August 18, 2019

J16s in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!!

J16 Southern Residents

Laura C. / M/V Sea Lion / 8/18/2019 / 1:30 pm

Today was an awesome trip aboard M/V Sea Lion!  The windy atmosphere produced a bustling Salish Sea, filled with waves and wildlife!  We headed towards Middle Bank and found J 16s moving southwest at about 7-8 knots!  The J16s are a three-generation matriline apart of J Pod, consisting of 6 matrilines!  Today, was watched this family of four cruising with the rolling seas!  We saw J26, aka “Mike”, sporting his tall dorsal fin and towering over his other family members!  Other family members included J16, or “Slick”,  J36, “Alki”, and J42, “Echo”.  This family is a part of J Pod, consisting of 22 individuals in total.  The J16s have been known to travel in their own individual family away from the rest of the pod, which is exactly what we witnessed today!

Unfortunately, J Pod has faced many hardships over the past two years.  Not only has the entire Southern Resident community suffered from the depletion of Chinook salmon in the Salish Sea, but they have also lost their lead matriarch, Granny, two years ago. J16 had two other young family members that have passed away in the past 2 years, Scarlet (J50) and Sonic (J52).  Sonic is the son of Alki and was born in 2015.  Alki proved to be a wonderful mother.  Since these whales are currently unhealthy from the lack of food, her milk may not have been nutritious enough to sustain Sonic over the two-to-three-year nursing period.  Sonic could have passed away from other causes, but one can assume the health status of a female as a prognostic indicator for her calf.

After spending 30 minutes with these Southern Resident killer whales, we headed back towards Middle Bank to see a humpback whale!  This species is my personal favorite and today we saw active foraging and fluking!  To complete the species trifecta, a minke whale was seen surging through the area!  These baleen whales had food on their minds as they traveled through the water column with their mouths full of fish!  Pelagic birds moved overhead indicating such a highly productive area!

As we rounded Cattle Point heading towards home, we stopped to view several large Steller sea lions comfortably spread out along the rocks!  These animals seemed to be resting at the moment, potentially taking the time to avoid all the upwelling and waves around them!  It was a full day today south of San Juan Island, full of diverse marine mammals scrounging for fish in the Salish Sea!