August 17, 2019

Captivating Southern Resident Killer Whale and Humpback Whale Encounter

Southern Resident Killer Whales Breaching near San Juan Island

Olivia | August 17th, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 1:30pm

If any of you have been reading my blogs, you know I have said this many times. The thing is, I’ve always meant it. It holds true to say- today was my favorite trip of the season. Yes, we all know wildlife is enchanting. You never know what you’re going to see, how active they will be, what the weather is doing, or even how your fellow passengers will respond. Today, however, hit the jackpot as Captain Erick, Co-Naturalist Laura and I heard that J Pod of the Southern Resident Killer Whales was doing the west side shuffle.

This ecotype is critically endangered from the lack of salmon as their food source and it has recently been released that their population dropped from 76 individuals to 73. With this critical endangerment, we have strict federal laws to abide by with viewing, such as the number of boats in the area, viewing time, distance, speed, etc. Because of that, we decided to stop at Whale Rocks on our trip south through the channel and view heaps of Steller’s Sea Lions and Cormorants in order to be respectful of these whales and limit the number of boats on scene. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see the world’s largest sea lion!?

As we approached the area where the SRKW were, we [SURPRISE] stumbled into a Humpback Whale! This one was quite small yet, meaning it must be slightly younger than some of the returning Humpbacks we have been viewing lately. As we were starting to discuss how incredible this Baleen Whale was, we started seeing black dorsal fins popping up in several locations over 400 meters around the boat. Respectfully keeping our distance, Erick shut down the engine so we could listen, stay back, and take in one of the most incredible moments.

Seeing this ecotype is remarkable just with their conservation status and how rare they come here after formerly being so abundant, giving them the “resident” name. In addition to that, they started full body breaching out of the water, rolling and rubbing on one another, lobtailing, and spy hopping. This was breathtaking and the first time Laura and I started getting emotional. The second time? When we saw the Humpback Whale and some of J Pod start to socialize and travel together. Have you ever seen that!? Because we haven’t! It just goes to show how incredibly intelligent and intuitive these marine mammals are. Typically, Humpback Whales are not seen near Killer Whales because most ecotypes will prey on them. Not our Southern Residents who favor salmon! I am still so blown away by this rare encounter.

On our way back, we watched as the Southern Residents shuffled and started to head south again, Humpback Whale in tow, and even when we thought we were well out of range, we look back to see more breaching. We also saw tons of Harbor Porpoises and a few Bald Eagles! I cannot put into words how captivating of an experience this was.

I need to take a moment in this already too long blog to give a big shout out to Captain Erick and Co-Naturalist Laura. Erick for being so respectful to the wildlife, always putting them first, and also realizing the importance of seeing them to spread awareness to what is going on with each of these species. Laura, for being so emotional, empathetic, compassionate, and appreciative of the wildlife and the world around her. It’s people like this that give me hope in the world and that I am so grateful to work side by side with, learning from one another. It’s people like this that strive to make a difference and make up this incredible company that I work for. Come join any of our crew and see our passion, compassion, and knowledge help spread awareness about all the wildlife that make up our biodiverse Salish Sea.