Today, October 18th, marks the 16th birthday of one of our favourite orcas, A55 or Echo, the oldest son of A34, Simoom, and grandson of Scimitar, A12, the matriach of the A12 matriline of the northern resident community. To know an orca’s birth date precisely is unusual, and Echo’s birthday today turned out to be equally so.
Sixteen years ago, on October 18, 1989, we saw the four adult A12s in Blackney Pass in the morning. They disappeared for a while to the west, and when they came back in the afternoon Simoom (A34) had a tiny, orange tinted little calf beside her. A12 was positioned not too far away, while A33 and his brother A31 waited off to the side. This was Simoom’s first baby. He was named Echo after Echo Bay, which is near Simoom Sound in the Broughton Archipelago. Eventually we understood him to be male, and over the last few years he has increasingly taken on the form of an adult male orca.
A34 has had most of her babies around this time of year, and most of them have been born in the Johnstone Strait “core” area. She is the only orca to have done this regularly. Perhaps as a result, we have a very warm feeling for Simoom and her family.
This morning, before 5am, we were awakened by the calls of the A12s in Johnstone Strait. When it became daylight, they could be seen together off the Blackney Pass “gap”, where they spent several hours foraging, probably feasting on chum salmon which are abundant at this time of year. Eventually, they headed north through Blackney Pass on the ebbing tide. We were delighted to have a chance to see Echo on his birthday, and watched him intently as he led the way through the pass. After a time, he was overtaken by the others and disappeared from our view, diving for many minutes at a time, seemingly engaged in intense foraging. Eventually, he and the other A12s headed out of our sight and into Blackfish Sound. We could still hear their calls when suddenly the call of “ORCA!” had us hurrying back to the lab. To our astonishment, Echo was right in front of us, on his own! He proceeded to move back & forth, foraging and calling, for almost half an hour before he headed back into Blackfish Sound & joined the others.
What a birthday present!