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Notification Alerts in Seattle Signal Proximity of Orcas

by Chloe Baker
8 comments
orca sightings

This month, Peter Bates was in the process of leaving his vehicle at an auto repair shop when his smartphone received an alert: Orcas were nearing his Seattle locality.

Seizing the opportunity, Bates boarded a bus directed towards the waterfront, subsequently switching to an electric bike. As he cycled along a coastal path, the unmistakable black fins and white markings of the orcas emerged from the water just a short distance away.

“The speed at which they move is astonishing. I found myself cycling at a rapid pace to keep up,” Bates recounted. “The entire experience was both exhilarating and awe-inspiring.”

In a city renowned for its breathtaking vistas of Puget Sound and where the precarious status of the endangered local orca population is frequently discussed, encounters with these captivating marine mammals remain a rare delight.

Salish Wildlife Watch, a WhatsApp group comprising 1,800 members, aims to simplify these extraordinary encounters for residents like Bates. The group aspires to encourage public interest in learning about and safeguarding these magnificent creatures. The real-time updates provided by the group have allowed members to witness whales swimming past the city skyline, observe young calves with their parents, and even hear and smell the whales as they surfaced close to the shore.

Ian Elliott, a Seattle resident and member of the group, described the experience as “somewhat addictive.” According to Elliott, “One can transition from the urban environment to any waterfront park and find oneself in the presence of these incredible wild animals.”

The individual responsible for these notifications is Kersti Muul, a biologist and wildlife advocate. She consolidated various text threads and social media updates about orca sightings into a single group chat, fueled by reliable tips from seasoned whale-watchers, group members, and colleagues in her field.

“My primary goal is to expose people, especially those who have never seen a whale, to this extraordinary experience,” said Muul. “I find it extremely difficult to believe that anyone could witness such an event and not develop an immediate affinity for these creatures.”

Though Muul’s first passion is ornithology, she named the WhatsApp group after the Salish Sea, a complex network of coastal waterways that stretch between Washington State and British Columbia. Her initial intent was to include alerts for various animal species, but orcas soon became the focal point.

Muul views the magnetic appeal of the orcas as an opportunity to raise awareness about the ecological challenges affecting them. These include the decline in salmon populations, the disruption of their hunting due to noise pollution from vessels, and the risk of collision with boats and ships.

For centuries, the Salish Sea has been the habitat of orcas, which are deeply respected by the indigenous Coast Salish people. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of visiting transient or “Bigg’s” orcas, especially as their prey like seals and sea lions have rebounded in the region.

Administrative control over the group chat is limited to two active members, with alerts containing specific details about the type of whale sighted, their direction of travel, and pertinent landmarks. Brittany Philbin, an emergency hospital nurse and an enthusiastic whale watcher, assists Muul in filtering tips and sending out alerts.

“I contribute to this initiative because I want to enable as many people as possible to witness these magnificent animals,” Philbin noted.

Increased public scrutiny has also had the beneficial effect of enhancing the safety of these marine mammals. Group members often alert authorities about private boats venturing too close to the animals. Commercial whale watching is subject to federal regulation, but the notifications from the group enable individuals to observe these creatures from the shore, thus minimizing disturbance.

Salish Wildlife Watch is just one example in a series of initiatives that integrate digital technology with nature conservation efforts. Other organizations like the Orca Network and Puget Sound Orcas also post updates on their respective social media platforms.

Steven Rice, who recently moved to Seattle from Philadelphia, follows updates from the Orca Network religiously. “Growing up on the East Coast, it was beyond my imagination that I would reside in a place offering such experiences,” he said, after successfully photographing a pod of orcas earlier this summer.

For Rice, the experience of hearing the orcas’ breaths and seeing their spouts was ineffable. “I lack the precise vocabulary to describe it, but the experience was nothing short of magical,” he stated.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about orca sightings

What is the primary purpose of the Salish Wildlife Watch WhatsApp group?

The primary purpose of the Salish Wildlife Watch WhatsApp group is to provide real-time alerts about orca sightings in the vicinity of Seattle. The group aims to facilitate extraordinary encounters with these marine mammals for local residents and thereby encourage public interest in learning about and protecting the creatures.

Who is behind the Salish Wildlife Watch group and what is her background?

Kersti Muul, a biologist and wildlife advocate, is the individual responsible for initiating and managing the Salish Wildlife Watch WhatsApp group. She consolidated existing text threads and social media updates into this group chat, sourcing reliable tips from seasoned whale-watchers, members of the group, and colleagues in her field.

What type of real-time updates does the group offer?

The real-time updates provided by the group include details about orcas swimming past the city’s skyline, young calves spotted with their parents, pod hunts, and instances where orcas surface so close to the shore that one could hear and smell them.

How has the group impacted the public’s awareness and behavior toward orcas?

The group has made it easier for residents to have personal encounters with these captivating marine mammals, which in turn fosters an increased interest in learning about and safeguarding them. The group also provides an avenue for educating the public about the challenges facing the orca population, such as declining salmon runs and noise pollution from vessels.

Are there any other organizations that offer similar services?

Yes, other organizations like the Orca Network and Puget Sound Orcas also post orca sighting updates on their respective social media platforms. However, Salish Wildlife Watch uniquely offers real-time alerts through a WhatsApp group chat, directly reaching its 1,800 members.

Is the group limited to orca sightings?

While the initial intent was to include alerts for various animal species in the Salish Sea, orcas have become the focal point of the group. Therefore, it is primarily geared toward orca sightings.

How does the group contribute to the safety of the orcas?

Increased public scrutiny from the group has the beneficial effect of enhancing the safety of these marine mammals. Group members often alert authorities about private boats that are venturing too close to the animals. The alerts also enable people to observe orcas from the shore, thus minimizing disturbance.

Who else contributes to the Salish Wildlife Watch group?

Brittany Philbin, an emergency hospital nurse and an enthusiastic whale watcher, assists Kersti Muul in filtering sighting tips and sending out real-time alerts. Philbin’s efforts are considered invaluable to the operation of the group.

More about orca sightings

  • Salish Wildlife Watch WhatsApp Group
  • Kersti Muul’s Professional Profile
  • Orca Network Official Website
  • Puget Sound Orcas Facebook Page
  • Federal Regulations on Commercial Whale Watching
  • Conservation Efforts for Endangered Orcas in Puget Sound
  • The Ecosystem of the Salish Sea
  • The Indigenous Coast Salish People and their Relationship with Orcas

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8 comments

Linda White October 29, 2023 - 3:41 am

Real-time updates about orcas? Sign me up! Just wish there was more focus on other animals too, but orcas are a good start.

Reply
Robert Miller October 29, 2023 - 7:37 am

Whoa, what an effort to conserve and protect. And to think, all of it through a chat app. Technology, huh?

Reply
Sara Adams October 29, 2023 - 11:15 am

i never get tired of seeing orcas. They’re just majestic. Makes me wanna join this group asap.

Reply
Peter Brown October 29, 2023 - 2:06 pm

Amazing how a simple app can contribute to wildlife conservation. This could be a model for other regions as well.

Reply
John Smith October 29, 2023 - 2:37 pm

Wow, never knew there was a whole WhatsApp group for orca sightings. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me. Wish we had something like that for the wildlife here.

Reply
Rachel Green October 29, 2023 - 6:22 pm

The fact that you can get so close to see and even hear them is just beyond words. We need to protect these beauties, so hats off to the group for raising awareness.

Reply
Emily Johnson October 29, 2023 - 7:19 pm

Such a cool initiative! It’s like a real-time nature show in your own backyard. Kudos to Kersti Muul and her team for making it happen.

Reply
Mark Williams October 29, 2023 - 11:15 pm

gotta say, this is the kinda tech I like. Using modern tools to connect us back to nature. Brilliant.

Reply

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