August 20, 2016

The J16's Showing Some Love

Oh, I do love a good family get together. Orcas, being the incredibly social animals that they are, are often seen hanging out with their families, traveling throughout the Salish Sea and frequently foraging for salmon. But what's life without a little fun? You can't just spend your whole day searching for fish! These animals certainly need their play time, especially the families with young calves. Just like any baby mammal, calves seem to be full of endless energy, freuqently seen breaching and splashing. Little Sonic, part of the J16 matriline, is often seen being extra showy and flashy, so when I heard that M/V Seahawk had reports of Jpod whales heading north from Lime Kiln this afternoon, I was over the moon!

It was another warm day in Roche Harbor, so passengers and crew alike were excited to hightail it out towards the Haro Strait, where the breezes blew cool and strong. Binoculars were out and excitement levels were high, as we all scanned the shoreline and waterways around us for signs of blows, dorsal fins, and splashing. We didn't have long to wait - lo and behold, the beautiful Echo surfaced just south of Henry Island. She's one of the daughters of Slick (J16), so we realized that the rest of her family was hopefully nearby. Sure enough, sister Alki and her daughter Sonic surfaced shortly after we spotted Echo. Echo surprised us with some close surfacings, making us all ooh and aah over her beautiful saddle patch and graceful blows. Sonic was having a good ole time hanging out right next to mom Alki. But...where was big brother Mike? I kept scanning the waters behind the other whales, hoping to see a sign of this big 25-year-old male's dorsal fin slicing through the water.

And patience sure pays off! About 20 minutes later, big ole Mike came cruising along, trailing behind the rest of his family. Slick and her new calf, Scarlet, were seen playing off in the distance, and we saw some adorable calf breaches, probably from the show-off Sonic. It was turning into social hour for this family, or at least for the young ones! The adults seemed quite busy foraging, while the calves kept playing, probably to the dismay of their mothers. After all, we as humans don't really like it when their kids are running around the grocery store creating mayhem, so it only makes sense that mother orcas probably get irritated with their offspring at times!

We were delighted to see Alki and Sonic swim by, followed again by Mike, as the whales started to slow down and hang out near the south side of Henry Island. Hopefully they were able to find plenty of salmon to fill their bellies today, because it is always wonderful to see the Southern Residents and their young playing and lighting up the community around San Juan Island. These whales are truly a part of the culture here, and we were so fortunate to be able to see them hanging out today!