September 3, 2020

A Memorable Southern Resident Killer Whale Experience

Southern Resident Killer Whales Swim San Juan Island

Olivia | M/V Kestrel | September 3rd, 2020 | 14:00

Every day feels unique and special with the mass diversity we have in the Salish Sea; however, some days stand out a bit more. A cloudless day, glassy seas, and Mount Baker standing sharp over the islands set the tone for a memorable day. Briefly stopping at Whale Rocks, we watched and listened to Steller’s Sea Lions bellow across the water and roll in the kelp bed. A few Harbor Seals sat quietly in banana pose looking towards the sunshine not far away. Heading south, we spotted a solo Minke Whale in Salmon Bank and watched as it fed among the bait balls before aiming for Haro Strait.

Between False Bay and Lime Kiln Lighthouse, we spotted a male dorsal fin of a our one and only, Southern Resident Killer Whales! We had J Pod visit our waters for the day and all spread out along the island to partake in the West Side Shuffle. Between 300 and 400 yards away [following state, county, and federal guidelines] we watched as more J Pod individuals moved closer together. Eventually, the whales all joined up together and had we had three clusters of whales at our 12, 1, 2, and 3 socializing in excitement. We saw spy hops, full body breaches, lobtails, heaps of cartwheels, a moonwalk, rolls, and pectoral fin slaps. This ecotype of Killer Whale is known to show more of these behaviors as they socialize and forage, providing our passengers with an exceptional whale encounter. We even saw little Tofino, J56, full body breaching as his mother casually milled nearby.

We split off to limit our time with the Southern Resident Killer Whales and headed north around the island. Briefly stopping at Spieden Island, we saw lots of Harbor Porpoise, Bald Eagles, Mouflon Sheep, Fallow Deer, and Harbor Seals. This trip was the textbook definition of setting the bar high. While we often see Bigg’s Killer Whales during our peak season, Southern Resident Killer Whale visits are far and few between- only gracing our waters a handful of times in a year. Captain Gabe and I were so pleased to be a part of this once in a lifetime experience for our travelers.