September 9, 2019

An Enchanting and Rare Whale Watching Experience

Erin | M/V Kestrel | Monday, September 9, 2019 | 3:00 PM

Words cannot describe what an absolutely wonderful trip we had aboard the M/V Kestrel today. We left Friday Harbor and headed south in pursuit of some great whale reports. It started to rain on us as we saw Cattle Pass coming into view, but it didn't discourage us at all. It rained off and on throughout the whole trip, but the sea state was miraculous. It was so flat that it looked like we were gliding through glass. At one point, we went through a really dense fog and the colors surrounding us were spectacular. We saw harbor porpoises pop up every now and then, and we made our way toward Port Angeles. 

When we got closer to Port Angeles, we could see some whale watching boats in the distance. Then, we saw a giant blow that reached at least 20 feet above the surface of the water. We were in the presence of a large baleen whale. When we got closer to the whale, we could tell that it was a fin whale! Fin whales are pretty rare to see in the Salish Sea, so we were all very excited to be seeing one. Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world, reaching lengths of 75 feet! We got to be with the fin whale for a few surfacings; it was taking 5-10 minute dives. At one point, we saw that the whale had a fresh wound surrounding its dorsal fin. Unfortunately, baleen whales are prone to injuries from entanglement, which is what the wound appeared to be from. However, it was breathtaking to be in the presence of such a gigantic creature. While we were watching the fin whale, a California sea lion popped up close to our boat! That is another rare sighting in the Salish Sea, as these waters are usually dominated by Steller sea lions. After we soaked in the whole exerience, we headed toward a report of orcas in the area. 

When we arrived on scene with the orcas, we saw a huge male dorsal fin towering over the surface of the water. Males have 6-foot-tall dorsal fins! We then saw that whale accompanied with 4 other whales. There was another male that was hanging out on the outskirts of the pod during our encounter. The rest were all females and juveniles. The pod we were watching was a pod of Bigg's killer whales known as the T46's. They were accompanied by another whale called T122, who is a female that is often seen with them. The whales were very restful during the time we were with them. They could have been sleeping, or they could have been in stealth mode trying to sneak up on their prey. We were all fascinated by their movements, and we also had a pretty stunning background. The whales were travelling in front of Dungeness Spit, which is a natural formation of sand and rock with a beautiful lighthouse on the end of it. We headed away from the whales and back toward Friday Harbor. 

On our way back, the sun showed itself and the water was still extremely flat! We saw lots of harbor porpoises popping up. We then stopped past Whale Rocks and saw a bunch of Steller sea lions hauled out. Steller sea lions are the largest sea lions in the world! Adult males use the Salish Sea as their feeding grounds and can be found here from fall to spring. We arrived back at Friday Harbor with memories to last a lifetime. Thanks for reading, folks! Until next time. 

Naturalist Erin