July 15, 2016

Lucky We Live San Juan!

It's the magic of the San Juans - we know that every day is different out here cruising with San Juan Safaris. That's why we call it a safari - we never know what we're going to see, and it's always an adventure! M/V Kestrel cruised away from Friday Harbor with high hopes for a day full of exciting whale watching, and we were not disappointed. It was one of those days that took our breath away, each and every one of us in awe of how much diversity we are able to see out here in this beautiful marine environment. We sure are lucky to live in such a magical place.

To start things off, we turned south outside of the habor and headed down to Eagle Point, just northwest of Cattle Point at the south end of the island. Rumor had it that some members of L-pod were foraging alongside the shoreline. They were right! We came across L22, Spirit, and her son, a big mature male named Solstice (L-89). These two were busy working together to forage for salmon, which we could tell based on their frequent changes in direction, slick movements through the water, and the general sense of purpose we could detect in their swim patterns. This is great news - we want nothing more than our orcas to have plenty of salmon to eat. Captain Brian made sure to flip our engines off for about 20 minutes at a time so we could enjoy the powerful, humbling sound of their breaths as they were busy at work getting their fill for the day. 

We didn't want to linger for too long - these orcas have an important job to do, and we wanted to leave them to it. After quietly watching, we slowly turned away and headed further south out into the Straight of Juan de Fuca to check out some reports of more L-pod whales. We found a juvenile and her mother frolicking through the deeper waters out here - and realized they were playing with a dead harbor porpoise! All sorts of spy-hopping and splashing was going on, and although the Southern Residents will not eat a marine mammal, we occasionally see members of L-pod kill a porpoise or seal just to simply play with it. We aren't entirely sure of the reason - although it might seem cruel, it may very well be a tool they use for teaching young orcas how to socialize and play, or even a way for them to entertain themselves. These animals have their playtime too! It was amazing to witness the energy radiating from the young juvenile as she zoomed through the water near her mother, pushing the porpoise along.

We said goodbye to these two orcas and headed east to look at some humpback whales. Along the way, a minke surfaced and surprised us! We stopped to check out his movements for a couple of minutes, then continued along. Even from a substantial distance, we knew we were approaching our beloved humpback whales. Those 20-foot blows can be seen from miles around, and we were even treated to distant views of some fluke-up dives. The best part? These humpbacks decided to swim right past our boat. We kept our established, safe, respectful distance, but these massive 50-foot mammals decided they wanted their route to pass right by our starboard. What a treat! Huge, rattling breaths, a symphony of trumpeting, and an onslaught of playful pectoral slaps kept us on the edge of our seats. We sadly had to head home after several minutes of exciting whale watching, but man, WHAT A DAY!

There is such an epic amount of wildlife to see out here in the San Juan Islands, and we love that each and every day is a brand new safari. You never know what you'll see! From all sorts of toothed whales, like orcas and harbor porpoises, to baleen whales, like the minkes and humpbacks, you'll never get bored out here. What a beautiful day out on the water.