July 27, 2016

Js in the Straits! Resident orcas near the San Juan Islands

Breaching killer whale calf

Today Captain Brian and I had a lovely charter of three people on our newest vessel M/V Kestrel. This boat is pure fun, reaching speeds of up to 35 knots. Today was an ideal day for Kestrel: smooth water, sunny skies and whales in the area!

This summer has been interesting for our Southern Resident Killer Whales. They are specialists, meaning they focus mainly on one food source. Our Southern Residents focus mainly on Chinook salmon… actually 80% of their diet is comprised of this one species of fish. This means that the whales’ presence, absence and abundance are totally dictated by the presence, absence, and abundance of the fish. This summer we have had incredibly low numbers of the fish that they so desperately need, so we have not seen our Resident orcas as often as we normally do. We have still been seeing plenty of our Transient, marine-mammal-eating, killer whales though as our seal population is exploding!

Humpback whale flukes
Humpback whale tail Sarah McCullagh

Today was a fabulous day on the water with some J-Pod whales… some of our Residents! We started our encounter with viewing L87 “Onyx” who is a member of L-Pod who travels with the Js. This guy is full grown, born in 1992, and is impressive! We gasped as his huge 6-foot-tall dorsal fin cut through the water followed by his bulky 30-foot-long body! We left L87 to find another family group known as the J16s, led by matriarch J16 “Slick.” This momma is surrounded by her family of four kiddos ranging in age from 25 years to 19 months, and her first grandson J52 “Sonic” who is 18 months old! J52 was certainly the star of the day as he breached out of the water more than 25 times today! We also had the distinct pleasure of getting to hear the whales vocalizing through the hull of Kestrel as they swam past us! It was a truly magical encounter!

After leaving the orcas we got a chance to view some humpback whales as they moseyed their way north. These two behemoths will weigh right around 90,000 pounds a piece and are each as long as a school bus! These whales are seasonal visitors to the Salish Sea, coming here to feed in the beautiful, green, productive waters in the summer! We watched as the huge whales lifted their massive tails (15 feet wide) into the air for dives and then left them to find some other wildlife!

On our way back to Friday Harbor we happened upon a harbor seal haul-out and some roosting bald eagles, getting awesome looks at this wildlife!