July 10, 2020

J pod Orcas back on the West Side and a Humpback Whale in SJ Channel!

Southern Resident Orcas Southern Resident Orcas

Erick | M/V Kestrel | July 10, 2020 | 2:00pm

Wohoo! Another beautiful day out in the San Juans! It felt a little bit like summer out there in the Salish Sea but there was still a cool breeze coming from the south. Capt. Brian and I took an excited group out on M/V Kestrel to go find some wildlife! We first headed east and soon saw a blow out near Lopez Island! As we got closer, we saw that it was Humpback Whale headed south! We watched this giant whale swim quickly towards Cattle Pass. These Humpbacks are baleen whales, so they come here to eat things like bait fish and small planktonic organisms. It is always cool to see these gentle giants in the San Juans. They were absent for such a long time due to the commercial whaling industry. But they returned in the early 2000s and we have seen more and more every year! We continued south towards Cattle Pass and headed towards Hein Bank. There were reports of J pod seen around Hein Bank. We started to see blows in the distance and they were swimming back towards San Juan Island! We slowed down and got to a safe distance to watch them and they started to pass us! It was so great to see groups of them grouped up and slowly traveling. All in all, we probably saw almost all of J pod pass us. J pod is one of the pods that makes up the Southern Resident Killer Whale ecotype. This is one of the types of orcas that we see in our waters. They historically have been the main type here in the summer months but since their main food source, Chinook Salmon, decline in the past decades we have seen a corresponding population and sighting decline in the San Juans. SO, these days it is always an extra treat when we see these residents in the inland waters around San Juan Island. We hope they are finding salmon! We watched these groups go by and we could identify the J14s, the J11s, and the J22s, as well as others in the distance. They started playing for a little bit. There were some tail slaps and circling of each other. A few rolled over and showed their pectoral fins above the water, and then two did a double Spyhop together! That is when they stick their head straight out of the water. It was all so cool to see, and they seem relaxed as we watched them continue their path towards False Bay in the afternoon light. We made a a few more stops on our way back home. We stopped and looked at a Bald Eagle and its nest on Long Island and we saw a bunch of cute Harbor Seals resting on Secar Rock! What another amazing day out here in the San Juans. We hope this great weather and resident orcas stay!


Stay well,

Naturalist Erick