June 25, 2021

Up Close and Personal with Minke Whales

Minke Whale Lunge Feeding

Haleigh | M/V Osprey | June 25, 2021 | 5:30pm

 

Tonight was a gorgeous, glassy evening on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. What normally is a body of rippling waves ended up being flat and silent, perfect for spotting wildlife! We journeyed south of Friday Harbor, down through San Juan Channel and into the Strait. With the perfect conditions on the water we saw a literal sea of birds! Hundreds of Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, Glaucous-winged gulls, and Heerman’s gulls were scattered around us feeding on the abundance of small schooling fish. Rhinoceros Auklets popped out of the water with overflowing beaks -- we even saw one had 5 fish crammed in its mouth at once thanks to the special spikes in their upper jaw that hold their prey in place! A feeding frenzy like this is a good sign there might be whales around.

 

Sure enough as we motored around we had our first Minke Whale Sighting right on Salmon Bank! Shallower banks around the Salish Sea stir up nutrient-rich waters, fueling the entire ecosystem from the phytoplankton at the bottom of the food chain up through the zooplankton, fish, and our largest predators. This process, known as upwelling, leads to an abundance of sand lances, herring, mackerel, and juvenile salmon, all ideal prey for baleen whales like a Minke Whale. After each surfacing where these Minkes are deeply inhaling, they move down through the water lunge-feeding on bait balls. Engulfing large masses of small fish is possible because of the baleen plates found in their mouth, which act as a filter for that extra seawater. 

 

With the engine shut off, we sat idly watching the birds take off one by one, pitter-pattering on the water getting a running start before taking flight. A woosh through the surface caught all of our attention as our Minke lunged out, giving us a special look at its baleen plates! We watched as this cetacean surfaced every few minutes with the Olympic Peninsula standing tall in the background. With such close views on a glassy sea at golden hour, this might be our best Minke encounter yet! 

 

Photo Credits: Ezra Garfield