July 9, 2020

J pod Killer Whales off the West Side!

Southern Resident Orcas

It rained again today… That’s okay though even though it feels like our summer here sometimes is constantly loading, the rain means that there is plenty of water for the salmon, and snow that falls high up in the mountains will last longer as reserves for the rivers that run through the northwest. And anyway, the rain must end sometime! Today it cleared up around noon right in time for our 1:30PM Whale watch trip aboard M/V Sea Lion! Capt. Pete was driving, and we took a great group out to go find some wildlife. We headed south through San Juan Channel and made it over Salmon bank and up towards Eagle Point on the south end of San Juan Island. Here there had been some orcas reported, and we soon saw blows off in the distance. It looked like they were really spread out with one tight knit group closer to shore and 6-10 others spread out about a half mile offshore. We first headed towards the tight knit group. There were a few females, one adult male, and a few younger ones. As we got closer you could tell that these were Southern Resident Killer Whales. They were mostly foraging, presumedly for their preferred prey, Chinook Salmon. This type of orca is the usual type that we see in the summer here because they historically have followed salmon runs into the Salish Sea, but these Southern Residents are critical endangered now mostly due to lack of food, salmon. So, these days it’s always a special occasion when we get to see them. These whales are part of J pod, one of the three pods that make up the Southern Residents – J, K, and L. We saw that this group was the J16s and the big male was Mike! He was swimming around occasionally diving and a few times he flipped upside down and showed his enormous pectoral fins. The others closer to shore were kart-wheeling, tail-slapping, and rolling over each other in a playful way. It was so cool to watch! AS we watched them for awhile, we could see one of the younger whales pushing another while it was upside down. This is always hilarious to me when they do this, and I assume they are doing it because it is the most fun. We soon started to move offshore to view another group of J pod when we saw a Brown Pelican fly by! Depending on where you are from that might not be exciting, but these birds are not seen here, and this one was totally lost. We moved offshore and stared looking at some of the J-22s and the J-11s These groups were mostly traveling and foraging, but we shit down and got some great views of Cookie who is a Sprouting male and getting so big! We also heard their blows as they swam past and glittered in the afternoon sunlight. Unfortunately, it was time to got and we headed back towards Cattle Pass. We made one more stop at Salmon Bank though to see a Minke Whale! These whales are baleen whales, so instead of eating larger prey they filter feed on small fish using their baleen. We have a population that stays here year-round and it is always fun to see them in action. This one was feeding in between a few bait balls with a lot of bird activity! We got to see its dark grey back and large sickle-shaped dorsal fin a few times as it came to the surface to breathe. It eventually came pretty close and we could see some of the dimples in its skin! Whale folks, that is another great day in the San Juans! Thanks for tuning in and hope to see you soon.


Stay Healthy,

Naturalist Erick

Minke Whale