K1, born est. 1955, was perhaps the most famous orca in the Pacific Northwest. His mother was possibly K7, the grand old matriarch of K pod, who was born around 1910 and died in 2008 at est. 98 years old. K1, or Taku, as he was called with the Whale Museum Adoption Program, was captured in August 1973 among other members of his family. Because of his size as an already adult male, he was not kept for an aquarium but released again. Unfortunately the other whales weren’t to share his freedom and all died within a year of the capture:

  • Nootka 2, a 30-year-old female from K pod, died of a ruptured aorta at Sealand of the Pacific in May 1974.
  • Kandy, a 14-year-old female from L pod, died of acute pneumonia at Marineland Ontario in November 1973.
  • Frankie, a 12-year-old male from L pod, died of pneumonia at SeaWorld San Diego in January 1974.
K1 kelping!

Prior to K1’s release scientists cut two notches at the top of his dorsal fin to find out whether these would heal up or stay permanently. This was of special interest because those kind of nicks and notches would be very helpful to identify individual orcas, in addition the grey area below the dorsal fin, the so-called saddle patch. As the years went on, it became obvious that the notches stayed and they made it very easy for everyone to identify this magnificent male. Until his death in the winter of 1997/1998, K1 was the living proof that you can use photo-identification to identify individual killer whales and study a population in a benign way.

K1 being fit with a tracker prior to release
Photo provided by Sara Farrell.