June 26, 2021

Humpback Whale in San Juan Channel at Sunset

Haleigh | M/V Osprey | June 26, 2021 | 5:30pm


The Salish Sea supports an abundant, diverse ecosystem full of lengthy kelp beds, speckled phytoplankton, small schooling fish, and our larger marine mammals! Using our knowledge of the environment, we can predict where certain animals will congregate or where they’ll be moving. Combining this knowledge, we are further directed by visual sightings reporting cetaceans or pinnipeds to the Pacific Whale Watch Association. By sharing knowledge with other whale watchers, researchers, and scientists, we are able to track our wildlife within the Salish Sea and also act as advocates for many cetaceans who are victims of ship strikes. Given all of this, every trip we are starting over and reconfiguring our plans of where to search. This was the case for our Saturday night trip! 


We left the harbor heading north through the channel. A new report showed a Humpback Whale had popped up in President’s Channel, near the northwestern edge of Orcas Island. This elusive whale was making it hard for others to track, so we made it our mission to go find it! As we neared about ½ mile away, slowing our vessel down below 7 nots, we saw the fluke, or tail, of this Humpback. Humpbacks typically will dive for 5-10 minutes as they’re feeding on small schooling fish, but this individual was more difficult to track. We scanned the area and within 15 minutes found this whale hugging the shoreline of Jones Island. It slowly surfaced while we watched its 15-foot exhale and whitish-gray dorsal fin surface. All of a sudden, it switched sides and started crossing the larger San Juan Channel. We continued tracking it until it closed in on the shoreline. After getting some spectacular looks at this Humpback, we decided to continue our search for wildlife.


Looping up and around Spieden Island, we caught our first glances at a Bald Eagle perched high in a tree. It had a regal presence, watching us drift by before soaring over us to a neighboring island. We continued on and found Mouflon Sheep, Sika Deer, and Fallow deer, our Spieden Island non-natives. By the time we wrapped around the southern end of the island we spotted a second Bald Eagle standing near its nest and overlooking the channel. 


Our ride back to the harbor was calm and relaxing with guests taking in the cool breeze and kids running amuck with their orca stuffed animals. We can only predict how each trip will go, so it feels extra special when wildlife pays us unexpected visits!