June 7, 2021

Humpback Whale Surprise off Stuart

Humpback Whale Fluke

Maxx K. | M/V Osprey | 06/07/2021 | 12:30

It was a beautiful day here in Friday harbor. The sun beamed down on me and Laura as we guided our guests down the dock towards Osprey where Haleigh and Gabe waited to assist them aboard. 

We left the harbor heading south down the San Juan Channel towards the Juan de Fuca. We stopped almost immediately to admire a dozen or so harbor seals that were hauled out around Turn Point. With the sun just over them we could clearly see how diverse the haul out was, each seal with its own unique coat. The harbor seals here in the Salish sea have a wide range of colorations and are genetically distinct from other populations largely due to two factors: 

  1. Researchers surmise that during the period of glacial coverage here, some 14,000 years ago, a population of harbor seals was sequestered from the rest, left completely isolated until the glaciers receded. 

  2. Harbor seals don’t stray very far from where they are born. Unlike myself, they tend to stay within 30 miles or so of their haul out sites for the duration of their lives. Their genetics are then generally tied to this region.

We moved onward, circling around to the left of Cattle Point, following rumors of a humpback whale that had been spotted from shore. We scanned the water for what felt like ages, waiting for a blow above the surface. Nothing. 

As we turned around to continue searching further south we got a call over the radio: “Whale spotted off Stuart island.” Turning the boat once more we moved north along the west coast of San Juan Island towards the rumors of a humpback. We were not disappointed.

Within five minutes of arriving on scene, the whale breached. All 40 tones of this incredible animal rose up and over the surface of the water. Once again, I crumbled. 

Breaching is not something that is frequently seen up here at all. In the warmer tropical waters of Hawaii and Mexico breaching is something that’s seen often as male Humpbacks court females. Here in these nutrient rich waters, feeding is the priority so it was a real treat to see some acrobatics! 

We watched this incredible animal for several more minutes before turning, rounding Spieden island and heading home for Friday Harbor having completed a full circumnavigation of San Juan Island!