August 15, 2019

J Pod, a humpback whale, and loads of wildlife!

Erin | M/V Sea Lion | Thursday, August 15, 2019 | 5:30 PM

This evening was the greatest trip of all time. We began our trip heading south out of Friday Harbor. We went through some upwelling zones near Cattle Point lighthouse, which were bringing food to the water's surface and causing birds to gather around us. Cattle Point lighthouse marks the southernmost point of San Juan Island, and it is a gorgeous beacon. We entered into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and headed toward False Bay, where there were reports of some of the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales. It was so exciting to hear that they were in the area, as they have not been seen in the Salish Sea very much this summer. This was only the 6th day that they were in the sea since May of this year. When we arrived to the False Bay area, we saw killer whale blows and dorsal fins all around us!

We were so excited to be surrounded by killer whales; they were all spread out and it seemed like they were hunting. We could look in any direction and see blows and fins! The residents primarily hunt chinook salmon, but they are known to eat other types of salmon as well. We could see pink salmon leaping out of the water all around us as well. The pod was identified as J pod, which currently has 22 whales in it. They have a new calf, known as J56, who has been confirmed to be a female! It is wonderful to see a new calf in this population, as they have been struggling to produce viable calves. We got to see the new addition to J pod! She was very splashy, and we got to see her do some tailslapping, breaching, and rolling around. We also saw some adult whales leap out of the water and slap their tails on the surface. We got to see the two large males in J pod as well, with their 6 foot tall dorsal fins. It was an incredible encounter with this endangered population of whales. We respectfully viewed them in their natural environment, and I think it is safe to say that we were all thrilled about it! After soaking in our time with J pod, we headed north to circumnavigate San Juan Island! 

The weather soon became absolutely breathtaking-calm seas, clear skies, and warmth. As we rounded the tip of San Juan Island, we stopped by Spieden Island. We saw some harbor seals hauled out on Sentinal Rock and swimming around in the water. When we went toward the shoreline, we saw a bald eagle resting in one of the treetops! As we went toward the eastern side of the island, we saw mouflon sheep walking along the hillside! What a treat to be able to see so many different types of wildlife in such a short period. Then, we came across a humpback whale in San Juan Channel! We got to see it take multiple breaths at the surface and it showed its beautiful 15-foot wide tail as it went down for a dive. We headed back toward Friday Harbor with a breathtaking sunset behind us and memories to last a lifetime. This is certainly a trip I will never forget! 

Naturalist Erin