July 13, 2019

Lone Humpback Whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Erin | M/V Sea Lion | Saturday, July 13, 2019 | 1:30 PM 

It was a sunny, lovely day in the Salish Sea. We began our day with no whale reports from other vessels in the area, so we went out on a true whale seeking adventure! We headed south out of Friday Harbor toward Cattle Point. On our way to Cattle Point, we got an excellent example of currents and upwelling. There were white caps and eddies right near Cattle Point, and there were birds feeding in the area. They were most likely taking advantage of all of the upwelling that was happening, which brings nutrients and food to the water's surface. We also got an excellent view of Cattle Point lighthouse, which looks over the San Juan Channel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As we were passing in front of the lighthouse, we also saw a group of rocks that had all kinds of seabirds resting on them. There were cormorants and gulls. We went around Cattle Point and went toward a new report of a humpback whale near Victoria, Canada. 

As we made our way toward Victoria, we saw lots of seabirds: murres, aucklets, and gulls. When we could see the skyline of the city of Victoria, we also caught sight of a humpback whale up at the surface! Its massive, 15-foot-tall blow was clearly visible, and then it did a fluke-up dive and disappeared under the water. We waited a few minutes before we saw it again at the surface. This time we got a better view of the underside of its tail, or its fluke. It appeared to have a mostly black fluke, which would categorize it as a "Z" whale in the Salish Sea humpback whale catalog. We weren't able to identify the whale, but it did not look fully grown. The whale's behavior indicated that it was possibly feeding. It was only up at the surface for one or two breaths before going back down on deep dives, and it would reappear every few minutes. There were also lots of seabirds in the area that were gathering at the surface, so there were potentially fish schooling together to avoid predation by the humpback whale. Although we had a brief encounter with the humpback whale, it was still a wonderful chance to get to see one in its wild, natural habitat. As we got closer to Friday Harbor, the sun shined brightly and the warmth began to reach us. It was a lovely day out on the water. 

Naturalist Erin