August 11, 2019

Minkes and a gray whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

Erin | M/V Kestrel | Saturday, August 10, 2019 | 11:00 AM 

The rain didn't stop our wildlife sightings this morning! We left Friday Harbor with no firm whale reports, so we decided to head south to see if we could find anything for ourselves. We stopped past a neat place called Whale Rocks. All around us we could see evidence of upwelling, and there was even a baitball nearby! A baitball is when birds are gathered at the surface of the water because of the presence of baitfish underneath them. We also saw many Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks and swimming in the water. Steller sea lions are the largest sea lions in the world! They have been gone for most of the summer on their breeding grounds, so it is nice to see them back here again! 

After starting with such great wildlife, we headed to Hein Bank, which is a popular spot to see Minke whales. It is a shallower part of the water because of the large bank beneath the water's surface, so it is another good location for upwelling to occur. Soon after getting to the bank, we started to see Minke whales popping up all around us! They were lunge-feeding at the surface searching for small, schooling fish, which is their favorite food source! They share their favorite food source with many seabirds, so they were following the whales all around the bank trying to steal their food. We got a few really good looks at some of the Minke whales that were circling around the bank, and then we headed toward a report of a gray whale near Whidbey Island. 

Once we got in view of the shoreline of Whidbey Island, we saw a large blow near one of the other whale watching vessels. It was a gray whale! It was feeding in about 20 feet of water, so we got to see it up at the surface for about 15 minutes. It was taking really shallow dives, and occasionally you could tell that it was feeding because it would turn on its side and and rub against the seafloor, which made part of its tail pop out of the water. It was incredible to see such a large animal in such shallow water. Its exhalation is also more powerful than that of a Minke whale, which was a treat to see. After seeing great wildlife, we headed back toward Friday Harbor. We were still searching for other types of wildlife, and we saw a bald eagle perched in one of the treetops! We got an amazing look at it as it spread its wings and appeared as if it may take off. We arrived back at Friday Harbor, which now had clearer skies and the sun was attempting to peak through the clouds. What a lovely day in the Salish Sea! 

Naturalist Erin