October 24, 2017

Autumn Killer Whales, Humpback Whale, and Birds in the San Juan Islands!

Bonaparte's gull

[Naturalist Sarah – 10/23/2017 – M/V Sea Lion – 12:00pm]

Some days on the water are just surreal. From perfect weather to a beautiful sighting with awesome whales, Monday was amazing… one of those days that is perfect.

We left Friday Harbor with no reports of whales, not a problem for this time of year, and, actually, pretty normal. Usually we communicate with the other whale watch boats in the area to form a search pattern, covering as much water as possible between the boats. On Monday we had boats from Vancouver, Victoria, and the San Juan Islands out looking for whales.

Cruising north we found bald eagles, porpoises, and so many sea birds! The water was flat an glassy as we made our way up Presidents Channel and out into the northern end of Boundary Pass. Captain Mike and I glassed the waters around Sucia and Patos Islands, looking and hoping to spot the blows (exhales) of whales. No cigar. We made our way towards Skipjack Island to admire the beautiful sandstone and to find some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks. Harbor seals are our most common marine mammals in the Salish Sea, with a population of roughly 200,000-300,000 spread out in our waters.

After a great look at the small pinnipeds, we crossed the border towards the Canadian Gulf Islands, most notably the Java Islets and Saturna Island. Soon our sighting network paid off… ORCAS! And less than a mile away! We headed towards Plumper Sound, and soon found a family of Bigg’s killer whales known as the T002Cs. The five whales were hugging the shore, tightly grouped. I feel like I say this a lot, but, this is one of my absolute favorite families of whales that we encounter. Matriarch T002C “Tasu” travels her four kiddos: T002C1 “Rocky,” T002C2 “Tumbo,” T002C3 “Lucy,” and her newest calf T002C4. This family has historically spent more time to the north of the San Juan Islands, usually in the neighborhood of Campbell River, BC, but every now and again we get to see them in our neck of the woods. The whales made a kill, most likelya harbor seal, and then continued on their path north.

We peeled away from the killer whales and headed back across Boundary Pass towards Stuart Island. In the bright light we spotted another, much larger, blow! A humpback whale! We were treated to a great encounter with the individual identified as MMX0007 “Bond” as the huge whale surfaced and dove while feeding in the nutrient-rich waters.

Leaving the humpback we went out on the search for other animals, finding mainly bald eagles, Bonaparte’s gulls, and even a great blue heron feeding in a kelp forest!

Enjoy some photos from the day!

Filed by:

Captain, Lead Naturalist & Vessel Coordinator

Sarah M.

Sea Lion

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