March 22, 2019

J Pod Orca Whales Fish north of San Juan Island!

Adult Mal Southern Resident Orca

Erick |Friday, March 22, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00 

 

Today we caught a short sunny period as we left Friday Harbor to search for some amazing wildlife on this beautiful spring day. Captain Mike and I left with a smaller group and headed north up through beautiful San Juan Channel. We cruised through Spieden Channel and went out into the northern part of Haro Strait and soon saw a few scattered groups of blows in the distance. It was a large group of Orcas travelling spread out south through the strait. As we approached, we could identify them as J pod! This is one of the three pods that make up the Southern Resident Orcas. This is the ecotype that visit these waters and only feeds on fish species. In these waters their main food source (86%) is Chinook Salmon, only one species of salmon. The Southern Residents are a critically endangered ecotype that has gained a lot of national media attention recently and it is rarer to see them in this time of year but not super unusual. All three pods including J, K, and L pods only consist of 75 individuals. Their struggling population numbers are mainly due to the declining populations of their main food source, Chinook Salmon. So seeing them is always a wonderful and very special experience. We saw most of the families of J pod well. The J16s swam along our starboard side giving us great views. Mike, J26, popped up and changed direction quite a few times as we silently floated by with everything onboard turned off. We also saw Mike quickly chase a fish close to the surface a few times. He was so close to the surface you could see the very tip of his 6-foot-tall dorsal fin zooming above the water! The main portion of J pod with most of the mothers and younger ones was grouped up close in the middle of the strait. They were tail slapping a lot and one of the babies was riding its mothers head as they rode a long just having a grand old time! It is always spectacular to see the Southern Residents and always a great reminder of what a lot of us are striving for when we push for recovering salmon stocks in the northwest. After getting some more fantastic sunny views of J pod as they traveled south towards Kelp Reef we headed back towards Spieden Island. We stopped at Sentinel Rock to see a bunch of Harbor Seals catching some sunshine as well! These are another species that depend partially on salmon stocks both when the young salmon smolts swim towards the ocean and as the adults swim past to return. We next scooted along the southern shore of Spieden Island and looked at more Seals as well as a bunch of Bald Eagles. These Bald Eagles have recently re-found their life partners and are raising another clutch of eggs. Eagles get most of their sustenance from stealing from other animals, but they also directly or indirectly depend on salmon stocks in this area too. And as they bring the salmon carcasses they stole or collected nobly on their own to their forest perches or nest they deposit a lot of nutrients in the underlying soil that otherwise wouldn’t have ever ended up in the forest. Studies show that trees here grow faster the better the salmon returns are. How amazing! Our last stop we made at Green Point where we saw some huge adult male Steller Sea Lions! A whole group of them were growling at one in the water preventing him from climbing up onto the rocks. They are so silly. Whale folks, it was another perfectly beautiful whale-filled day up here. We hope to see you here soon!

 

Erick

Adult Female Southern Resident Orca of J pod