March 29, 2016

Humpback Whales in the Salish Sea! Spring in the San Juan Islands

Humpback whale diving in the San Juan Islands

Captain Mike and I had yet another perfect spring private charter on the M/V Sea Lion. We woke up this morning and it felt like summer! The sun was shining, the sky was that special shade of San Juan blue, and there were reports of whales!

We headed north out of Friday Harbor skirting the northern side of Spieden Island. There were so many bald eagles out and about today, pretty much everywhere we looked we could find one: perched in Douglas firs on the shores, on the sloped of Spieden, and swooping past the boat as we past the islands. I think our end count today on eagles was right around 29 individuals!

As we rounded Spieden we headed out into the northern portion of Haro Strait to a pair of reported humpback whales. These behemoths are right around 45-50 feet long and can weigh 90,000 pounds! I was really excited to see a pair of whales traveling together as humpbacks are usually fairly solitary. Usually the longest association that we see between individuals is the mother-calf relationship that lasts for a year. In populations in Alaska it has been shown that, though individuals do not travel together, groups might meet up in the same place each year. While I did not get definitive ID shots, the pair of whales were reportedly identified as well known individuals “Heather” BCY0160 and “Split Fluke” BCX1068.

Here in the San Juan’s our humpback population is relatively new, it hasn’t been until the last 10-15 years that we have seen humpbacks in our waters on a regular basis. Historically, before the dawn of mechanized whaling, we believe that there was a regular group of humpbacks that frequented our waters, but unfortunately they were extirpated or hunted out. Luckily we have been able to watch their incredible recovery.

After watching the humpbacks for about an hour we headed out to find some other wildlife. We meandered our way back towards Spieden, stopping at Sentinal Rocks to see some harbor seals. Though we headed to the rocks for the seals, they were quickly overshadowed by the dozen or so bald eagles that were hanging out on top of the rock! Eagles are mainly scavengers, so when there are so many in one place we can pretty safely assume that there was something dead near by that they were feasting on! We made our way down Spieden and were lucky enough to encounter some of our seasonal Steller’s sea lions. These big guys were rolling around in the currents at Green Point, thoroughly enjoying how fast the water was moving.

Overall, we had another spectacular day out on the water!