September 12, 2017

Finding Needles in a Haystack- L-pod Spotted Amongst Fog

[09/12/17- M/V Sea Lion- Kelsey, Naturalist- 12:00PM]

Boy, was today foggy! As we left Friday Harbor on M/V Sea Lion, the day was overcast, but visibility was great! Then juuuust as we hit Cattle Point on the south side of San Juan Island, we hit a wall of fog in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But, that wasn’t going to dampen our spirits! We were determined to find orca whales.

We were talking with boats out on the water who were with Southern resident killer whales, but we even had to be especially careful approaching vessels that we knew were right in front of us! This seemed tricky at first, especially because there are federal guidelines we have to follow when watching whales (we must stay at least 200 yards out from alongside their path of travel and 400 yards out of their direct path), but it turned out to be an exciting trip!

Everyone was incredibly involved and excited about looking for the whales. You never knew where they were going to pop up next! We soon found some, several females and then a couple adult males, and then after some surfacings, they would be gone again on a longer dive and we would resume our search. We kept finding them, though! The fog made for some eerie watching, but it also made it pretty exciting. We even had a close encounter where we shut off our engine as three females rolled and splashed and pec-slapped right past our boat. It was so incredible! So much social behavior RIGHT in front of us… that was pretty special.

We got an ID on the whales after spotting their saddle patches (white markings behind their dorsal fins that are like their fingerprints), and we found that we were viewing the L-11’s, consisting of 4 females and 2 males, but we also had L-89, or Solstice, who usually hangs out with other members of L-pod. We saw Mega, Solstice, Calypso, Matia, Cousteau, Joy, and a baby born in 2015, Windsong. L-41, Mega, is the oldest member of the Southern resident community- he was born in 1977!

The fog cleared and we headed home, but not without stopping to check out some Stellar’s sea lions on the way back. It was a happy day seeing the Southern residents (who are quite endangered) up close and personal. Although, any day out exploring the Salish Sea is a happy day!