July 20, 2017

Humpback Whales South of Victoria - A Trip into Canadian Waters to Visit our Mysticete Friends

Lauren Fritz, M/V Kestrel, 07/19/17, 2:00 pm Tour

Wow! We had quite the epic journey on M/V Kestrel today. Cruising across the bluest seas at our quick speeds really allowed us to make the most of the day. Humpbacks reported down south of Victoria in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 25 miles away? No problem for the Kestrel! Captain Gabe and I decided to head straight down San Juan Channel and out into the Strait, stopping near Whale Rocks to check out harbor seals, beautiful bull kelp forests, and bald eagles. After we spent some time enjoying these critters, we continued on. Kestrel skimmed over the top of the small chop that was building in the waters south of San Juan - we didn't even have sea spray!

The southwestern shoreline of San Juan flew by as we continued west, past Discovery Island. We even had clear views of the city of Victoria as we neared the location of the humpback whales that had been reported. And then - surprise! An enormous blow erupted from the surface of the water a few hundred yards off of our bow. We had found a humpback out in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca! This individual was different than the ones that had been reported, so we slowed down, logged our location and reported it to the PWWA network (Pacific Whale Watch Association), and settled in for some whale watching.

This humpback looked to be traveling on its own, and it had the most beautiful tail flukes. Bright white patches on both flukes were illuminated in the sunlight as it took dives, delighting those of us on board. We watched for several minutes as the whale surfaced, took breaths, and dove. These animals always amaze me with their size - Kestrel itself is 42 feet long, and we were in the presence of an animal that was at least that large, if not larger! Mind boggling.

I truly love humpback whales, and appreciate the fact that we are even able to enjoy them out here in these waters. Their population has rebounded considerably from the 1960s when their numbers were at an all-time low (they were essentially on the brink of extinction). Thank goodness - these animals play such an important role in our ecosystems, and to have lost them forever would have been detrimental. They are filter feeders, capitalizing on our nutrient-rich waters to feast on herring, mackerel, and krill during their summer feeding season. 

What a trip! After a good long bit of viewing time, we cruised back towards Friday Harbor. Windblown, tired, but incredibly excited, we docked the boat and shared our favorite parts of the trip. We all agreed that finding our own humpback whale out in the middle of such a large channel of water was extremely exciting. You never know what you're going to get out here! Come join us on a whale watch and find out for yourself.

Lauren Fritz, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris