HOWARD GARRETT joined Gwen and Whidbey Chat listeners for his monthly Whale News visit.  A recording of the show can be heard on Thurs April 29th at 9am PST  and Fri April 30 at 4pm PST.  The KWPA  site for streaming and/or Howard & Orca Network can be reached through the links to your left – Click and Go

The Poop on Whales from the Coupeville Wharf

Picture by Klaus D. Neumann


Orca Network’s Howard Garrett walked down the wharf for his monthly visit to Whidbey Chat with Gwen Sam today.  One of the Orca Network Co-founders Howard is a regular guest on Whidbey Chat and is a sought after voice in all things Whale.  As with any time, Howard was full of interesting, even shocking news this week.  

Speaking about a new scientific peer-reviewed study, just released, Howard told Gwen and Whidbey Chat listeners there may very well be more than one species of Orca (Orcinus).  Killer whales may be as many as four or more species.  That is the proposal of a highly regarded paper written by lead scientist Phillip Morin, a geneticist affiliated with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of California at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues in the field (authors listed below).  While Howard has yet to dissect the paper he was peeked with interest as to what this means to the future study of the Orca.  

Howard explained that Orca have been living and evolving in their related groups for so many millenium; hunting their group’s particular and exclusive food choice (fish, or mammals, or shrimp, or squid…) living, hunting and migrating in the same locations over and over again, speaking in isolated and distinct ways with particular vocabularies, that pod to pod their DNA is distinctly different.  Using genetic evidence the paper looks to prove killer whales likely represent three separate species and suggests ancestors diverged roughly seven hundred thousand years ago, though does not pin-point whether resident, “type-A” Antarctic and North Atlantic types could be a single species, separate species or, even still, a separate sub-species.  There will be much more to follow on this new marine science as the scientific community, academia and specialists in the field, pick apart this scientific paper.  Check on the links to your left to read more about the findings. 

Pertaining to our local whales, Howard never disappoints when it comes to clearing things up.  He clearly explained the recent transient Orca attack on a resident male Grey whale, named Patch, out in the Saratoga Pass. The aggressive ramming of Patch was done by the female Orca in T-Pod, and may have been part of a training session for the young whales present, as a way of teaching them hunting techniques.

He went on to explain the details of a necropsy (autopsy) performed on one of the five emaciated & deceased Grey whales found around the Pacific Northwest and Canada in the last several weeks.  Having been on one of the necropsy teams, Howard was there to see that particular whale had a stomach full of saw-dust, due to feeding in a coastal area near a saw mill.  Howard was not on the team that performed the necropsy, last week, on the Grey who had a stomach full of contemporary items found in any home, boat, department or grocery store.  Beyond knowing through visual inspection what was in the stomach, the scientific samples and data collected are still being processed and studied and there’s no definitive answer, as of yet, what killed the Grey whales. 

A resent post on the Orca Network facebook page stated – “More good news about whale poop!”  And hence, Whidbey Chat listeners were informed, by Howard, of a dog, named Tucker, who is specially trained to stand on the bow of a boat and recognise whale fecal matter in the water.  Tucker, a black lab, enables scientists to more easily collect whale poop, which they then examine to ascertain the health and welfare of the animal.  Our listeners can be assured that Orca Network delves deep into all things whale and today was a prime example.   And why snicker about whale poop – ask your own doctor – waste not want not – the stuff can say a lot about your overall health.  

This interview includes facts of fish (whale food) who seem to swim backwards for hundreds of miles, dogs that seek out whale dung, female whales who brazenly teach their young to beat up on animals 3 times their size, local whale sightings, new big science and a bit about the Langley, Washington, Welcome the Whales Day Festival last weekend.  Yet another wonderful month with Orca Network co-founder Howard Garrett. 

Whidbey Chat listeners, and Gwen would like to thank Howard, Susan Berta and the Orca Network for informing and entertaining us!  

The current information and related press about the Orca species study can be found on the Orca Network site  – click the Howard Garrett link to your left- once at the sight go to their “news” page.

The species study was conducted by lead author Phillip Morin, a geneticist affiliated with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of California at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and colleagues; Frederick Archer, Andrew D. Foote, Julie Vilstrup, Eric E. Allen, Paul Wade, John Durban, Kim Parsons, Robert Pitman, Lewyn Li, Pascal Bouffard, Sandra C. Abel Nielsen, Morten Rasmussen, Eske Willerslev, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Timothy Harkins,  who collaborated over numerous years in as many places on the earth to propose this possibility.   Howard looks forward to seeing more of the study and promises to update the site as soon as more information comes in.