August 31, 2019

J pod and a humpback whale gave us a lovely trip!

Erin | M/V Kestrel | 3:00 PM | Saturday, August 31, 2019

It was such a beautiful afternoon in the Salish Sea! We headed south out of Friday Harbor and travelled through some very active upwelling zones. Upwelling is caused when water runs into structures that are above and below the surface. We especially see upwelling when the tide is either ebbing or flowing. The tide was flowing, so there were some areas of whitewater that were pretty intense! It is magnificent to be able to see upwelling in action. We stopped past Whale Rocks, where we were actually being pushed by the upwelling and currents! On the rocks, we saw about 30 Stelller sea lions hauled out! Steller sea lions are the largest sea lions in the world. We were able to understand how massive they are as we watched them climb up the rocks and heard their low, rolling roars. Male Steller sea lions use the Salish Sea as their feeding grounds during the fall, winter, and spring. They like to feed on fish and gastropods. 

After watching the sea lions, we headed farther south to attempt to see a humpback whale! We were in luck, because there was a humpback whale right around McArthur Bank! The whale was travelling around eratically, most likely chasing after the small, schooling fish it loves to eat! It was taking 5-10 minute dives, and most of the time it would show its fluke, or underside of its tail, when it went down for a dive! Their fluke can be 15 feet wide when they are fully grown! They are massive and awe-inspiring animals. After watching the humpback for a while, we travelled toward the west side of San Juan Island to try to see some killer whales! 

As we made our way toward where the whales were reported to be, we saw a single blow and large dorsal fin in the distance. It was a killer whale! As we got a bit closer to it, we started to see blows scattered all around us. The whales were spread out and feeding. They were within a few miles of each other, which is not far for whales that have such excellent hearing. The whales were identified as members of J pod, which are part of the critcally endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. When they spread out and hunt, it allows for them to work together to corral their prey. We got some incredible looks at J pod, and we were all so excited to be able see a whale in any direction that we looked. Right before we were about to leave the whales, we got to see the newest member of J pod. Her name is J56, and she is Tsuchi's daughter! She was born within the past year, so she is a very new calf. She breached as we travelled away, which was a wonderful sight to see! 

We headed back toward the harbor with memories to last forever! Until next time! 

Naturalist Erin