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Big changes and new names for the Sounders gray whales

PRESS RELEASE: There are some new developments for the Sounders gray whales who return every spring to feed in the waters around Everett, Camano Island, and Whidbey Island. Cascadia Research and Orca Network have documented some surprising new developments with these whales as well as a way for the public to participate in naming a few of the “new” Sounders:

Photo courtesy of Cascadia Research

· This year has continued a trend of more whales joining this group and showing up earlier and staying longer than had been the case. The North Puget Sound gray whales, or Sounders, were first documented by Cascadia in the early 1990s when six different whales were identified who were coming back annually. In recent years the number of Sounders documented using this area has grown to 20.

· Some of these whales are not just feeding there in spring. One whale has been continuously in the area feeding for over a year and two others got an early jump arriving in our area to start feeding in December and early January when most whales were headed to the typical wintering grounds in Mexico.

· Those three whales who were here through the winter have already been joined by at least seven others to date with more expected in coming days to join the feast.

· Two whales we are watching for, but are not optimistic about the likely fate of, are two of the original whales first documented in 1991, Patch and Dubknuck, who we are concerned may have died. Patch was not seen 2021 and 2022 after being one of the most consistent whales seen every year for the previous 30. Dubknuck was seen through mid-April 2022 but looked in very poor body condition and appeared to wander away from the prime feeding areas early. Despite these two likely mortalities, the Sounders have shown remarkable survival despite challenges to the overall gray whale population, a testament to the value of the time these whales get feeding on high density of ghost shrimp in this area.

Photo courtesy of Cascadia Research

Cascadia and Orca Network are also excited to announce some new events and ways for the public to participate with the Sounders:

1. We are developing an updated booklet and ID guide to the Sounders that includes the new whales from recent years. We expect to have this completed by mid-April.

2. We are soliciting participation from the public in a poll to name several unnamed Sounders. The poll will be available for people to vote for name options on five whales from 29 March to 2 April and the procedure will be announced by Cascadia and Orca Network when it is open for voting. After this poll, we will be announcing the winning names.

3. Orca Network will be sponsoring Welcome the Whales on April 15th and 16th, 2023 in Langley, Washington, to celebrate the return of the Sounders with a parade, presentation by Cascadia Research, and other activities.

John Calambokidis, a Research Biologist at Cascadia Research who has been studying the Sounders since 1990 indicated “we are excited to document the expanded use of our waters by the Sounders gray whales, and we hope the public will participate in welcoming and naming these whales.”

Orca Network has assisted Cascadia Research by collecting and sharing gray whale sightings through their Whale Sighting Network, and the public is urged to report gray whale sightings to us via our website at: https://www.orcanetwork.org/sightings-network, or our Facebook page, which also posts recent sightings to help you locate and watch these whales feeding close to our shorelines: https://www.facebook.com/OrcaNetwork

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