July 11, 2020

J Pod Found Foraging on Salmon Bank

J Pod Found Foraging on Salmon Bank

Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 7/11/2020 | 1:30 PM

Waking up this morning with rainy skies was no deterrent to visitors of San Juan Island to come on a whale watch, as marine mammals obviously love the water!  Passengers were happy as clams to board M/V Sea Lion with high hopes for the day and I was thrilled to hear reports of whales booming on the radio in our bridge!  We headed south through San Juan Channel and curved over towards Salmon Bank.  Captain Pete was in communication with other vessels in the area who identified J Pod to be in the area, a beloved family of Southern Resident killer whales!  These whales have been seen on the west side of San Juan Island for about a week straight and it is so exciting to hear of their whereabouts every morning.  J Pod has had a scattered formation over the past couple years, most likely due to the death of their lead matriarch, Granny.  Today they were very spread out along the west side, with 22 members spanning several miles apart.  As M/V Sea Lion headed toward the bank, we noticed a very large dorsal fin come into view.  As we started scanning around, passengers quickly caught on and started excitedly pointing towards all the visible blows and dorsal fins spread out all the way from the bank to the edge of San Juan Island!

I was thrilled to report a sighting of J56, little Tofino!!  Tofino is the only living calf of J Pod, born in May, 2019.  Tofino was tucked right alongside his mom, Tsuchi, and his siblings.  In classic Southern Resident fashion, these playful animals started spyhopping and tail slapping right around our boat!  And then the excitement escalated to a distant whale conducting full-bodied breaches and came right out of the water over and over!  Everyone on board was thrilled to have such a touching experience with the J11’s, as they have rarely come back to the Salish Sea over the past year looking for Chinook salmon.  With an almost depleted stock, it has been more beneficial for this family to leave their homeland in hopes of finding food as opposed to staying here and starving or finding another local source of food.  We spent a long time with these whales since they were so close to San Juan Island and it did not take us long to find them, making the trip truly a memorable experience. 

On our way back home, we found a minke whale just south of Cattle Point!  Minke whales are one of my favorite whales to see out on the water as they are challenging to keep tabs on, and it really proves your skill set as a naturalist!  This 20-25-foot baleen whale was cruising through the water, actively feeding on small schooling fish that we could see smacking along the surface.  Birds were aplenty overhead and can be seen following minkes from above the water, looking down and instantly diving for a fleeing fish!  Since we just left orcas, we could really tell the increase in size and just how long this minke whale really is!  His/her back just seemed to go on forever before we got to the dorsal fin!  Even though the minke whale is the smallest baleen whale we can see in the Salish Sea, they are still 8-10 tons and are about twice the weight of killer whales.  These creatures are simply outstanding and so much fun to watch filter through the water to scoop in fish!  Our journey was topped off with some harbor seals and a juvenile bald eagle!