July 6, 2021

Humpback Whale, Divot, and her calf splashing around!

Humpback Whale showing tail before diving for food

Haleigh | M/V Kestrel | July 6, 2021 | 2:00pm


Our adventure tour took off as a slow ride. Cattle pass, the southernmost part of San Juan Channel squished between San Juan Island and Lopez Island, was full of fog. We drifted through at a snail's pace, eyeing from left to right for any oncoming boats or logs. Eventually, we exited the fog and could pick up speed towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Earlier reports of a humpback whale traveling out that way led us on our path. Within a mile of the cetacean, we saw our first fluke! 


Slowing down to 7 knots gave us time to slowly approach the scene while the humpback was on a deep dive. During the next surfacing we saw 2 humpbacks, a mother and her calf! The mother was identified as Divot, a 50-ft humpback whale that’s traveled to the Salish Sea for the last few years! Her calf, who remains unnamed, was likely born in December or January of the previous winter. Calves will only spend 1 year with their mothers, beginning in their winter breeding grounds like Hawaii. After 3 months of being breast fed, Humpback calves follow their mothers during the spring migration towards summer feeding grounds, like the Salish Sea. That trek is about 2,500 miles, so they arrive ready to eat! With a mouth full of baleen plates, they filter feed on small schooling fish found commonly in these waters. It’s crucial that in this first year of life, a humpback calf learns as much as they can from their mother before going off on their own. 


Occasionally, we are lucky to witness some of the more playful aspects of their youth. After a few rounds of diving for fish and surfacing for air, Divot and her calf began splashing around with their fluke! Taking turns they each would pull their tail up above the surface and start slapping down making noise and splashing the water! This calf is likely six months old, but in whale years they are about toddlers. We can only guess as to why they would behave in such a fun way. It might be for fun or maybe a way to communicate. Regardless, it’s a wonderful spectacle to view!


We slowly peeled away in search of more wildlife. We found two Minke Whales feeding amongst hundreds of pelagic birds, including Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Glaucous-winged gulls. Feeding frenzies like this happen when bait balls form near the surface by our Minke Whales. Birds quickly appear to scavenge as well. On a nearby rocky outcrop, harbor seals and Steller’s sea lions hauled out. 


It’s an incredible feeling to be surrounded by so much wildlife! We reentered Friday Harbor reflecting on our experiences with slapping Humpbacks Whales, feeding Minke Whales, and lounging Harbor seals all in one day!