The Director’s Blog

Thank you for Giving Big

Thanks to everyone who Gave Big to The Whale Trail yesterday! Twenty donors contributed a total of $1206.00. We are so grateful for your support!

Thanks also to the Seattle Foundation and Give Big sponsors for  making this great day of community giving possible.

We’re turning our attention to getting ready for Celebrate Springer events next weekend (do you have your tickets yet?). And remember, though the Give Big campaign is for one day, it’s always a good time to give big for the whales.

Thanks again, and see you on The Whale Trail! 

Give Big for The Whale Trail Today

I have a secret to share. Doing something good for the whales is the best medicine I know.

Give Big to The Whale Trail today and I promise you will feel better, knowing you are part of a project that is bringing people together, and making the world safer for whales, dolphins, seals, otters and turtles too.

Schedule your donation now for May 10th (tomorrow) by clicking here. It works like magic, I swear!

Together we are making history, connecting the west coast for the whales – community by community, sign by sign. We’ve come so far, so fast, and we have a lot more to do!  One thing I know for sure – we can’t do this alone.

The Whale Trail has its roots in a rare conservation success – the successful return of the orphaned orca, Springer. We learned from that project how to work together across organizations, agencies, and countries.

Springer in Puget Sound 2002, Photo by Mark Sears

We’re focused now on keeping the southern resident orcas from going extinct, and making it easier for people to learn about and watch whales from shore, from California to British Columbia.

Whale Trail Sign at San Simeon

Give Big today and know that your donation will make a huge, whale-sized difference in our ability to go forward.

Thank you from the bottom of our orca- and ocean-loving hearts! And deepest thanks to everyone who’s already scheduled their donation. We can’t do it without you!

Spring around The Whale Trail


“Patch” the gray whale, in Puget Sound. Photo by John Calambokidis

The gray whale migration in full swing along the west coast (including surfing gray whales in Redondo Beach). Resident and transient orca pods have made frequent forays into central Puget Sound this week – sometimes on the same day! The whales have been busy, and so are we!

Sites and Signs. Our newest signs in Washington State will be at Point Robinson, Fay Bainbridge Park, and Point Defiance. We’re working closely with site partners and community members to customize the designs, and pick the best places for the signs to be placed. Thanks to WDFW Enforcement for funding these signs, which be installed and inaugurated this summer. Watch this space (and our Facebook page!) for information about our sign dedications!

Orca Talks. In March, Jeanette Dorner gave a wonderful presentation about the great work that the Regional Fishery Enhancement Groups do to protect and recover salmon in Washington State. We were moved and inspired to see the before and after pictures of restored habitat – and how quickly the salmon return!

Our next talk will feature John Calambokidis, talking about the resurgence of humpback and gray whales in Puget Sound.  John’s talks are always chock full of up-to-the-minute research findings and breathtaking critter cam footage. Buy tickets here – don’t miss this! John gave our very first Orca Talk about blue whales in 2010, and we are thrilled to present him again in West Seattle.

Springer in Puget Sound, 2002. Photo by Mark Sears

Celebrate Springer 2017. This year marks the 15th anniversary of Springer, the orphaned orca, going home. We’re working with teams in the US and Canada to plan events to celebrate her homecoming. It’s the first and so far only successful orca rehabilitation in history. I am convinced that the lessons we learned from getting Springer home—working together, and putting her best interest first—hold the keys to recovering the SRKW too.

We’ll be celebrating Springer on May 20 at a presentation on Vashon Island, June 22 at a panel discussion at NOAA Fisheries in Seattle, and July 21 – 23 in Telegraph Cove, BC. Hope you can join us and members of Springer’s team for one, or all the events. Stay tuned for details!

Two Things You Can Do to Help Orcas Today

Washington Residents: call your legislators and tell them to support funding for salmon recovery – especially projects that will restore habitat around Puget Sound. We know what to do, and we know how to do it. We can’t afford to lose momentum on this important work, so critical to orca recovery, and the health of northwest ecosystems.

Support the Whale Protection Zone for the west side of San Juan Island. Speak up for the whales and add your comment to the Orca Relief petition. Comments are due by April 13. Noise and stress from boats makes it harder for orcas to catch salmon. Give the whales they acoustic space they need to hunt, rest, socialize, and recover. Learn more at Orca Relief.

Thanks everyone. Happy Spring, and see you on The Whale Trail!

February on The Whale Trail


Whale Trail Sign at Cambria

Hard to believe it’s the middle of February already! Wanted to catch you all up on what we have been up to.

Inauguration of Central Coast Whale Trail signs

The most recent and southernmost leg of The Whale Trail was launched in January, with events including a kickoff in San Simeon, a movie at Hearst Castle Discovery Center, and a proclamation from the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. We loved seeing the Whale Trail signs at Cambria, San Simeon, Cayucos, Avila, and Oceano Nipomo. We missed getting to Montana de Oro State Park (Los Osos Baywood) – a great reason to go back!

The central California coast is stunning, and a great place to watch marine mammals! From shore, March and April are best months to see gray whales on their northbound migrations, and humpbacks are increasingly seen in the summer. We visited Piedras Blancas, where more than 7000 elephant seals were hauled out, including 700 new pups! Amazing to see, especially just steps away from Highway 1.

Thanks to CA Highway One Discovery Route, Stewardship Travel, and everyone who had a hand in bringing The Whale Trail to SLO. 

Orca Talks

We’ve set dates and speakers for our next Orca Talks!

  • Dave Bain will talk about the Barnes Lake Killer Whale Rescue on February 23 (buy tickets here).
  • Jeannette Dorner will update us about salmon  recovery efforts in the central Sound on March 30 (C&P Coffee, tickets coming soon)
  • John Calambokidis will share the latest about humpbacks and gray whales on April 20. (Dakota Place, tickets coming soon)

NOAA Orca News

  • Whale Protection Zone.  NOAA Fisheries has received a petition to establish a protection zone on the west side of San Juan Island, and has asked for public input. With the SRKW population at just 78 and trending in the wrong direction, this is an important step to giving the whales the acoustic space they need to forage, socialize and rest, in a critical part of their range. Please add your voice for the whales. Comments are due by April 23. Read more here
  • NOAA 5-yr Recovery Plan Review.  NOAA has completed a review of the status of the Southern Residents and progress toward meeting the recovery criteria identified in the recovery plan. The recommended classification is for Southern Resident killer whales to remain the same: Endangered. Read more here.

New Washington Signs

I’m writing from the train, headed to Olympia for meetings with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. We’ve received a grant to add three new signs a year, for the next three years!  If you’d like your site to be considered for a sign, please get in touch: donna@thewhaletrail .org.

See you on The Whale Trail!

California, here we come

I’m writing today from California, where we’ve come to celebrate the inauguration of six new Whale Trail sites on the central coast, at Avila, Baywood-Los Osos, Oceano Nipomo and Cayucos, San Simeon, and Cambria.

From my hotel room I can hear the surf – is there any better sound? – and see the Channel Islands. Wondering how many gray whales are passing through, on their journey south to Baja. We’ll be talking about gray whales, humpbacks, blues, elephant seals and southern sea otters over the weekend – the central Coast is a spectacular place to watch marine mammals! Festivities begin tomorrow  – join us if you’re near!

And to make this week even better, today the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation announced that The Whale Trail is a recipient of a $50,000 grant to develop interpretive signage along the Northern California coast, focused on the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. The Whale Trail is one of five organizations nationwide to receive a Hollings Award this year. 

The Hollings Award will fund adding new sites and signs between Monterey and Fort Bragg, to build awareness about the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in a key part of their range.  We’ll also produce an educational brochure, and a public event to inaugurate the signs.

Northern California and the SRKW

  • Most of what we know about the SRKW population has been obtained through photo-identification and other studies conducted during summer months. Less is known about their travel patterns during the winter.  Understanding where the SRKW travel, their behavior patterns and prey will help researchers and managers better protect and recover this population.
  • The threats that have brought J, K and L pods to the edge of extinction are all human-caused. These include lack of salmon (chinook, especially), toxin accumulations, and stress and noise from vessel impacts.  Individuals and organizations may not understand how every day actions and choices impact the survivability of the orcas. As important, they may not believe that their actions make a difference.
  • Our founding vision was to encourage people to think of and experience marine waters the way the whales do – as a connected whole, independent of boundaries and borders. For the orcas to recover and thrive, humans must be aware and engaged throughout their range. Salmon that comes from California rivers, and toxins that feed into them, impact whether or not these orcas will survive.

How will the Northern California Whale Trail will aid in recovery of the endangered SRKW?

  • By promoting and facilitating citizen sightings, The Whale Trail will provide data to help close a critical research gap about SRKW winter distribution.
  • By promoting and facilitating shore-based whale-watching, The Whale Trail makes it easy for the public to participate in a specific recovery action.
  • The Whale Trail itself is listed in NOAA’s Killer Whale Recovery Plan, and is a recognized partner in its SRKW education, outreach and conservation efforts.
  • Through our signs and brochures, The Whale Trail reaches a broad and diverse general public who might not otherwise be exposed to this information.
  • Once engaged, we provide tools to convert awareness to action – specific steps that individuals can take to restore salmon, reduce toxin inputs and create quieter seas. We also partner with other NGOs and agencies whose expertise is in those areas.
  • Shore-based whale-watching is at once a deeply local and widely shared experience. The Whale Trail both celebrates local landscapes and communities, and connects them to each other. Travelers experience the locations as a connected whole.

Our first step will be to form a planning team. We’ll work closely with local partners to identify sites, develop signage, and plan outreach activities.

  • The Whale Trail is a true collaboration – each 24 x 36 interpretive panel reflects hundreds of hours of planning, review, and consensus building, with teams from San Simeon to Uclulet, Avila to Prince Rupert. 

Thanks to NMSF and all our partners for sharing and supporting our vision of The Whale Trail Northern California. We can’t wait to get started!

And thanks to our partners at San Simeon Tourism Alliance, Cambria Tourism Board, Visitor Alliance of Cayucos, Visit Los Osos Baywood, Visit Avila Beach, Visit Oceano Nipomo, CA Highway 1 Discovery Route, Stewardship Travel, and California State Parks for bringing The Whale Trail to the central coast. We can’t wait to meet you, and see the signs in person! 

I’ll be writing a lot more over the next few days. Stay tuned! You can always reach me at or 206-919-5397, too.

See you on The Whale Trail!

Double down for Double Stuf

13161827_1125342697486768_7371448389169027809_oLast week we heard the devastating news that another southern resident orca has died. J-34 (Double Stuf), an 18-year-old male, was found near Sechelt BC on December 20. Preliminary necropsy results show that the young whale died from blunt force trauma.

With the loss of J-34, the southern resident population consists of just 79 individuals. The threats that have brought these whales to the edge of extinction are all human-caused: lack of salmon, toxin accumulations, and vessel impacts (stress, noise, and risks of oil spills and collisions). It is not one of these things, but all.

The need for The Whale Trail has never been more clear or urgent. Support The Whale Trail today! Your  tax-deductible gift between now and December 31 will be matched by the Whale Trail Board (up to $1250)!

Click here to donate, or mail your donation to:
The Whale Trail
6523 California Ave SW, #410
Seattle WA 98136 

Double down for Double Stuf, and help us better protect his family. 

  • We build awareness of the southern residents and promote shore-based whale-watching throughout their range. With signs in places like parks, marinas and ferries, we reach a broad and diverse public who might otherwise not be exposed to this information.

  • We empower people to become part of the solution, and show them a way forward. The choices we make in our daily lives have an impact on whether these whales will make it. Reducing toxin inputs into the sea and watching whales from shore are simple acts that anyone can do. Their impact is magnified when we do them together, and with purpose.

  • Our governments must be embolded to act with urgency to protect these whales. But our governments can’t do it alone. As with Springer, we each and all have a role to play in the recovery of these beloved and iconic pods. 

Contribute to The Whale Trail today, and become part of a project that is making a difference for the whales. With your support, we’ll accomplish the following in 2017:

  • Fully establish The Whale Trail along the west coast, adding new sites and signs from CA to BC. We’ll work closely with planning teams and local partners on every step, from identifying the sites through designing, installing, and celebrating our signs.
  • Produce educational programs like Orca Talks and Orca Tours, bringing communities together to learn about whales.
  • Expand our shore-based naturalist program, providing whale-watching kits and training to coastal communities around The Whale Trail. 
  • Relaunch our website to make it more content-rich and mobile-friendly.

This year, we’ll celebrate the 15th anniversary of Springer’s successful return with events in Telegraph Cove, Vancouver and Seattle. Honor her legacy and the collaborative spirit that brought her home by supporting TheWhale Trail.

The clock is ticking for J, K and L pods. We know you get a lot of requests this time of year.  Please reach deep and help us get this done, for the whales. Together we’ll turn the tide for Granny and her kin. Thank you from the bottom of our orca-loving hearts!

Have a wonderful new  year, and hope to see you on The Whale Trail!


Finding Light in the Dark for the Whales

J-46 and J-34 near West Seattle, 10/3/2016. Photo by Kersti Muul

Yesterday we learned the distressing news that another southern resident orca, J-34 (aka Double Stuf), had been found dead near Sechelt BC. The male was just 18 years old – another orca who died too young, from causes yet unknown. (DFO is conducting a necropsy.) With his loss, the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population is down just 79 individuals – very close to their historical low. 

Let the untimely death of this young whale inspire us to address the issues that are impacting these orcas: lack of salmon, toxin accumulations and noise and stress from boats. It is not one of these things, but all.

A well-meaning and concerned public has been led to focus exclusively on bringing down the Snake River dams, as if that was the only or even the best thing we can do to help these whales.

Bringing down dams is a complex challenge that will take decades to accomplish. Meanwhile, these pods are disappearing before our eyes. There are plenty of things each and all of us can do *right now* to help.

  • Watch from Shore. Noise and stress from boats makes it harder for hungry whales to catch the fewer salmon that *are* there.  The next time J, K or L pods are near, find a Whale Trail site near you and watch them from shore. Know that by reducing sound in their environment,  you are giving them a better chance to make it.
  • Support a Whale Protection Zone. Orca Relief and others have petitioned NOAA Fisheries to establish a protected zone for orcas on the west side of San Juan Island. Sign the petition now, and encourage NOAA to give the whales acoustic space in a critical part of their range.
  • Reduce Toxins. Living on the edge of the Sound, the choices we make in our daily lives have an impact on whether these whales will survive. Orcas are at the top of the ocean food chain. Toxins like PCBs, PBDEs and DDT bioaccumulate in orcas, stored in lipid cells like blubber and mother’s milk. When the orcas are stressed, the toxins may be released into their bloodstream, and make them more susceptible to diseases.  Any actions we take to reduce toxins from entering Puget Sound is a win for the whales. 

A few simple suggestions:

  • Don’t use pesticides on your lawns. Plant a rain garden, or a native plant, to filter toxins and prevent them from entering the Sound as runoff.
  • Walk or take the bus instead of driving once a week, and reduce the oil that runs off pavement into the Sound.

Learning from Success. Next year we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of Springer the orphaned orca going home. In 2002, she was rescued, rehabilitated and reunited with her pod on the north end of Vancouver Island. Three years ago, she had her first calf.  It’s the only successful orca reunion in history.

Why does this story matter, and what bearing does it have on the survival of the southern residents?

  • To get the whale home, we had to learn how to work together, as individuals, and across organizations, agencies and nations.
  • Above all, we put the whales’ best interest first.

What hope there is for the whales begins with being honest about the issues that are impacting them. That means, putting their best interest ahead of our own, whether commercial, financial, or simply a desire to get closer that puts them further at risk.

We must encourage and embolden our governments to move urgently to protect this population.  We must also understand that NOAA and DFO can’t do this alone—as with Springer, we each have a role to play.

As the days lengthen, let’s match the sadness we feel about J-34’s death with a strengthened resolve to protect his family. Their fate is in our hands—that is our challenge, and our hope.   Together, we’ll find light in the dark for the whales.

Running for the Whales

Running for the Orcas from rivervoices on Vimeo.

On a beautiful Sunday at the end of September, 500 runners gathered at Don Armeni park in West Seattle to set out on the first-ever Orca Run. The Whale Trail was the charity partner for this inaugural half-marathon, produced by Orca Running.The event was followed by Seattle Summer Parkways – a car-free day on Alki.

Our volunteer videographer, Barry White, captured the day on video. Watch it here 63976.

Orca Run/Summer Parkways Highlights:

  • Runners ran for individual orcas! Orca names and IDs,  like J2 Granny, were printed on the front of their race bibs. Orca life histories and information about the southern residents were printed on the back. Runners loved the bibs, and learning about their whales!
  • The race course passed four Whale Trail sites in West Seattle, from Alki Beach to Lincoln Park.
  • Whale Trail volunteers were on hand to pass out water at an aid station near Emma Schmitz Memorial Viewpoint. Whale Trail volunteers also passed out race packets before the event, and medals after it!
  • Mike, NOAA’s life-size inflatable orca modeled after J-26, greeted runners and their families near the race start/finish line. He looked spectacular against the skyline!
  • Throughout the day, kids colored orcas to create a West Seattle pod, and played a new game – Orca Salmon Toss! 

None of this would have been possible without the incredible group of volunteers who got up early, stayed late, and poured heart and soul into this event. 

  • Bill, Julia, Kaddee, Felicia, Gail, Eric, Michelle, Courtney, Terri, Therese, Evanne, Karen, Wendy and LJ, thank you!
  • And special thanks to Barry for the video. 

Thanks also to Porter, Sara, Ashley and Jessie from Orca Running, and everyone at Seattle  Parks and Rec – Summer Parkways. We are already looking forward to next year!

  • Sign up here to volunteer for The Whale Trail,
  • Go to Orca to sign up for the Orca Half.

Happy Orca-tober everyone – see you on The Whale Trail!


Summer along The Whale Trail – indoors and out!

Summer is the perfect time of year to get out and see some whales! Whether it’s humpbacks (or orcas!) in Monterey Bay, resident gray whales along the Oregon Coast, or orcas in the San Juan or Gulf Islands – there’s no better time to plan a trip along The Whale Trail!

If you’ve had a working summer, like me, there are plenty of ways to watch whales without even leaving your desk, or your kitchen table. 

  • Tune in to  Read the community page for updates, and go to to follow the action on five different cameras around Blackfish Sound and Johnstone Strait. (If you miss the whales in real-time, the highlights are almost as good!) Eavesdrop on the orcas calling to each other, and watch them take turns at the rubbing beach. Thrill to see a humpback breach.

Paul Spong is one of the earliest champions of non-invasive whale-watching. With Helena Symonds, he pioneered a way to experience orcas without disturbing them. I first visited Orca Lab in 1986. It is awesome to see Paul and Helena’s  vision so fully realized. A testament to dreaming big, never giving up, and finding great partners!

  • Watch Gary Cullen’s You Tube channel – Orca viewing in Active Pass from Galiano Island. It’s the next best thing to being there! Warning – if you watch one of Gary’s videos,  you are going to want to watch them all. And then start over when you get to the end. (Don’t miss the superpod of 50 whales, and the triple spyhop towards the end. Total inspiration, and a great reminder of why we are doing The Whale Trail.)

Happy Summer everyone. Hope you will join us for one or more of our upcoming events.

See you on The Whale Trail!

May Updates


Thanks to everyone who Gave Big to The Whale Trail! Technical difficulties at the donation site made the process more challenging for everyone this year.  Despite the system slowdowns, our donors gave more than $2,000, which will be stretched further by the Seattle Foundation. Big, whale-sized thanks from everyone at The Whale Trail! Your gifts came at a critical time for us, and will help us take the next steps forward on The Whale Trail. (If you missed the Give Big campaign, you can still Give anytime!)

Harbor Wild Watch Presentation. Thanks to Harbor Wild Watch for inviting me to give a presentation to their Stewardship Club at the Hub in Gig Harbor. I talked about orcas, Springer, and The Whale Trail – always a good story to tell! My favorite part of any talk are the questions that come at the end—always thoughtful and wide-ranging. I came away heartened and inspired by this engaged, passionate audience and their concern for the orcas. If that concern gets turned into stewardship actions, the SRKW have a fighting chance!

Whale Trail BC. The first five signs in British Columbia have been installed. The Whale Trail is now marked in BC from Victoria and West Vancouver to Pender Island, Uclulet and Telegraph Cove. We’re hoping to celebrate the sign installations in June. Stay tuned! And thanks to everyone who made these signs happen – BC Cetacean Sighting Network for spearheading design, manufacturing and funding; local teams; Vancouver Aquarium graphic design team for the beautiful art, and  Mountain Equipment Coop for making it all possible by funding the signs!

Whale Trail California. The art for four new signs in San Luis Obispo County is almost final! We’re hoping they’re installed by mid-summer. Thanks to Stewardship Partners/Highway One Discovery Route and all the local sponsors and teams! 

In Oregon, we’re participating in a signage project spearheaded by the Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership. The first signs on the southern coast have been installed, and the signs for the central coast are well underway!

Looking ahead…join us at the Orca Month Kickoff at the Alki Bathhouse on June 5, 2 PM to 5 PM, and at the West Seattle Summer Fest on July 11. Other than that we will be hunkered down, working on our new website and writing grant applications. We’ll start up the Orca Talk series again in the fall. Ideas for speakers, people you’d like to see? Send ’em my way –

Till then…this is the perfect time of year to get out and see some whales, whether orcas in Active Pass, gray whales in Uclulet or humpbacks in Monterey Bay. We hope the information on this site will lead you to them. See you on The Whale Trail!

GiveBig (like the whales) to The Whale Trail

On May 3, The Whale Trail is participating in Seattle Foundation’s GiveBIG campaign! Any gift received on May 3rd will be furthered by stretch dollars from the Foundation. 

Click here to donate to The Whale Trail today and schedule your gift for May 3. (Or, revisit the link on Tuesday!) GiveBig to The Whale Trail, and help us connect the west coast for the whales. Your donation will go a long way in helping us protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW), other marine mammals and their environment. 

J53 in Puget Sound. Photo by Mark Sears, Research Permit 16163-01

J17 and new calf J53  Photo by Mark Sears, Permit 16163-01

I started The Whale Trail when I learned that J, K and L pods could go extinct within 100 years. I know that is as unthinkable to you as it is to me. 

  • These iconic and beloved orcas, who have lived here for thousands of years, have been brought to the edge of extinction through human-caused problems: lack of prey (chinook salmon, especially), toxin accumulations, and stress and noise from vessels. It is not one of these things, but all.
  • Though there’s been a slight and welcome uptick in their numbers this year, the population is a long way from recovered. Every one of us can have an impact on whether these whales make it, or not.

The Whale Trail is a simple and powerful way to build awareness about orcas and other marine mammals who live in our waters.

  • From 16 inaugural sites there are now more than 80, in city, state, county and national parks, and tribal lands.
  • Each site has a page on our website, and many feature interpretive signs.
  • Through our current sites and signs, including two on every Washington State ferry, we reach more than 30 million people each year.
  • In 2014, we added our first sites in California, at the southern end of the orcas’ range.
  • In 2015, we began working with planning teams in British Columbia and Oregon. Our first sites in BC were installed this month!
The Whale Trail BC Trail Marker. More than 30 marked spots in the Southern Gulf Islands!

The Whale Trail BC Trail Marker.

Our goal this year is to fully extend The Whale Trail from California to British Columbia, and to continue the programs that are already making a difference for the whales.

  • By promoting shore-based whale-watching, The Whale Trail is playing a specific and strategic role in SRKW recovery.
  • Extending the Whale Trail throughout the orcas’ range will result in more sightings during the winter, and help close a critical research gap.
  • Conservation begins with awareness, whether you are watching gray whales in La Push, humpbacks in Monterey, or orcas in Elliott Bay.
  • Shore-based whale watching is an economical, affordable activity that anyone can participate in.

Give Big (like the whales) to The Whale Trail today. Your gift comes at a critical moment for us, and the orcas. Together, we’ll create a new focus for eco-tourism, provide economic benefits to coastal communities, and create a powerful piece of common ground that connects communities not just to the whales but to each other.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968)

With deep and whale-sized thanks,


P.S. Please share with your family and friends. It takes a superpod!

Welcome the Year of the Monkey

Gung Hay Fat Choy!  Asian cultures the world over – and we – are welcoming the Year of the Fire Monkey this week. 

According to Asian astrology, people born in Monkey years are curious, creative, intelligent, and a tiny bit mischievous. They get along well with people born in the year of the Rat, Dragon or Snake and there is nothing they like as well as the company of other Monkeys. 

How does this relate to whales, and The Whale Trail? You might be wondering…

Looking back, 2015 was a fantastic year for The Whale Trail.

  • We began working with planning teams in British Columbia and Oregon to expand The Whale Trail there.
  • Our first signs were installed in California, at Point Reyes, Point Lobos, and the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.  
  • We partnered with hosts and sponsors around the region to bring Erich Hoyt back to the Pacific Northwest for Orca Tour 2015, including his historic return to Evergreen State College.
  • In December, we brought international awareness to our work at the Society for Marine Mammalogy Biennial in San Francisco. Our booth was swamped the entire time – including the night before the event officially opened!
  • And as good a year as it was for The Whale Trail, it was a great year for the southern resident orcas too – nine new calves born to J and L pods since October 2014.  

Looking ahead, our goals for 2016 are equally ambitious:

  • We’ll fully expand The Whale Trail from BC to California, growing the seeds that were planted last year. This will include four new signs in San Luis Obispo County!
  • We’re rebuilding our website, with the help of a grant from the Lucky Seven foundation. Look for the new site in the spring.
  • This year we hope to make at least one visit to new Whale Trail sites, starting with the Active Pass festival in April.

I was born in the Year of the Fire Monkey. The horoscope says this is going to be a lucky, auspicious year for Monkeys, and we’re going to get a lot of things done.  Believe it! With your help, we’ll take The Whale Trail to the next level, along the west coast of the US and beyond.

On a personal note, the year got off to a rocky start with the death of my father, Bill. I’ve spent the last month cleaning the house, mourning my father, and getting ready for the new year.

Here’s to a wonderful 2016. Together, let’s make sure that the Year of the Monkey is a good one for Whales, Dolphins, Seals and Otters, too.

Add a Mile to The Whale Trail!

Today we launched our first-ever crowdfunding campaign! Our goal is to raise $15,000 by the end of the year. Click here to learn more and to donate.

With your support, we’ll add at least 30 new sites in California, Oregon and British Columbia. We’ll continue and expand our programs like Orca Talks, Orca Tours and Orca Steward Trainings. We’ll build awareness about marine mammals and their environment, and we’ll connect communities along the entire west coast in this deeply local and widely shared effort.

Help us take The Whale Trail to the next level, and scale to meet the opportunity before us. Your contribution matters, no matter how big or small.

Thank you from the bottom of our whale-loving hearts! Wishing you and yours a warm and wonderful holiday season. 

See you on The Whale Trail!

November Updates

Orcas approaching Point Robinson. M Sears, Research Permit 16163-01

Orcas approaching Point Robinson. M Sears, Research Permit 16163-01

It’s been a busy few months on The Whale Trail!

  • Orca Tour 2015 was a wonderful success! We traveled around the Pacific Northwest with author Erich Hoyt, meeting old and new friends along The Whale Trail in Saturna, Sidney, Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. Special thanks to co-hosts SIMRES, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and Citizens for a Healthy Bay; the sponsors who made it all possible; and everyone who came! 
  • The first two weeks in November, we watched southern resident orcas near Seattle, as J, K and L pods made their seasonal return to central Puget Sound. We spent a lot of time on the shore in West Seattle, passing out binoculars. Yes, that was me on the front page of the Seattle Times!
  • We’ve been working with planning teams in British Columbia and Oregon to add sites and signs there. It was a complete thrill to see the Whale Trail markers on Pender Island, and meet the dynamic team who made it happen. Thank you Mike  and Mae, Monica, and everyone else at POD!

Looking ahead…

  • We’re gearing up for two symposiums! We’ll be at UBC in Vancouver on November 28 for a Marine Mammal Symposium. In San Francisco, find us a the SMM Marine Mammal Biennial December 13 – 18. We’ll be in the exhibitor area.
  • On December 3, we’re hosting our next Orca Talk in West Seattle. Brad Hanson, NWFSC lead killer whale researcher, will given update about SRKW research – current findings and future directions.
  • We’re getting ready to launch our new website (it’s looking great!)
  • And last but certainly not least, we’re getting ready to launch a year-end fundraising campaign. Get ready to Give Big on December 1! Or give now and avoid the rush ;) 

Thanks for reading, and for your support. Wishing everyone in the States a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving- enjoy prey-sharing with your pod.

See you on The Whale Trail!

Orca Tour and Birthday Thoughts

In May 2014, The Whale Trail and partners presented Erich Hoyt in a series of nine presentations around The Whale Trail – Orca Tour 2014. We traveled from Saturna BC to Monterey CA—9 cities and 2 countries in 21 days, reaching sold out and enthusiastic audiences along the way.

We had such a great time, we decided to do it again! We are delighted to bring Erich back for another series of talks around the Pacific Northwest in early October. (See Events for details).

We’re thrilled to work with new and returning partners like SIMRES, Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and Citizens for a Healthy Bay. And profoundly grateful to the sponsors like the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation and Dr. Pete Schroeder, who made it possible for the Orca Tours to happen!

Orca Tour 2015 was timed to coincide with the seasonal return of the southern resident orcas to central Puget Sound. As I write this, orcas are heading south into Admiralty Inlet. With the birth of five new calves in J, K and L pod, the need to recover this population has never been more urgent or clear.

My birthday wish is that we each and all do what we can to ensure these beloved whales recover and thrive for generations to come. That means – bring back salmon, reduce toxin inputs, and create quieter seas. Not one of these things, but all.

It also means, putting the whales’ best interest first – ahead of any commercial or political self-interest. That’s the lesson we learned from Springer, and the vision that guides The Whale Trail. 

Deepest thanks  to everyone who has had a part in bringing The Whale Trail and the Orca Tours to life. We can’t wait to travel around the Salish Sea for Orca Tour 2015, and hope to see you at one or more of the talks!

Here’s to creating a brighter future together,  and the whales who show us the way.

See you on The Whale Trail!

Springer and The Whale Trail – by Kathy Fletcher

A few weeks ago, we heard the wonderful news that Springer (A73) and her baby Spirit (A104) were back again in the Johnstone Strait, almost 13 years to the day when Springer was returned there, home from her strange adventure in Puget Sound.

 As a young, lonely, unhealthy orphan lost in Puget Sound, Springer’s future was anything but certain in the summer of 2002. But thanks to the efforts of two countries, countless concerned people, and the amazing (and dare I say, somewhat unusual) cooperation of non-profit organizations, Springer was nursed back to health and returned to her home area on a high-speed catamaran. Her relatives welcomed her immediately. She swam off, and as they say, the rest is history.

 But it’s not only history. It’s the future. Because not only do Springer and her offspring have a future in the recovery of our West Coast orcas, but also her legacy lives on in The Whale Trail project. Born from the relationships created in the Springer rescue, The Whale Trail has now created a network of land-based whale siting spots from British Columbia to California, with more to come. Millions of people are learning about and appreciating orcas and other marine mammals because they have visited Whale Trail sites, read the interpretive signs, or come to an informative workshop or lecture.

 If you weren’t around when Springer was rescued, I hope this story brings a smile to your face. If you were there, dance a little jig. And thank Donna Sandstrom for moving ahead to create The Whale Trail in Springer’s honor.

–Kathy Fletcher (Board President, The Whale Trail)


Happy Springer Day!

Springer in Puget Sound 2002, Photo by Mark Sears

Springer in Puget Sound 2002, Photo by Mark Sears

Happy Springer Day! Thirteen years ago today, Springer (A-73) was reunited with her family – less than 24 hours after she was returned to a holding pen in Blackfish Sound, B.C.

Springer’s reunion was the culmination of a 6-month effort led by NOAA Fisheries, DFO Canada and the Vancouver Aquarium. Seven nonprofits formed the Orphan Orca Fund to provide in-kind donations and other support.

The little orca was spotted in Puget Sound in January 2002. Orphaned and separated from her pod, she was lost, alone and 300 miles away from home.


Springer in Puget Sound near Vashon Island 2002. Photo by Mark Sears.

Four months later she was rescued and moved to a rehabilitation pen near Manchester, Washington. Over the next few weeks she was tested to be sure she didn’t carry any diseases that would harm her, or put other orcas at risk. She was de-wormed, and went from eating 2 salmon a day to 15. By early July, she was ready to go home.

On July 13, Springer was loaded onto a donated catamaran and carried north along the inside passage to Dong Chong Bay in Blackfish Sound. She was greeted by a flotilla of boats and hundreds of people from nearby Alert Bay, many in full regalia.

Springer was lifted by crane from the catamaran to a barge. After one last blood test, she was lowered into the holding pen and returned to her home waters. As the hills resounded with drumming and singing, Chief Dan Cranmer welcomed her in Kwakwala.

Welcome Home Baby Orca

Welcoming Canoe, Blackfish Sound 2002. Photos courtesy NOAA Fisheries

Two nations, seven organizations and hundreds of contributors had worked tirelessly for months to make this moment happen. The rest was up to the whales.

That night, through hydrophones in her pen, researchers listened as Springer made first contact with her northern resident kin. The whales called back and forth to each other  in a reverie that went on for hours.

The next day, sooner than anyone would have expected, Springer’s grandmother, great-aunt and extended family approached her holding pen.

Recognizing this as the optimal release condition they had hoped for, the team lowered the gates of her net pen. Springer swam out to meet her waiting family, pausing only to grab a salmon from her well-stocked pen.

The project wasn’t considered a success until Springer returned the following summer. In July 2003 Captain Bill McKay sent word that she had been spotted with her family at the entrance to Johnstone Strait. Cheers and a sigh of relief rippled up and down the coast.

Since then, Springer has continued to mature and thrive, and is fully reintegrated into the northern resident community. 

In July 2013 Springer was seen with her first calf. In 2014, having survived its first year, the calf was given the name Spirit.  Last week, Springer and Spirit were spotted on the central BC coast!

Springer and Calf. Photo by Christie McMillan

Springer and Calf 2014. Photo by Christie McMillan, courtesy Vancouver Aquarium.

Springer’s return is the only successful orca reunion in history, and life-changing for all of us who were part of it. What lessons did we learn from Springer that can help orcas today?

To get the whale home, we had to learn how to work together – across organizations, agencies and nations. Above all, we put the whale’s best interest first. We believed that the possibility of success was bigger than the chance of failure, and that it was a risk worth taking – for Springer’s sake. 
Beyond the human efforts, the success of the project rested first with Springer herself. She turned out to be a resilient little whale who withstood the  stresses of the project with  aplomb.

Here’s to the whale who changed our lives as surely as we changed hers, and everyone who worked together to see her safely home. The Whale Trail is part of Springer’s legacy. Join us!

This post is excerpted from Springer’s Story by Donna Sandstrom and may not be copied, reproduced or reprinted without written permission. All rights reserved.

Looking back, looking ahead

Southern Resident Orcas near West Seattle. Photo by M. Sears, NOAA Permit 16163-01.

Southern Resident Orcas near West Seattle. Photo by M. Sears, NOAA Permit 16163-01.

2014 was a milestone year for The Whale Trail. With the help of our partners, sponsors and hundreds of volunteers, we took giant strides along the West Coast, throughout the southern resident orcas’ range.

  • Orca Tour 2014. In May, we produced a highly successful 9-city speaking tour with noted author and marine conservationist Erich Hoyt. We traveled The Whale Trail from Saturna BC to Monterey CA, reaching thousands of people in sold-out venues all along the way.
  • California, Here We Come! We worked with National Marine Sanctuaries to add our first sites in California, including Point Reyes, Point Lobos and the Santa Cruz Lighthouse.
  • New sites and signs. In Washington state, we added new signs at Edmonds, Point Roberts, and aboard the MV Tokitae! Through our current sites and signs, The Whale Trail is reaching over 30 million people each year. 
  • Orca Talks. We presented a well-attended speaker series in West Seattle, on topics ranging from salmon recovery and the evolution of whales to a proposed protection zone for the southern resident orcas.
  • We created orca art with hundreds of families at events like the West Seattle Street Fair and Meet the Mammals Day at the Burke Museum, and we played Orca Bingo with middle-schoolers aboard the Bainbridge ferries.
  • And when the whales were nearby, we passed out binoculars to hundreds of people watching eagerly from shore.
The Whale Trail in Action!

The Whale Trail in Action!

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far–and we have a lot more to do. While we’re heartened by the birth of J-50 (a new calf in J-pod), the orcas are a long way from recovery, and trending in the wrong direction.

Our work has never been more timely or urgent.  Here’s what’s ahead for 2015:

  • West Coast Expansion. We’ll add more Whale Trail sites in Oregon, California, Washington and British Columbia, throughout the southern resident orcas’ range.
  • By promoting shore-based whale-watching, The Whale Trail is playing a specific and strategic role in SRKW recovery.
  • Extending the Whale Trail throughout the orcas’ range will result in more sightings during the winter, and help close a critical research gap.
  • Orca Tour 2015. We’re planning another trip around The Whale Trail with Erich – schedule and locations TBD! We’re hoping Mike the inflatable orca can come with us again too.
  • From Orca Talks to Orca Steward Trainings, we’ll continue the innovative and effective programs that bring our communities together around the whales.  

Whether looking back or looking ahead, I am most of all, grateful.  

  • To everyone who said “Yes” to questions like, “Can we add this site to The Whale Trail?” “Do you want to host a stop on the Orca Tour?” or  “Can you work at the event next weekend” – 
  • To everyone who bought ticket to an Orca Talk, or hit the Donate button on this website, sent a check in the mail or put some dollars in our donation jar – 
  • To our fabulous core team, board members, sponsors, site partners, volunteers, speakers, and all the wonderful people we’ve met along the way  – 
  • Thank you for sharing this vision, and for making it come true. We couldn’t do any of this without you. Together, we’ll write a better next chapter for the whales.

Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy new year.  See you on The Whale Trail!


Invitation to Support The Whale Trail

It’s been a whale of a year here at The Whale Trail! Word of our mission is spreading, and with your generous support, The Whale Trail is expanding from British Columbia to California, throughout the southern resident orcas’ range.

Most exciting was this year’s Orca Tour with Erich Hoyt, world-renowned marine conservationist and author of the seminal book, Orca, the Whale Called Killer. We traveled The Whale Trail from Saturna BC to Monterey CA – establishing new sites, speaking to packed houses in 9 different cities, and reaching hundreds of partners and supporters along the way.

“The Whale Tr​ail is an amazing project that does a great job of getting people excited about seeing orcas and other marine mammals from prime spots along the Pacific Coast,” said Erich. “At the same time, The Whale Trail’s heart and soul is its deep concern for the future of the southern orca community. We all need to do our part to make sure they survive.”

In 2014 we added new Whale Trail signs at Point Roberts, Edmonds, and Point No Point, Washington, and aboard the MV Tokitae! Shown here is the Whale Trail sign at Marina Beach, Edmonds.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far–and we have a lot more to do. With the recent loss of J-32, an 18-year-old female, the endangered southern resident killer whales (SRKW) are down to just 77 individuals. Issues impacting them include lack of prey, toxin accumulations, and noise and stress from vessels.

  • By promoting shore-based whale-watching, The Whale Trail is playing a specifc and strategic role in SRKW recovery.
  • Extending the Whale Trail throughout the orcas’ range will result in more sightings during the winter, and help close a critical research gap.

The Whale Trail relies heavily on volunteers. Our growth means that we must start dedicating more resources to our program activities and to sustaining the organization. We invite you, our supporters, to include the Whale Trail in your year-end giving.

The Board of Directors has issued an exciting challenge: they will match every dollar of the first $1000 we raise this holiday season. Please step up for the Whale Trail, and double your money!

Click here to donate, or mail your check to The Whale Trail, 7119 Woodside Pl SW, Seattle WA 98136.

We also invite you to celebrate the holidays with us at our Whale Trail Winter Gathering on December 17 at C&P Coffee in West Seattle. Space is limited – reserve your seat online at

WinterParty Poster6


Thank you very much for your support, and if you are in the Seattle area, we hope to see you on December 17.

To the whales!


Rhapsody’s death and what we can do

Last night we learned that another member of the southern resident community has died. J-18 (Rhapsody) was found dead near Courtenay BC. The loss of this 18-year old female is  a devastating loss to this endangered population. A necropsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

Female orcas live to be between 60 and 80  years old in the wild. The matriarch of J-pod, Granny, is presumed to be over 100. What caused this orca to die so young? We hope the answers come soon, and that they shed more light on what we can do to recover and protect these beloved and iconic whales.

For now we hope Rhapsody’s death inspires us all to redouble our efforts to restore Chinook salmon, reduce toxin inputs into Puget Sound, and watch whales from shore.

Happy Orca-tober!

It’s been a wonderful week on The Whale Trail! On Monday, we visited Point No Point, our first site in Kitsap County!  more …

Springer’s Calf gets a Name

Springer’s calf has a name! The Vancouver Aquarium announced this week that the young orca will be called Spirit, after Spirit Island on the Central BC Coast where was first spotted. It’s an apt name for the little whale, first offspring of the orca who continues to inspire us all.

Springer and Spirit!Photo by Christie McMillan

Springer (A-73) is the orphaned orca who was rescued, rehabilitated and relocated from Seattle to the north end of Vancouver Island in 2002. The project was led by NOAA Fisheries, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Vancouver Aquarium, with strong support from the members of the Orphan Orca Fund. It is the first, and so far only, successful orca reintroduction in history.

Twelve years later, Springer is a fully integrated member of the northern resident community. With the birth of her first calf, the project is a complete conservation success.

The Whale Trail itself is part of Springer’s legacy. Many core team members first met when they worked together to get Springer home. Now we have not one whale to save, but the entire southern resident population. 

Springer and her calf are testament to what can happen when people work together for something bigger than themselves, and put the whales’ best interest first. Welcome, Spirit!

Read more from CBC News here.

Summer on The Whale Trail

Summer is in full swing in Seattle, and so are the summer celebrations.

Yesterday we were at the Burke Museum’s first-ever Know Before You Go summer festival. Whether it’s watching sea otters on the coast or orca in the San Juans, this is a great time of year to watch marine mammals – grab a Whale Trail map and go!

Speaking of whales – the humpbacks have returned to Johnstone Strait, but the northern residents are taking their time this  year. Will Springer make an appearance with her new calf? We hope so!

Back in Seattle, we’ll be back at the West Seattle Summer Fest today. Find us in the Green Life area at the corner of Edmunds and California. Stop by and add an orca to our pod!



Orca Tour 2014 – It’s a Wrap!

It started with an auspicious rainbow on Saturna Island, and closed with a full house at the Vancouver Public Library. Nine cities, two countries, three states and one province in twenty days – Orca Tour 2014 was a complete success!

We are still wrapping up and winding down, sorting through photos and stories we’ll be sharing soon.

For now, deep thanks to everyone who made it happen – the organizers and volunteers who poured heart and soul into each event; the sponsors who made it possible; and the audiences who filled the house at almost every stop. You moved and inspired us, and your energy and enthusiasm helped us sail down I-5.

As we headed south down the coast, the southern resident orcas did, too. J-pod was spotted near the Russian River CA – the farthest south they’ve ever been seen. A short while later, K and L pods were spotted near Humboldt CA. Transient pods were seen near Point Reyes and Yaquinna Head, and in Monterey Bay. Couldn’t ask for a better advance team!

While the Orca Tour is over, our work to add Whale Trail sites in Oregon and California is just getting started. Please get in touch if you’d like to help or support that effort!

This weekend, we’ll be participating in the community celebration to launch the new ferry Tokitae, at Clinton WA on Sunday June 8 from 11 to 2:30. The ferry features orca-themed art and displays, including a new Whale Trail sign. Stop by and say hello! And…

See you on The Whale Trail!


Thank You Ocean!

This week, The Whale Trail is featured in California’s Thank You Ocean series:

Thanks to William Douros and everyone at National Marine Sanctuaries for sharing our vision, and our story!

And in the meantime, Orca Tour 2014 is in full swing. We had a fantastic weekend on Saturna – more on that to follow soon, with pictures!

Today we’re heading out to Port Townsend and Port Angeles- hope to see many of you there!

Whale of a Weekend on Saturna Island!

Orca Tour 2014 kicks off in two days on  Saturna Island! The Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society has organized a fantastic orca weekend, featuring talks by Erich Hoyt and Paul Spong, and a panel discussion with other orca researchers including Dr. Lance Barrett-Lenard.

Join us! And if you can’t  be there in person – follow the Orca Tour on Facebook!


Friday, May 2

* Dana Lyons: The Great Salish Sea Tour Concert, 7 p.m., Saturna Community Hall,
$10 advance tickets at Wild Thyme Coffee House/”The Bus”, co-sponsored by Saturna Parks & Rec.

Saturday, May 3

* Free Lions Club morning bus out to East Point from the ferry parking area at 10:30am.

 Also free bus service to and from island venues for visitors without vehicles….

It is preferred that you E-mail or text Paul Brent well ahead of time to book your shuttlebus transportation (phone as a last resort, please). or Text: 604-760-9975.

 * Whale Weekend Program, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Q & A to 5pm.
$10 tickets, 18 years and under are free, co-sponsored by the Saturna Island Boat Club.

Tickets are available at the Saturna General Store
or pre-register with an email to

Info & Accommodation – Larry Peck (250) 216-3681
See our website at:



Orcas and many of the experts who study and advocate for them will be the centre of attention on Saturna Island when Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society (SIMRES) hosts a special Orca presentation on May 2-3.

SIMRES has invited some of the world’s most highly-regarded Orca researchers to the first of its nine SeaTALKS sessions on the marine environment scheduled for 2014.

At this session, SeaTALKS Whale Weekend, the Orca researchers will tell incredible stories about their unique individual experiences over many years of learning about killer whales and discovering new ways to protect them.

Headlining the research speakers list are Erich Hoyt, an internationally well-known U.K.- based Orca expert, also known for both his extensive writing and lecturing, as well as Dr. Paul Spong, a B.C.-based neuroscientist and cetologist, who founded and heads OrcaLab, an oceanfront Orca laboratory on Hanson Island, B.C.

They’ll be joined by other whale researchers including Dr. Christophe Guinet, a researcher from France who has been working in the Indian Ocean as well as Dr. Lance Barrett- Lennard of Vancouver Aquarium, Dr. Ken Balcomb from the Centre for Whale Research on San Juan Island, and Dr. Andrew Trites, director of Marine Mammal Research at UBC.

For Hoyt, who started his Orca research in 1973 and has now written more than 20 books and over 500 research papers on Orcas and other marine and land creatures, the Saturna event marks the beginning of a nine-stop one-month speaking tour of the North American west coast that includes major cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. The speaking tour is sponsored by a Seattle-based group, The Whale Trail, which manages a series of Northwest sites where orcas and other marine mammals can be viewed by the public from the shore. Saturna’s East Point is one of these sites.

“I have spent most of my life working with whales and dolphins and other ocean creatures in more than 50 countries,” he says. “I love new frontiers and I see my writing as a chance to explore the outer edges of what we know about wild animals, the ocean and the earth; and to try to shape in a positive way the human relationship to wild nature.”

For Spong, who is originally from New Zealand, the association with Orcas reaches even further back. He’s been studying killer whales since 1967 when he was invited to work at Vancouver Aquarium with its initial Orcas.

Since 1972, he’s been living and working on Hanson Island near Alert Bay, B.C. where OrcaLab is located. Spong hosts many students and researchers who come to study Orcas in their natural environment and has also established a web-based platform ( for observing and listening to Orcas underwater.

The Whale Weekend kicks off with entertainment on Friday, May 2 when Bellingham basedsinger/songwriter Dana Lyons performs songs from his new CD, The Great Salish Sea, beginning at 7 p.m. at Saturna Community Hall.

The main speakers program takes place Saturday, May 3, between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the Saturna Recreation Centre and will include an audience question and answer session.




* Erich Hoyt:

* Paul Spong:

* Lance Barrett-Lennard:

* Dana Lyons:

* The Whale Trail:


Support Orca Tour 2014 – Join us at C&P Coffee

We’re in the home stretch of getting ready for Orca Tour 2014. In a few short weeks we’ll be hitting the road with Erich Hoyt, traveling The Whale Trail from Saturna BC to Monterey CA. 

Please join us at C&P Coffee in West Seattle on Thursday April 24 for a celebration and pre-kickoff fundraising party! There’ll be light appetizers, a no-host bar, and music by DJ Joe Ross. The theme is – California, Here We Come!

Tickets are $5, available at As always, kids are free!

For me, returning to the Bay Area is a really special homecoming. I attended UC Santa Cruz in the 70s. When I left there, I had no idea that Seattle and the orcas were in my future. To be returning there with The Whale Trail is truly a dream come true.

Thanks to everyone shares our vision of a coast that’s connected around the whales and dolphins; celebrating and protecting the marine mammals who share our waters.

See you on Orca Tour 2014 – get your tickets now!

Picking up Plastic in the Rain

Last Saturday about 20 Whale Trail volunteers helped clean the beach at Lincoln Park in West Seattle.

Judy Lane, event organizer, signed us all in at Shelter 3, and then directed us to sections of the beach between the south entrance and the Whale Trail sign at Pt. Williams.

We were well supplied with buckets, picker-uppers (I have no idea what those long-armed tongs are called…) and bright orange vests from Seattle Parks Department.

Shortly after we set out, a serious squall set in. Drenched but undeterred, we scoured the beach as the tide crept out. Like crows, we poked in the nooks and crannies of the logs at the high tide line, looking for shiny things.

Among the kelp and leaves and seaweed and crabs –  things that belonged – we found plenty of things that didn’t: cans, bottle caps, candy wrappers, fishing lines, a cell phone, a bottle opener, and everywhere, styrofoam.

Four years ago, a gray whale came ashore at Arroyo Beach just south of the park, and died.  A necropsy revealed that his stomach was filled with trash and marine debris – most of it ingested 24 hours before he died. It wasn’t the cause of his death, but it was a shock to see what this bottom-feeding whale had consumed from our shores.

(The skeleton of that whale is now on display at MaST environmental center in Burien, WA. Well-worth a visit!)

Our buckets filled as the day went on. Three eagles kept us company, surfing the currents overhead. The wind died down, the rain slowed to a spit, and the sun finally came out between the clouds.

Barry White has captured it all wonderfully here:


Our first beach clean up was a soggy but unqualified success. Thanks to Judy Lane for having the idea and organizing; Starbuck’s for the very welcome coffee; Seattle Parks for the supplies;  Barry White for the video; and most of all, our hearty and fantastic volunteers: Dana, Bill, Bernie, Barry, Kieran, Robert, Stacy and family, and everyone else who turned out. See you at the next one!

Orca Talk 3/27 – Biology and Evolution of Whales: The Historic Return of Mammals to the Sea

We can’t wait for the next Orca Talk, when we’ ll hear from Jim Kenagy, Curator Emeritus of the Burke Museum. Jim will discuss “Biology and Evolution of Whales: The Historic Return of Mammals to the Sea”. It’s a fascinating chapter in evolution, and a story that any whale and dolphin fan will want to hear!

Please join us at C&P Coffee at 7 – advance tickets at  (See the listing on our Events page for more details.) 

Oh and – Happy Spring! See you on The Whale Trail :)

Orca Talk 2/27: Salmon Recovery in Puget Sound, by Jeannette Dorner PSP

Salmon are the key to the recovery of the endangered southern resident orcas. How are the salmon populations of Puget Sound doing? What can people do to help ensure healthy salmon populations now and in the future?

Photo by Lloyd Moody

Join us on February 27 at C&P Coffee to hear the latest on this critical topic from Jeanette Dorner, Puget Sound Partnership. Jeannette will discuss the current health of salmon populations in Puget Sound, what kinds of challenges salmon are facing for their continued survival, and what people are doing to recover salmon populations to healthy harvestable levels in Puget Sound.

Jeanette is the manager of the Ecosystem and Salmon Recovery Program at the Puget Sound Partnership and coordinates the regional partnership to implement the federal ESA Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan.

Salmon recovery efforts in Puget Sound
Presentation by Jeanette Dorner, Puget Sound Partnership
Thursday, February 27, 2014, 7 – 9 PM
C&P Coffee Company, 5612 California Ave SW
$5 suggested donation, kids free. T
ickets available
Presented by The Whale Trail (Photo by Lloyd Moody)

Buy tickets ahead of time and we’ll save you a seat! And hurry – this will likely sell out.

About the Speaker

Jeanette Dorner joined the Puget Sound Partnership in August of 2011. The Puget Sound Partnership is a new state agency formed in 2007 to lead the recovery of Puget Sound. Jeanette came to the Partnership after working for the previous 11 years for the Nisqually Indian Tribe as the manager of their Salmon Recovery Program, working with partners throughout the Nisqually River watershed to develop and implement the Nisqually chapter of the federally approved Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan.

During her tenure at Nisqually major accomplishments in implementing the Nisqually Chinook Recovery Plan included the restoration of over 900 acres in the Nisqually estuary and the increase in protected ownership along the mainstem of the Nisqually River to 75 percent.

Jeanette has an M.S. in Restoration Ecology from the University of Washington, a B.S. in Earth Sciences and a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Pacific Lutheran University. In her current position at the Partnership Jeanette works with her team of Ecosystem Recovery Coordinators to support local collaborative groups of local jurisdictions, Tribes, conservation districts, regional fishery enhancement groups, non-profits and others to recover salmon and restore the health of Puget Sound.

Hope to see you there!

Celebrate Springer! First Orca Talk 2014

Springer in Puget Sound 2002, Photo by Mark Sears

Twelve years ago, the orphaned orca Springer (A-73) was discovered in Puget Sound – lost, alone, and 300 miles away from home. Five months later, she was rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to her pod near the north end of Vancouver Island. In July 2013, she was seen with her first calf! The project is the only successful orca reintroduction in history.
Why did this project succeed while others have failed? What did we learn from the Springer project that can help orcas today?
Join us to hear the true story of how Springer went home, from researchers and organizers who were part of the project team. Help us celebrate the 12th anniversary of this historic undertaking, and the little whale who changed our lives!
This is the first Orca Talk of 2014, hosted by The Whale Trail in West Seattle. 

The event also features updates from Robin Lindsay (Seal Sitters), and Diver Laura James ( and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance).
Celebrate Springer 2014! The true story of how an orphaned orca went home.
Presentation by Mark Sears and Donna Sandstrom
Thursday January 30, 2013, 7 -9 PM,
C&P Coffee, 5612 California Ave SW, Seattle WA 98136
$5 suggested donation, kids free.
Tickets available
Presented by The Whale Trail
Buy tickets ahead of time and we’ll save you a seat! And hurry – this will likely sell out.
About the Presenters
Mark Sears has been studying and documenting whales in this area for over 30 years. He was the first researcher to confirm the sighting of the young whale, and monitored Springer daily while she was in Puget Sound. 
As part of the Orphan Orca Fund, Donna Sandstrom led community efforts to generate in-kind donations and support for the project. In 2007, she co-authored a teaching curriculum for NOAA Fisheries based on Springer’s story, and has also organized 5- and 10- year reunions for the project team. Donna is the founder/director of The Whale Trail, continuing and extending the partnerships formed during the Springer project.

Support the Whale Trail – Matching Grant!

Late-breaking news! We’ve just received a challenge grant – every donation given to the Whale Trail by 12/30 will be matched by a generous donor, up to $1000.00  Donate to The Whale Trail today, and help us take advantage of this great opportunity! 

Your donation of $30, $100 or $300 will support the sites, signs and programs that are already making a difference. No matter how big or small, your contribution counts. By promoting shore-based whale-watching, you are playing a direct role in the recovery of the southern resident orcas. 

With your help, in 2014 we will – 

  • Extend The Whale Trail around Vancouver Island and down to Monterey, throughout the resident orcas’ range.
  • Reach more than 30 million people each year.
  • Produce innovative programs in our communities, and bring people together to learn about the whales

We’ve come a long way in a short time, but we can’t go forward without you. Together, we will write a better next chapter for Granny, Princess Angeline, and all the southern resident orcas. Donate online, or send a check today to:  

The Whale Trail
7119 Woodside Pl SW
Seattle WA 98136-2069.
Thank you for considering our request. We know you get a lot of these this time of year. If you only respond to one – this is it! Donate today and know that your gift will make a big difference for The Whale Trail, and the whales.
From our pod to yours, happiest of holidays!
Donna Sandstrom
Founding Director, The Whale Trail
P.S. Looking for a last-minute gift?  Shop at The Whale Trail store or give a Whale Trail membership to a friend!

Watching the Whales 12/14

Southern resident orcas near Lincoln Park, 12/14/13

Our friend Kirsten called us Saturday morning with the best kind of news – “There’s a bunch of orcas playing in Fauntleroy Cove!” A friend who lives near the water had called her. A few phone calls and a cup of coffee later, we figured out that the whales had passed by West Seattle around 8 AM.

Around noon they turned north again, and we headed down to Emma Schmitz Memorial Viewpoint to watch, and wait. Reports were that they were moving very slow. 

A small crowd gathered – some alerted by the West Seattle Blog, or our Facebook page, or Orca Network’s, and many just drawn in by the sight of so many people with binoculars.

There was plenty to watch while we waited for the whales.  Two eagles floated overhead,  while harlequin ducks and a harbor seal bobbed in the waves just offshore.

Finally, we saw some spouts on the horizon – and there were a lot of them! They rose and fell like the plumes in the fountain at the Pacific Science Center. It looked like they were heading north!

Nearby neighbors Craig and Charlene Roberts set up a spotting scope, and we took turns watching through it. Craig improvised a step stool from a nearby garbage can lid, so the kids could reach the viewfinder.  “I see them! I see them!” You can always tell when someone actually sees a whale compared to *thinking* they see a whale.  The pitch of their voice changes, and the excitement is contagious – 

For a short while the sun came out, and we could see the sun glinting off the dorsal fins in the distance. It was like waiting for Christmas. 

Resting whales near the Vashon ferry

Then, the whales just seemed to stop.  They stalled near the Fauntleroy ferry lane, and lingered there for hours, in a large, tight group. We watched their spouts, rising, falling, drifting north, then south again.

It was unusual behavior; none of us could remember seeing them stop in one spot like that, for so long. Naturalist Stephanie Raymond reminded us that this is the kind of thing they do when they have a calf. We wondered, and hoped…

As the light faded, we traded stories, and took turns getting food and hot chocolate. We started the day as strangers and ended as friends, brought together by the sheer joy and wonder of seeing the orcas where they, and we, live. The whales had transformed us, again.

Can we learn from them how to work together, and do what needs to be done so these beloved pods survive?

We watched until it grew too dark to see anymore. As we said our goodbyes and went home, the Sound was still filled with whales,  breathing together through the long winter night.

 May it always be so.


Thanks to Kirsten, and Mark, and everyone who shared the day with us yesterday, and to Judy Lane for the photos and Meg McDonald for the video.

Resting whales near Lincoln Park

SOLD OUT! Brad Hanson: Killer Whales in Winter, Tues Nov. 12

Photo by Candace Emmons, NOAA Fisheries

The orcas are back, and so are the Orca Talks! We are thrilled to present Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries, at C&P Coffee Company on November 12.

UPDATE 11/11. The presentation is sold out, and we will not be selling tickets at the door. If you don’t have a ticket, we will post the presentation online later in the week. 

SOLD OUT! Killer Whales in Winter – Recent findings about Range, Diet and Behaviors

Where do the southern resident orcas go during the winter? What do they eat? And how will that information help move this endangered population towards recovery?

Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries, will discuss the innovative research techniques that are being deployed to answer these and other key questions. Satellite telemetry and genetic analysis of prey and fecal sampling are providing new information about where the orcas are going, and what they are eating. LIke scientific detectives, Brad and his colleague are solving the mysteries that are critical to the orcas’ survival.

Join us on November 12 to hear first-hand about these research efforts, what the data are showing, and what it means for the long-term recovery of this population.

This is the first in the second series of Orca Talks hosted by The Whale Trail in West Seattle.

The event also features updates from Robin Lindsay (Seal Sitters), and Diver Laura James ( and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance), and photography and art from Judy Lane.

See you on The Whale Trail at C&P!


After Blackfish

We got a letter from a concerned parent this week. Her son had seen the movie Blackfish, and was so depressed by it that he has abandoned his dream to become a marine biologist and work with orcas.

I haven’t see the movie yet – looking forward to seeing it at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma on October 2 – but  I am sure the last thing the movie-makers want to do is leave viewers – especially young adults –  in such a state of despair.

I put together some thoughts for the the letter writer to share with her son, in the hope they will rekindle his excitement about the whales, and a future studying them. I’m sharing them here in case they are helpful to other people who have watched Blackfish – or just the nightly news! 

First, the best antidote I know to a feeling of powerlessness over things you can’t control, is to take positive action towards things that you can. We can’t change what happened  in the past, but we can have plenty of impact on things that are happening now – for the whales, dolphins, and the oceans that sustain them.

I started The Whale Trail because I cannot bear the thought of our southern resident orcas going extinct. These are the same whales that were captured in the 1960s and 70s. Somehow, despite losing so many calves to aquariums, they survived. They need us now, more than ever. Giving up and giving in to despair is not an option, for them, or for us. 

Feel sad, or mad, and then get busy! The world, and the whales, need you. 

As humans, we make big mistakes. But just as surely, we can learn from them. 

There is so much work that needs to be done to better understand and protect whales and dolphins around the world. One thing I learned from the Springer project is that everyone has a role to play, no matter how big or small.

Often, you don’t see how your piece contributes to the whole until later, in hindsight. The important thing is to take that first step  – act on your passion – get informed, and get involved. Incredible things will happen. 

Here are a few suggestions to get started (these are tailored for the US West Coast, but can be customized wherever you live!)

  1. Connect with and learn more about whales in their natural environment. 
    • Look for dolphins and other whales from shore. (There are hundreds of humpback whales in Monterey Bay right now, feasting on anchovies. There is nothing like seeing the spout of a free-swimming whale, watching it breach, or hearing its blows!)
    • Participate in gray whale counts during their winter and spring migrations along the west coast.
    • Find out which marine mammals live in the sea nearest you – seals? Dolphins? Minke whales? How are they doing – is the population healthy? Is anyone studying them? How can you help?
  2. Connect with other people who share your passion for the whales. 
    • Groups like the Whale Museum, the American Cetacean Society and The Whale Trail host speaker series and special events through the fall and winter. 
    • Internationally, groups like the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Mission Blue, and the Far East Russia Orca Project are doing great work, and need our support!
  3. Learn More! 
    • Read (or re-read) Orca, The Whale Called Killer  – an excellent book that will bring you deep into the world of the orcas, and tell the full history of the orca captures here – including how they were stopped,  by people who were moved enough to act.
    • In the Pacific Northwest, visit learning centers like the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Feiro Marine Science Center, Highline Community College’s MaST, NOAA’s Discovery Center, Saturna Marine Education and Research Center, and the Burke Museum, to name a few!
  4. Become involved! 
    • Pick an existing project or organization and offer to help out.  If there is no interesting group nearby, start one. 
    • Write us at The Whale Trail  – we always need help! 
    • Volunteer at a marine wildlife rehabilitation center.
    • If you’re in school, join a marine biology club – or start one!
    • Write a letter! Other countries are still capturing orcas. We can’t change what we did to the orcas here, but we can do our best to make sure other countries don’t repeat our mistakes. 

Almost everything we know about orcas today, we know because a few people dedicated their lives to learning about them – following a passion just like the letter-writer’s son.  

  • Who are the next generation of orca researchers, writers and story tellers? Don’t give up before you’ve begun!
  • Join us and help create a better future for the whales, dolphins, and the world’s oceans. Their next chapter is unwritten – what will be your role?

Would love to hear your thoughts  –  other suggestions, ideas? Write to or add a comment below.

  • Join us in the discussion following the 7 PM showing of Blackfish at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma on October 2nd. Hope to see you there!

As always, thanks for reading, and see you on The Whale Trail!




Summer Around The Whale Trail

It’s been a busy summer around The Whale Trail… so much sun to soak up! Aside from recharging our solar batteries, here’s what we’ve been up to, and a look ahead…

Out and About. We had a great time at the West Seattle Summer Fest in July, Delridge Days in August, and are looking forward to the Seal Sitters sculpture dedication at Alki Beach on September 8th. 

New Brochure! In August we distributed a new brochure featuring The Whale Trail on the Olympic Peninsula, funded by the Jefferson County Marine Resources Committee. It’s a beautiful educational piece and traveling companion, especially where cell coverage and internet access is spotty!

  • Many thanks to the MRC for their support; to Tom and Sharon of A Creative Accomplice for the inspiring design; and to Sir Speedy Printing for bringing it all together.
  • If you’re an Olympic Peninsula-based organization or business, and would like to receive copies of the brochure, send requests to We have plenty to give away, but hurry! They won’t last…

Sites and Signs. We’re busy working on five new signs around The Whale Trail. Stay tuned for when and where to see them! We’re always looking for new sites, too – let us know if there’s a site that should be on The Whale Trail –

Orca Talks! After the sunniest summer that we can remember, the clouds are back, it’s getting dark earlier, and Fall is tapping lightly at the door. A great reminder that October is just around the corner- and it’s time to start planning our next series of Orca Talks!

  • Mark your calendars for October 24th, when we’ll kick off the series. (Talks are generally the 4th Thursday of the month, unless they conflict with a big holiday, like Halloween…)
  • Is there a speaker you’d like to see, or a topic you’d like us to cover? Send suggestions to

Wherever you are, hope you are enjoying this glorious summer and get out to see some wildlife. See you on The Whale Trail!


Belated Happy Solstice

June got off to wonderful start on The Whale Trail, beginning with Erich Hoyt’s presentation at the Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle. About 100 people attended, many with dog-eared copies of Orca, The Whale Called Killer, for Erich to sign.

Erich and the orcas

Erich’s ground-breaking book brought many of us into the world of the orcas, and it was thrilling to hear his stories in person. It was equally inspiring to hear first-hand about the research he is co-directing in Russia, which has led to the photo-identification of over 60o individual orcas, and strengthened efforts to protect them from being captured.

Mike, the life-sized inflatable orca!

With Mike, the life-size inflatable orca modeled after J-26, watching over us all, it was a splendid gathering of orca enthusiasts from around the state. And while we were listening, rapt, to Erich’s stories, a pod of transient orcas swam past West Seattle. Maybe they wanted to learn a little more about Iceberg, too…

Many thanks to NOAA Fisheries for co-sponsoring the event, and to Seal Sitters, Toxic-org, the Hall at Fauntleroy, and our fantastic volunteers who made it all happen. Thanks especially to Erich, for making it all possible, and bringing our first Orca Talk series to an unforgettable close. 

We’ll start the Orca Talk series again in October – stay tuned!

In the meantime – our next event is July 14-15 at Summer Fest in West Seattle, where we’ll have a table in the Sustainable West Seattle area. Please stop by and say hello!

Till then, it’s a great time of year to visit San Juan Island or Saturna and watch orcas from shore. Hope you can fit in a trip this summer – see you on The Whale Trail!

J-pod returns, East Point joins TWT, and Erich Hoyt is coming!

Lots of exciting news to report! First, we heard that J-pod returned to the Salish Sea on Tuesday, making their first foray of the season along the west shore of San Juan Island. Welcome back, Granny!

Wednesday was Give BIG day in Seattle, sponsored by the Seattle Foundation. This was the first year that The Whale Trail participated – thanks to everyone who donated!

On May 24th, we’re headed up to Saturna Island for the Moby Doll Symposium. The Symposium marks the 50th anniversary of the capture of Moby Doll, which started a very sad chapter in our history with orcas. The focus of the symposium is how our attitudes about orcas have changed since then, and what we have learned. We are bringing plenty of pictures of Springer, whose story is a happy bookend to the capture era in the northwest, and living proof of a profound cultural shift.

We will also be welcoming East Point to The Whale Trail! We can’t wait to see the Lighthouse in person, and meet all the orca fans on Saturna. Of course, we will also be watching for whales. With any luck, it will look like this.

June is the start of Orca Month in Washington State, and we can’t think of a better way to kick it off than with a presentation by Erich Hoyt! Erich is coming to Seattle on June 8, to give a talk at the Hall at Fauntleroy in West Seattle, hosted by The Whale Trail. Our friends from Seal Sitters and Toxic-org will also be there, and Whale Trail core team member NOAA Fisheries. Rumor has it that a 23-ft inflatable orca may also make an appearance.

Almost everything I know about orcas, I first learned from reading Erich’s book, “Orca: The Whale Called Killer”, way back in the early 80s. I can’t wait to hear his stories in person, from the early days in Johnstone Strait to his current work in the Commander Islands, and promoting marine mammal protection areas around the world. 

Like The Whale Trail itself, bringing Erich to Seattle is a dream coming true. Thank you for being part of it. Seattle-ites, hope to see you on June 8 (buy your tickets now!). Wherever you are reading this, I hope you are enjoying a beautiful May.

See you on The Whale Trail!




Give BIG for The Whale Trail

 Give BIG to The Whale Trail through the Seattle Foundation website, Wednesday May 15th. Any donation you make to will be matched!

The whales in the worlds’ oceans are under unrelenting pressure, from increased noise, ship strikes, and hunting. The southern resident orcas (J, K and L pod) are endangered and could disappear from Northwest waters in as few as 100 years.

Are you ready for some good news? This story isn’t over yet, and you can make a difference. Contribute to The Whale Trail on May 15th and help write a better next chapter for the whales.

With your support, we’ll continue to extend the Whale Trail around the Northwest, throughout the orcas’ range. We’ll deliver the programs that are already changing awareness, and converting awareness to action.

The Whale Trail is creating a simple and powerful piece of common ground. We need your help more than ever. Make your donation dollars go farther, and give BIG to The Whale Trail on May 15th.

Whale-sized thanks to the Seattle Foundation, and everyone who is making this possible


Next Orca Talk – 4/25 with Uko Gorter

Orcas (killer whales) are one of the most widespread mammals in the world.  Like humans, they exhibit unique cultural and even morphological differences. 
Join us for this presentation by scientific illustrator Uko Gorter, who will discuss the diversity of orcas around the globe. Spectacular photos highlight the subtle (and not so subtle) difference in appearance, unique behavior, and prey preferences between the many orca populations.  Some differences are so great, they may lead to a taxonomic revisions and determination of new species and/or subspecies of orca. Uko will also discuss his collaboration with with biologists Bob Pitman, John Durban, and Andy Foote to create a poster of orca ecotypes and forms. 
What: Orcas of the World: An overview of the diversity of Orcinus orca
Presentation by Uko Gorter, hosted by The Whale Trail
Where: C&P Coffee Company, 5621 California Ave SW
When: Thursday April 5, 7 – 9 (doors open 6:30)
Cost: $5 suggested donation, kids free.
–Tickets available at
Buy tickets early and we will save you a seat!
This is the fourth in a series of Orca Talks hosted by The Whale Trail in West Seattle.
The event also features updates from Robin Lindsay (Seal Sitters), and Diver Laura James ( and Puget Soundkeeper Alliance), and photography and art from Judy Lane and Mike Russell.

About the Speaker
Uko Gorter is a scientific and natural history illustrator.  He has worked with numerous scientists to depict cetaceans in accurate detail. His clients include the Seattle Aquarium, NOAA Fisheries, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Canada), Ranger Rick Magazine, and Journal Nature. His illustrations are featured on Whale Trail signs around the northwest. Uko is also the current president of the American Cetacean Society-Puget Sound Chapter in Seattle.

Donna's Bio

Donna Sandstrom has been interested in orcas since 1982, when she moved to Seattle. She saw her first orca from the deck of the Gikumi in Johnstone Strait in 1985.

Over the next years she produced events like OrcaFest 1995, and a symposium "Lolita Come Home" in 1996. She is expert at bringing diverse people together to achieve a common goal, a skill honed during her 14 years in software development at Adobe Systems.

In 2002, Donna was part of the effort to return Springer, an orphaned orca, to her pod and native waters on the north end of Vancouver Island. The project is the only successful orca rehabilitation in history. In July 2013, Springer was seen with her first calf!

Inspired by Springer's success, and alarmed at the plight of the southern resident orcas, Donna started The Whale Trail in 2008. Contact her at 206.919.5397

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The Whale Trail is a nonprofit organization in partnership with
Partners NOAA Seattle Aquarium People for Puget Sound Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife The Whale Museum National Marine Sanctuaries