2008/03/28

The Punta Norte Orca Research Season (starting in February) has been in full swing. We have had phenomenal weather, with only one day of strong winds since mid February. This means that we are spending a lot of time out in the field, and have had very little time to write updates, so please forgive us for the delay in getting this prepared.

The adult male orca Mel, taking a pup off the beach at Medina Bay on the 1st of March 2009.
The adult male orca Mel, taking a pup off the beach at Medina Bay on the 1st of March 2009.
Photo © Juan Copello / www.pnor.org

Juan is based here most of the year, and so far he has observed orca at Punta Norte in January, February and March 2009. Gretchen arrived on the 20th of February and Ingrid & Léoni arrived 7th March 2009.

Mel was photographed conducting the first intentional stranding attack of the season, on the 1st of March 2009. This made local and national TV and newspapers here in Argentina. He has since been seen on the following days of March 5, 8, 12, 14,15, 17-21, 25-27 March, making him and the orca who he travels with (Sol) the most frequently seen orca this season.

Issy, who is thought to be approximately two years old, photographed on the beach for the first time.
Issy, who is thought to be approximately two years old, photographed on the beach for the first time.
Photo © Gretchen Freund / www.pnor.org

The 5th of March brought the first arrival of ‘The Girls’ – a group of orca who are not accompanied by any adult males. Since then various orca have been split into groups (such as JC, Antu, Maga, Issy, Valen and Mica) and have arrived infrequently. We have not, as we write this, photographed Jazmin or Ishtar at Punta Norte this season (but we did see them), but they were part of two groups of orca
who were seen in the Gulf of Nuevo, approximately 100 km to the south of Punta Norte, on the 21st February 2009. A Whale Watching boat captain photographed them, and he has kindly donated the images to our research project. All but one orca were identified as those, which visit Punta Norte. The ‘mystery’ orca has yet to be identified.

Another sighting in the Gulf of Nuevo was interesting, but disheartening. Photographs have been submitted to us from another Whale Watching Captain, showing a young dead female orca. Because the animal had been on the beach for a while the pigmentation had faded dramatically and we were not able to positively match it to any of the Punta Norte Orca. We hope to go to the area to take samples from the animal.

Valen intentional stranding to take a sea lion pup. Note his mouth is slightly open and you can see his teeth.
Valen intentional stranding to take a sea lion pup. Note his mouth is slightly open and you can see his teeth.
Photo: © Chantal Henderson / www.pnor.org

On a lighter note, we have made some interesting observations this season already, including more photographs of Mel’s wounds on his face. We plan to have the scientific paper about this published this year, and when it is we will post it to the website. Valen, who is a proficient hunter, has been seen coming onto the beach with his mouth open, exposing in teeth during hunting. We are not sure why he is doing this, but it is making for dramatic photographs.

Two of the younger members of the population (Issy and Mica) have been photographed intentionally stranding for the first time. We are hoping that they continue with their training and become successful hunters, and given that Issy is approximately two years old, she/he is starting early!

There are currently two film crews at Punta Norte, filming the orca (for shows for Discovery and National Geographic channels) and we hope they will be able to document some of these behaviours.

If we don’t have time to write another update before the end of the season, we will write a summary at the end and pass on any new information.

From the Orca and the Punta Norte Orca Research Team thank you for your support and interest.

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