October 9, 2016

Fall at it's finest in the Salish Sea: Humpback Whales, Harlequin Ducks, and Dall's Porpoises

BCY0160 Heather

Today is one of those fall days that you dream about here in the Salish Sea. After the last couple of stormy days, today’s sun was a welcome break.

We left Friday Harbor turned left, and headed north. We were lucky enough to find a humpback whale within 10 minutes of leaving the harbor as it traveled south through San Juan Channel. Humpbacks are usually 45 feet long on average. This individual appeared to be a bit smaller, indicating that it was a juvenile. We spent about 15 minutes with the whale as it travelled quickly south before continuing north.

We rounded the north end of San Juan Island enjoying some of the migratory birds of the area at Battleship Island. The highlight of the bird-day was group of male harlequin ducks on the shore. These beautiful ducks are migratory, much like many of the waterfowl we see here in the San Juans.

As we headed out into Haro Strait we were lucky enough to find a group of humpbacks travelling together. This is fairly rare; humpback whales are usually very solitary. One of these animals we identified as the BCY0160 “Heather,” a local favorite who has returned to the area year after year, sometimes bringing her calves. We stayed with the whales as they exhibited social and foraging behavior.

We had amazing looks at the whales as they brought their giant tails to the surface fluking up.

After leaving the whales we headed further north around Stuart Island and then through John’s Pass to Spieden Island where we found bald eagle everywhere! The massive birds were swooping over the island and sitting in trees along the water. We must have seen at least a half dozen of these beautiful birds along the island.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was an encounter with a family of Dall’s porpoises as we headed back to Friday Harbor. These porpoises have a playful reputation, which we got a front row view of as the animals played in our boat wake and on the bow of the boat, in a behavior known as, “bow riding.” I was most excited to see a Dall’s-harbor porpoise hybrid in amongst the family. We got an awesome look at this unique animal as it rode the wave created by our boat moving through the water.

Overall we had an amazing day out on the water, the Salish Sea in fall at its best! Check out some photos from the day below.

Filed by:

Captain, Lead Naturalist & Vessel Coordinator

Sarah M.

Sea Lion

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