Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog

One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.

October 20, 2011 at 7:00 AM

It's orca time in central Puget Sound

Posted by Lynda V. Mapes

With the turning of the season comes the turning of the orcas toward Central Puget Sound waters. Pods J, K and L, having spent much of the summer feeding on salmon runs in the San Juan Islands, will begin to be seen more frequently in our waters here in Central Puget Sound, as they chase salmon headed here.

Baker  breach.JPG

L87 breaching in Admiralty Inlet, Mt. Baker in the background,
by Susan Berta, Orca Network

As the whales enter our waters, volunteers at the Orca Network are seeking reports of sightings, to help them track and photograph the whales. The network provides sighting reports to researchers seeking to understand the whales' wintertime movements.

Orca sighting reports can be called in the network's toll-free number: 1-866-ORCANET, emailed to, or posted on the Orca Network Facebook page.

It is helpful to provide the species, location, time, direction of travel, approximate number of whales, and if there are any adult males (with large five-to-six-foot dorsal fins). Also include any behaviors such as breaching, spy-hops, feeding, etc. Photographs also are a big help.

To familiarize yourself with the marine life in Puget Sound, check out the new interpretive signs posted on the Washington State Ferries and try one of the observation spots mapped on the Whale Trail.

When I lived on the west side of Vashon Island I had a bit of an orca sighting network all my own: I lived in the old Cove Road church on a hill overlooking Colvos Passage. This had to be one of the island's more unique rentals: remodeled as a house, the old church still retained its cupola and bell. Whenever I saw orcas in the passage -- usually just this time of year, probably drawn by chum runs -- I'd ring that bell to alert the neighbors to their windows.

That was a long time, and several addresses, ago. But perhaps those same animals are out there cruising right now.

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