May 30, 2022

J-pod and a Humback's Wave

Kelly | M/V Kestrel | 5/30/22 | 2:00pm |
It was overcast and a bit foggy as we suited up in our exposure suits and prepared for our Adventure tour on the M/V Kestrel! This exciting tour operates on our smallest and fastest vessel in the fleet, a zodiac style ridged inflatable that allows us to zip around the islands and maximize our chance of wildlife sightings during this 3–4-hour excursion.
As we slowly puttered out of Friday Harbor, almost instantly we were greeted by a perched bald Eagle roosting in the treetops above Friday Harbor Labs. We stopped the boat and watched as this majestic eagle surveyed its surroundings. We continued north up San Juan Channel in the direction of the most recent whale report, two humpbacks heading up the Haro Straight! We slowed the boat as we made our way closer to the report location. As we approached Stuart Islands scenic Turn Point Lighthouse on our right, a humpback’s distinctive 15–20-foot exhalation was spotted in the distance… and then another! Two humpbacks traveling together side by side. We watched the pair calmly surface together, occasionally throwing their tail up in a behavior we call “fluking” (This usually indicates that these large cetaceans are embarking on longer dives). We were even lucky enough to witness one of these gentle giants lift its pectoral fin in the air, seemingly sending a friendly wave in our direction.
After some incredible looks at playful humpbacks, we pointed south down the Haro Straight toward a report of Southern Resident killer whales. The report stated that this group of residents had been identified as J-Pod. This is a particularly exciting report considering our Southern Residents are no longer seen as frequently in our inter-island waters, as they once were. This ecotype is listed as critically endangered, and it’s been 3 years since they’ve been spotted here in the San Juans as early as May. J-pod includes 25 whales in total. The group was widely spread as we slowed our boat to 7-knots and maintained a half mile distance. We watched as these gracefully animals surfaced together in small groups, making their way from the northern end of San Juan Island towards Stuart Island.
Next, we changed our course south down Spieden channel, hugging Spieden islands barren Southwest side as we slowly cruised down its length. This cruise gave us some great looks at sika deer and mouflon sheep, both invasive species brought to the island in the 60’s. At least 5 mature bald eagles roosted along the length of the island. For the grand finale, we watched as two Stellar Sealions battelled it out for a spot on the rocks. Loud roaring vocalizations echoed across the water during this territorial display.
What an incredible well-rounded trip! Thanks to everyone who joined us on this exciting Adventure Tour!