April 16, 2018

Gray Whale in San Juan Channel!!!

14 April, 2018 | M/V Sea Lion | 4:00 PM

On the noon trip this day Captain Mike, Erick, and I explored a large area north of San Juan Island so when Captain Mike and I left the docks on our second trip of the day we decided to go south, and boy am I glad we did.

On our way down San Juan Channel we got word that another vessel had picked up a little-seen gray whale near Cattle Pass that was headed towards us! We continued our heading and met up with the vessel, which, by the time we got down there, hadn’t seen the whale for a good 15 minutes, so everyone was on the lookout, the whale could have come up anywhere! We stopped and scanned and didn’t see anything for a while, so we decided to continue south and then—there it was!

The gray whale had turned around and was headed south again into the choppy waters south of Lopez Island! We caught up with the animal and had an exhilarating time as we watched the huge blow of the animal followed by the well-known mottled gray color of the whale’s back and then its “knuckles”, a set of ridges that runs down the peduncle. This was my first-ever sighting of a gray whale and I swear I was nearly in tears. These amazing baleen whales used to be present in the northern waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans but hundreds of years ago they were declared extinct in the Atlantic, and there’s never been any evidence of gray whales living south of the equator, so the population in the northern Pacific Ocean’s all there is left! I was so thrilled to be able to witness a portion of this animal’s life and it’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

After a while we moved on, looping the boat around Long Island where we spotted a few soaring bald eagles and even a giant bald eagle nest before we headed back to Cattle Pass to see a colony Steller’s sea lions in all their glory before they leave the Salish Sea for the summer. A few more bald eagles dotted the tops of these rocks, including a juvenile which hadn’t attained its adult white head! We then returned up San Juan Channel, detouring around Turn Island State Park where we spotted a small haul-out of harbor seals before docking again in Friday Harbor. An absolutely magical trip!