July 1, 2020

K pod Returns! K pod resident Orcas swim down the west side

orca

Woah! It’s July. When did that happen? It definitely does not feel like July which I bet most people around the world can commiserate with. On top of that we are getting some classic early July Pacific Northwest weather here. Captain Sarah and I headed out into the gray day and light rain to go searching for more exciting wildlife in the San Juans. We headed south towards San Juan Channel and Cattle Pass. As we entered the pass the rain let up and we soon saw a Minke Whale around Salmon Bank! Minke whales are one of the Baleen whales that we can see in our waters. They reside here year-round, are about 30 feet long and stick to themselves. We love to see them lunge-feeding on schools of Pacific herring. We stopped at marveled at the long, dark grey back and fin of the Minke Whale break the charcoal grey flat water. We eventually saw two Minke Whales around the bank fishing away. Since they are baleen whales they do not have teeth but instead have baleen. Baleen is a fibrous, hairy substance that is made of keratin. This allows them to fill their mouths with water which they push through the baleen. The baleen catches all the food they need which they gobble up.

After seeing those two whales we headed north to search some more. We were going this way up the west side if San Juan island because there were shore reports of Southern Resident Orcas near Lime Kiln! We kept heading north and just around the False Bay area we started to see blows! We slowly approached and could see that it was K pod! K pod is the smallest of the three pods that make up the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW). The SRKWs are one of the ecotypes of orcas that we see around the Salish Sea. They are different than the other type, the Bigg’s, mainly in their diet. The SRKWs eat fish, mainly King Salmon while the Bigg’s eat marine mammals. The SRKWs are endangered and in decline both because they were targets of early capture for Seaquariums (like Sea World) and because their food the salmon have been declining in their area for decades. Due to low salmon numbers we have not seen these whales very much in the past few years, making this encounter super special. We saw them foraging, tail-lobbing, spyhopping, and even a few breaches! It is always so special to see these orcas and even more when they are so active. Just when we were about to leave we got some amazing looks at some large males pass by! What an amazing day! We headed back to Friday Harbor just the happiest we could be.

 

Naturalist Erick