Echoes of oldest J pod male Ruffles J1

Ruffles dorsal fin

As J pod re-entered the Salish Sea yesterday and their favorite S1 call was heard for the first time on the live hydrophones in Neah Bay, I found myself hoping that J1 or Ruffles was with them. Is there still a chance that the old man will return this year? Has he been alone or lost in some outer bay of Vancouver Island, like Luna’s uncle Orcan may have been, all winter long?

Almost 1.5 years ago, in the 24 hours prior to noon 01/27/10, the oldest male southern resident whale known as J1 or Ruffles was twice heard calling out as he swam along the west side of San Juan Island. Through the live underwater microphones of the Orcasound hydrophone network, J1 was recorded by citizen scientist Laura Swan making long, repetitive sequences of relatively rare calls.

There is little evidence that other members his family, J pod, were nearby.  The recordings only include consecutive calls with similar amplitudes, suggesting that only J1 was signaling (there was no response from an obviously distinct distance).  Calls are commonly heard on the live hydrophones when orcas are within a range of 5-10 kilometers.  Visual scans by Jeanne Hyde and other observers in the Islands also suggested that J1 was separated from the rest of his pod by more than a few kilometers.

Was this degree of separation atypical, or is this a common occurrence that we have not observed? Last February Candice Calloway of the Center for Whale Research wrote “He often swims alone, and can be miles away from the rest of his family…”

These acoustic events were also unusual because the repeated calls (S42 and S10) are rarely heard.  It’s also highly unusual to hear the same call repeated over and over again.  It’s noteworthy that the most common J pod calls S1 and S4 were not interspersed with the S42 and S10 calls.

Automated detections:


2010-01-26 12:20:32

node=lk dB=101 trigger=PWR


2010-01-26 12:21:23

node=lk dB=100 trigger=PWR


2010-01-26 12:25:16
node=os dB=104 trigger=PKT


2010-01-26 12:31:09

node=lk dB=101 trigger=PWR


2010-01-27 11:31:37

node=lk dB=113 trigger=PWR


2010-01-27 11:33:20
node=lk dB=113 trigger=PWR


2010-01-27 11:35:19

node=lk dB=106 trigger=PKT

2010-01-27 12:34:30


node=os dB=103 trigger=PKT

Continuous recordings:

Further analysis of these sound files is warranted, along with consideration of the sequence of events preceding the 2010-2011 winter disappearance of J1. You can lend a hand by contributing to this public Google spreadsheet of the J1 location and call chronologies.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he’ll make a surprise return this spring, but odds are that we should all work on our tributes to J1.  He still has much to teach us.

Ruffles into the light
Ruffles into the light
J1 Ruffles takes on another ship
J1 Ruffles takes on another ship.

2 thoughts on “Echoes of oldest J pod male Ruffles J1

  1. Kathryn says:

    Nice entry, Scott. It’s a little haunting to listen to these recordings…I’ll look back through my summer field notes so I can contribute to the google spreadsheet!

  2. Scott Veirs says:

    Found this in old email regarding a probable sighting of J1 isolated from other whales on 1/26/2010:

    Jenny Atkinson also reported a lone male southbound:
    “We saw it too — lone male, traveling south. Watched him travel from Lime Kiln to Sharon Grace’s — he kept going, we headed back to town. We did not see (or hear blows) signs of any other whales.”

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