September 2, 2021

An afternoon with an incredible Southern Resident family, the L54s!

Southern Resident Killer Whale

An afternoon with an incredible Southern Resident family, the L54s! 

Maxx K. | M/V Kestrel | 09/02/2021 | 2:00pm

    It was a beautiful afternoon on the Salish Sea! Seas were calm, the dignified Olympic mountains peered down over the islands and Southern Residents were rumored to be in the area. When Captain Solan and I left Friday Harbor, we weren’t entirely sure what our game plan was: the last reports of L54 and her family were pretty far south of us and trending further southbound and all other whales seemed a bit too far out of reach. 

    Kestrel flew through the San Juan Channel towards the trusty whale rocks and the residing Steller sea lions. Boy oh boy were they rambunctious this afternoon! The island seemed to move as waves and waves of 1000 pound sea lions roared and socialized with one another. Several Stellers surfaced between us and the island, likely foraging amongst the long stocks of bull kelp that were forested beneath us. 

    After admiring the Stellers for several long minutes and further communicating with other vessels in the area, Solan and I decided we were going to go for it: let’s go try and take a look at the L54s! 

    It wasn’t long before we began to see them. Dotted along the horizon were tiny tiny specs we knew to be research vessels that accompanied four L-Pod Southern Resident Killer Whales: 

L54 (Ino), a 44 y/o mother. 

Her oldest biological son, L1008 (Coho). 

Her youngest son, L117 (Keta).

And finally, L88 (Wave Walker), L54’s adopted son and the sole survivor of the L2 matriline. 

    We sat with them for approximately thirty minutes as they very lowly and cautiously made their way North across the Juan De Fuca. Periodically they would dive, disappearing for several minutes. I imagine they were foraging. Perhaps they were searching the bull kelp forests for any hope of Chinook salmon. I hope they found some though unfortunately it’s unlikely they did. It’s incredible to imagine that once upon a time you could find 100lb Chinook salmon out there! And they’d be abundant! Now they’d be lucky to find a couple 20lb fish. 

    It was incredible to share space with this family. I’ve been speaking about the Southern Residents all season long, yet had never seen them. They were essentially mythical creatures to me at this point! Yet, here they were, right in front of us. 

    I also want to applaud and acknowledge Solan for his tactfulness and diligence in terms of how he maneuvered around these whales. Given the restrictions surrounding vessel operations around Southern Residents, Captains have to remain intensely vigilant. 

    Before too long we made our way back to Friday Harbor, soaking in the insane experience we’d just shared. Thank you Solan and to all other guests that came out with us this afternoon. This was a tour that I won't soon forget.