 
His mother died. He switched from L to K pod.
Traveled with them until the oldest female died in 2010.
He moved to J pod and has been with them since, August 2010.

Below is the longer version.  
I am just building the pieces of the story for this blog.
I will be adding images and more details to this post. At the bottom of this post I'll add links when I post more to his story that is prior to February 2014.

I don't know Onyx's history prior to 2005.  I only know he belonged to the group commonly called the L12s.
His mother was Olympia L-32.
She had another living offspring, Onyx's older sister, Spirit L-22.
He has one living nephew, Solstice L-89.

Olympia died in the fall of 2005.
I believe he began traveling with K pod during 2006, but I just don't remember for sure.
By 2007 he was definitely with K pod and mainly he traveled with Lummi K-7 and Georgia K-11.
He was seen traveling with them all the time from 2007 until August of 2010.

Lummi K-7 died in 2008.
Georgia K-11 died in 2010.  K pod had come in to these waters in early June. They 'showed off' new baby K-43, who I had spotted on the February 21st encounter and the Center for Whale Research confirmed on June 9th, when the whales were inbound.
K pod was present for a couple days and then went west for several weeks.
When they returned in late July, Georgia wasn't with them. Some K pod whales and the L12s passed the lighthouse going north...other Ks and J pod were already to the north.

The next memorable encounter with Onyx occurred on August 3rd.  I noticed him traveling on the outer edges of some of the Group B whales. 

On August 3rd, when we (Maya's Westside Charters) encountered J pod, Onyx was traveling very close to Spieden J-8. So close it looked like he was about to lay his dorsal fin on her back, which I have seen one other whale do.

From then on he was seen with Spieden, until her disappearance in the fall of 2013.

During the 2013 season, I noticed that he was traveling with Granny J-2 more often.  One encounter while out on Capt. Jim's boat, we watched Granny and Onyx spending time together.  They were not traveling, more milling about.
Spieden was off with Shachi J-19 and her offspring, Eclipse J41.  It lasted for quite a while before the five whales joined up together and began traveling. That was unusual.  

On the day in October when Spieden was first NOT seen, there were 'alarm buttons' going off in our heads...why is Onyx with Granny and not Spieden? It wasn't long before we knew that she was no longer here.

So often we have to put things together after the fact.  And this was one of those times....and it continues to be that way.

- March 23, 2017 posting -
In the fall of 2016 Granny J-2, Onyx's companion, died...now what would Onyx do? That's a question that keeps coming up...and there are many wanting to know.
...a few things so far - Onyx has been seen with just about all the whales in J Pod - at one time or another...the closest tie that I had noticed, even last fall, was with the J14s.  That would make sense because they are part of Granny's line. He was seen traveling more with Suttles J-40 and Se-Yi-Chn J-45 when I saw them in the fall and not with Hy'Shqa J-37 - well, J-37 is now the matriarch of the family and I suppose she might have other things to keep her busy...for the time being anyway - like her youngster, J-49...and like when I saw J-37 and Oreo J-22 traveling together (that was unusual).
...one thing that intrigues me, and means absolutely nothing, is that IF the studies of these whales had just begun (say, like last fall) then would Suttles J-40 be thought to be an adult female?...and what might her estimated age have been?...
...Onyx has been seen traveling with Mike J-26, with Blackberry J-27 (they have a known history of buddy-ing up from time to time)...Mako and Se-Yi-Chn and Onyx - is he now 'uncle Onyx'?...
...the most recent encounter that I had was on the 16th of March and others had a day or two laterSo, on the 16th (link to that encounter at bottom of page) of March he, as well as Mike and Blackberry, each spending time off to themselves foraging...later on they began to join the others...Blackberry and his sister Tsuchi were traveling off into the sunset together; Onyx was seen moving toward Hy-Shqa J-37 and a few others, etc...
A few days later when J Pod was in the Strait of Juan de Fuca heading west...a friend told me that Onyx (her favorite!) was seen with the J17s...now that would make for an interesting 'group composition' look.
So the question remains, Who is Onyx traveling with now?  
It seems to depend on the day/time...at least for now. 

March 28-30 - Onyx and the J17s have split from J Pod.  It was first noticed when they were seen coming down San Juan Channel on March 28th, late in the day. No other J Pod whales were seen.
On March 29th the rest of J Pod was seen, first on the west side of Orcas Island. They crossed over the north end and went down Rosario Strait but no one knows for sure how far past Peapod Rocks they got.  The J17s and Onyx were not there.  They were seen (from a report) at Pt. Wilson sometime that day.
March 30th the J17s and Onyx were seen in Puget Sound and were believed to be the only J Pod whales there...and seen again a few more days before heading west.

May 7, 2017 - J Pod returned today, after being gone for five weeks. Who would Onyx be with?  Where he was and who he was with on this occasion when they passed by Lime Kiln going up island:
he was with Cookie J-38, a sprouting male...and those two were the trailing whales.  That was only for that time for yesterday so far.  Onyx has no idea (ha!) how much he is being watched :)

...some questions:
Will the whales realign themselves as this new era (loss of Granny) progresses? 

Even if the whales don't continue their split Group A and Group B (as they did since 2010) will they continue with their tight alliances when they travel as a full pod now, like they did when all of J Pod traveled together during that time?
Or is this a time for some relationships to become stronger?
Might there also be other changes when K and L pods return?  
We are in a position of privilege to watch and learn as this next chapter unfolds.

November 29, 2017 - in the earlier part of the season Onyx was traveling with the J17 family and for a while it seemed like this might be a permanent arrangement.  But later, J Pod seemed to be blending together more and not as split into specific groups as they had been.  On several occasions Onyx was seen traveling with Cookie J-38 and other times with Blackberry and his siblings.  For now, at least, he has remained with J Pod. 

Encounter:  July 2009 Onyx Visits With a Relative
Encounter:  June 2014 Onyx Spent the Day with the L12s  
Encounter:  July 21, 2014 Breaking News About Killer Whale Onyx L-87
Encounter:  July 17, 2015  What is L87 Up To?
Encounter:  March 16, 2017  J Pod Being J Pod
Encounter:  May 7, 2017  Pod Returns After Being Gone Five Weeks