March 25, 2017

Humpback in the San Juans

Humpback whale tail

Friday, March 24th, turned into a fabulous day on the water!  Captain Mike, guests aboard the M/V Sea Lion, and I were hopeful that the cool spring day would turn something up, and we were not disappointed!  During this early season, we usually leave the docks with no reports.  I did not let this fact discourage me, because we are members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association and know of all sightings in the area in real time.  I had my fingers crossed for cetaceans in the San Juans!

Captain Mike took us north through Presidents Channel and along Orcas Island.  There was an excellent haul out of Steller sea lions on Sucia Island!  Steller sea lions can be very loud and this group certainly was!  Barking, growling, and grunting, these large pinnipeds are very fun to observe. 

After leaving the Stellers, Captain Mike informed me that a humpback had been spotted not far from our current location!  Just around the corner at East Point in Canadian waters, Big Mama, a local humpback, was traveling and foraging on the shallow reef.  As we approached and saw our first blow, everyone was very excited!  I had not yet seen a humpback this season and I was very excited that my first sighting was Big Mama. 

When we came on scene, Captain Mike expertly maneuvered the boat for excellent views.  At one point Big Mama surprised us by surfacing off our bow with a very large exhale!  Humpback whales are baleen whales, which means they do not have true teeth.  Instead baleen, which is made of keratin, looks like toothbrush bristles, and hangs from the top jaw, is used like a sieve to trap food.  Humpback whales take a large gulp of water and food and then use their powerful tongue and throat to push the water through the baleen and keep all the food in.  Humpback whales can eat up to 3,000lbs of food a day!

My first humpback whale encounter of the season could not have been better!  We enjoyed looking at Big Mama for over half an hour before having to turn toward home.  With calm waters and peak-a-boo sun, it was a fabulous day on the water!

Filed by:

Reservations Manager and Naturalist


Sea Lion


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