July 20, 2017

Mother Humpback Whale Split Fin and Baby Swim in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Sea Lion, 7/19/17, 5:30PM]


We left from Friday Harbor on our evening tour with a whole great group aboard the M/V Sea Lion. Captain Mike, Sarah C., and I started our search south. We passed Lopez and San Juan Islands through Cattle Pass. As we motored along we passed many Harbor Seals, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Pelagic Cormorants swimming and playing in the dynamic waters in between the islands. We ended up motoring pretty far through Haro Strait and a little into the Strait of the Juan De Fuca on the Canadian side near Trial Island and Race Rocks. While transiting a lot of folks on the boat had great questions. We talked about the three major types of whales: Porpoises, dolphins, and baleen whales. We talked about whale communication, prey availability, prey choice, and many other marine mammal topics.

In this area we don’t just see Orcas but we often see members of each of the three main types of whales (aka Cetaceans). We often see Harbor Porpoises which are porpoises, Minke Whales which are baleen whales, and orcas which are dolphins. In the last decade we have seen an increase of our sightings of another species of baleen whale - the Humpback Whale. These whales were one of the targets for whaling in the Salish Sea and were hunted heavily. The first ones spotted back were in the early 2000s. Now, though, we have seen more and more Humpback Whales every year come into the Salish Sea, rest, eat, and some even spend most of the summer here.

Once we passed into Canadian waters we soon found two Humpback whales! This was a mother and a young calf. Humpbacks usually travel so it is great to see a pair of them. The calf travels with its mother for about a year as its mother completes its full annual migration. This was the Humpback that we call Split Fin and her calf. The Humpbacks that we often see in the waters here are given nicknames! We watched them travel for a good while very close together and even saw the mother do what’s called a pec slap with its pectoral fin!

As we headed back it was great to talk about the return of the Humpbacks to this area and how some populations in the Pacific are even being taken off the Endangered Species list due to their successful recovery so far.