May 9, 2018
Humpback Whale Mom and Calf Feeding in the Salish Sea
[Friday, 5/4/18 - M/V Sea Lion - 12:00 - Naturalist Erick]
May the Fourth Be with you!
Today, Captain Pete and I headed north to ply the waters of the Salish Sea and look for incredible wildlife. Yesterday, we heard of some Humpback Whales hanging out in Birch Bay so we headed in that direction. On the way there just as we exited Presidents Channel we saw a fairly large group of Harbor Porpoises hunting in a prominent current line. These little ones are the area’s smallest cetacean and they are usually pretty shy but we saw them a bunch as they quickly surfaced and bolted back and forth through the rip currents eating as much as they could. As we approached the bay where the Nooksack River empties we could see the change in the water color and the greater number of seabirds hanging out and fishing. The river dumps lots of nutrients into the sea which support large amounts of plankton. The high density of plankton helps feed the whole ecosystem including whales. Right along the line where the river water meets the salty sea water we saw the first blows! It was two Humpback Whales feeding! By their size difference and closeness it is most likely that this was a mom and calf pair traveling north together. Calves stay with their moms usually for 1 year and complete one full migration with them. We watched these two feed for awhile as they dipped up and down and we sometimes saw the little ones upper jaw. The front of their face is covered in tubercles which are hair follicles surrounded by blubber and nerves. These bumps allow them to feel when there is a high density of food around their mouths and other things in the water. We watched them follow the divide between the dark sea water and the brown river wash eating their fill for a while but we eventually had to leave and head back towards home. We headed back around Waldron Island and made a final stop to watch about 50 Harbor Seals around the rocks near Flattop Island. These rock sausages were warming themselves in the sun as we passed them and they picked their adorable fuzzy heads up and stared back at us. What another amazing day in the San Juans!
Whale folks, until next time,