I never met him, but still feel the loss

In the mid-70s, as a young undergraduate at the University of Washington, I got involved in orca watching. It wasn’t a big deal, I had these identification cards for the J, K, and L pods, and on weekends I’d either go to lookouts on the Puget Sound coast, or on a couple of occasions, took thrilling rides on a university oceanographic vessel. It was long, long ago, and it feels like it. How did I end up in the Midwest, I dunno.

Anyway, this makes me sad. The Puget Sound orcas are not doing great, with their stocks of their favorite food, salmon, diminishing. Who’s responsible for that, I dunno. Now one of the charismatic killer whales, K21 Cappuccino, has died.

K21 Cappuccino was a gregarious, curious, and kindly orca. He liked to engage in play behaviors—breaching, spyhopping, slapping his pectoral fins. And he was generally quite fearless about approaching human boaters who were in his waters. He seemed to always be curious about the crazy monkeys.

The 35-year-old male, sadly, has now joined the procession of endangered Southern Resident killer whales who have been dying at precipitous rates over the past five years, reducing the entire population now to 74 whales. He was last seen a week ago in a badly emaciated state, struggling against the tidal currents on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, far behind the rest of his clan; it is presumed that he has since died.

I never even knew this whale — he was born after I’d left the West coast and was living in Utah, of all places. Whole generations of orcas have lived and died (mostly died, it seems) since I abandoned the Pacific shores, and now I’m sad for what never was and will never be.


  1. bodach says

    My wife and I just returned from a week’s stay at Stuart Island, working as a docent at the Turn Point lighthouse. Heard stories of a few sightings in the Salish Sea, but saw none ourselves. Sad how they’re dying off without sufficient newborns to replace the old ones.
    The transients are doing better; of course, they feed on seals and not salmon.

  2. madtom1999 says

    20 years ago I went from Victoria to Friday Harbour by boat to have a look round the marine station there where my first memories of life come from when my dad was teaching there for a while. On the way back the boat captain said the customs officer at the other end would be a bit late and so would we like to pop over to have a look at a mass meeting of killer whales. So we said yes. It seems 3 pods had got together and there were some 200 or so coming up all around us (we were the only boat left as it was getting late and we were drifting so breaking laws but not being a hazard I hope) It was 40 minutes of pure delight – one mother feeding a 20lb salmon to her calf at one point! There is something amazing about seeing such a large animal so at home in the water. I shot three rolls of 35mm film and got 108 pictures of orca less splashes!

  3. steve1 says

    Florida’s Manatees are doing really bad this year. They are literally starving to death. The sea grass has died off. The Manatees food source. Our agricultural runoff has dirtied the water so much that it blocks the sunlight for the seagrass. We have no seagrass now. One part of the lagoon the Manatee bones have piled up. There is no one to collect them because of the pandemic. The bones are big and dense. The dense bones serve as ballast for the manatees. I guess having a domestic source of sugar is more important. We really don’t know or want to manage our water.