September 28, 2018

Humpback Whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca | 09/28/2018 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00pm

Humpback whale and Mt. Baker

Sarah | 09/28/2018 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00pm

September has always been my favorite month out on the water. In these seasonal transitions the ecosystem is super dynamic creating unique opportunities for wildlife viewing. On Friday we were incredibly lucky to encounter a humpback whale on our afternoon Classic Whale Watch.

Captain Mike, Naturalist Clai, and I decided to head west on our noon departure from Friday Harbor. Though sightings vary drastically day to day, recently heading west out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca has been a pretty safe bet to have amazing wildlife encounters.

We ventured across Haro Strait and into the wide, sweeping Strait of Juan de Fuca in the search for whales. We enjoyed incredible views of the Olympic Peninsula, and enjoyed the autumn sunshine. Our patience, and travel-time, was rewarded by a humpback whale cruising and feeding in open water. We got amazing looks at the huge whale, keeping a respectful distance. The whale went on a deeper dive at about 150 yards away from our boat…. We sat shut down and drifting just waiting for the massive animal to reappear. All of a sudden we heard its enormous exhale off of our stern…. The whale was headed right for us! Captain Mike decided that the most respectful move for us was to remain with our engine shut off, se we drifted as the whale swam directly underneath the boat. Its tail flukes spread wider than the boat is wide and the whales broad back emerged from the water like a submarine, water rolling off of it as it exhaled. At the very bow of the boat the whale fluked up and went on a dive. It was the most humbling humpback whale encounter I have had all season. By looking at the underneath of the whale’s tail we were able to identify it as MMZ0004…. a to be nick-named individual! Some suggestions from the boat today were “Bob, “Strawberry,” “Pepper,” “Willy,” “Clarence,” and “Breeze.” Local naturalists from the whale watch community have periodically called this whale “Zephyr.”

After leaving the whales we travelled back towards Friday Harbor getting great views of Mt. Baker and several sea birds. The birding highlight for me yesterday was a group of red-necked phalaropes. These tiny birds feed on plankton floating in the water, and participate in a long migration for their size. We also got some great looks at Steller’s sea lions hauled out on Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass.