May 12, 2013

North or South?

We left the dock again today with very little information about wildlife sightings and a fresh crew full of expectations for the day. Should we go north or south from Friday Harbor in search of wildlife? It's a question that we sweat over in the business. The Salish Sea is a big place, with animals that roam as they please, and our range limited to just a 3-4 hour time frame.

We decided to go south, as we had rumors of orcas spotted off Victoria earlier in the morning. We also had much luck viewing Minke Whales yesterday on the south end of San Juan Island. We made the right choice!

A few miles south of Lopez Island, we encountered an active pack of approximately 6 Transient Killer Whales. As we approached we witnessed spyhopping, full breaches, and lob-tailing. This type of energetic behavior from Transients is indicative of an attack-in-progress or recent kill. We paralleled their southerly path of travel in the placid waters and low hanging fog bank, with a small window revealing a hint of the Olympic range in the background. Often when Transients are in an excited state, they are very vocal as well; however, with our hydrophone deployed, we picked up no vocalizations.

As the beasts continued to thrash about in the water, they reversed direction and established a course for Whale Rocks in the mouth of Cattle Pass. These barren rocks are a popular haul-out sight for seals and sea lions. As the orcas drew nearer, they stopped breaching and began traveling more tightly.  Would they spring an attack on the unsuspecting morsels?  Passing up Whale Rocks, they swam north up against the shore of Lopez Island. Near Shark Reef, another haul-out site for pinnepeds, they quickly changed course once more. Their increased activity here indicated another possible kill.

Naturalist Andrew, San Juan Safaris