August 7, 2019

Lunge-feeding Minke whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

M/V Sea Lion | Naturalist Erin | 1:30 PM | Thursday, August 1, 2019

What a fabulous trip aboard the M/V Sea Lion. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and we decided to head towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca to see if we could find any whales feeding. We left out of Friday Harbor and right away we encountered some upwelling currents. The currents in the Salish Sea are fueled by the rise and fall of the tides, so they can be pretty intense. They help to bring food to the water's surface, so there can often be birds, seals, and even whales in areas of upwelling. After we made it through the upwelling patches, we found ourselves at Cattle Point lighthouse. This lighthouse is a beautiful one, marking the southernmost point on San Juan Island. We headed towards Hein Bank, which is an area that has underwater topography that makes upwelling occur at an even greater rate. When we got to Hein Bank, we began looking for whales around us. 

Soon we spotted a few Minke whales. They weren't travelling together, but they were surfacing all around our boat, and the birds were following them. Minke whales like to feed on small schooling fish, which is also the favorite meal of many of the seabirds in this area. We watched the Minke whales for quite some time, and there were a few times where we got some amazing looks at them! They were lunging through schools of fish, and we even got to see their baleen! It was absolutely incredible. Minke whales have baleen in their mouths instead of teeth, which allows for them to bring in large amounts of water and food at the same time, while filtering the water out through their baleen. What a unique way of eating! When one of the whales surfaced nearby, we smelled its breath. It smelled very fishy. They are commonly called "Stinky Minkes" for this reason. After having a great time with the Minkes, we headed north to see what else was out there. 

When we were at the southern end of Lopez Island, we got an amazing view of two bald eagles! They were both hanging out in the treetops, and one of them was very close to a nest. Bald eagle's nests are incredibly interesting. They can be 6 feet deep and weigh 2,000 pounds! We went to Whale Rocks, which is a very common haul-out site for different species of pinnipeds. We saw lots of Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks, and we saw some swimming in the water. They have been gone for most of the summer, so it was a treat to be able to see them again-and so many at once! Steller sea lions are the largest sea lion in the world! When they aren't in the Salish Sea, they are in Oregon or British Columbia on their breeding grounds. We got to hear them vocalizing as well, and they don't have a typical sea lion vocalization. It is more of a roaring sound. After a day full of wildlife, we headed back toward Friday Harbor with memories to last a lifetime. 

Naturalist Erin