October 2, 2010

"Orca Tails To You..."

Southern Resident Killer Whales. Photo courtesy of NOAA/NMFS

"Until we meet again."

Well, it is sad to say, but today was our last daily trip.  We still have a few Saturdays left, but this is it for the daily grind.  It has been a season like no other, with the orcas being found along the coast of San Juan Island most every day.  They still do not keep any kind of schedule and there is no guarantee of seeing them, but what a fabulous way to spend one's days.  We have racked up many miles on the M/V Sea Lion and M/V Kittiwake and were well rewarded for our efforts.  There were minke, humpback and grey whales; harbor seals and Steller's sea lions; harbor and Dall's porpoises and orcas and babies.  There were all of the exotic animals on Spieden island and more bald eagles and sea birds than you could shake a stick at.  Then there was the all encompassing beauty and majesty of the San Juan Islands and the Pacific Northwest.  As always, it was magnificent and our last day was a crowning jewel to the season.

We could not have asked for more.  The weather was good and the orcas were near by.  I was hoping that there was at least one family group to see, but instead we saw a whole mix of animals.  K pod had seemed to have slipped away again, but once more they slipped back in and were traveling with J and L pods.  That has been the theme of this summer, occasionally just a single family group from one of the pods was around, but more often than not it was a mixed bag from all three pods.  With the excellent return of salmon this year, it appears, to my wondering eyes, that the orcas were well fed enough to spend more time socializing.  They did not need to travel as far to hunt, so bonding and interacting became the focus of their energy.

The orcas were not the only animals that had the spotlight for the day though.  Another boat happened upon a large pod of effusive Dall's porpoises, so we went to see them play.  Along with the help of another boat, we spotted the pod and, working in tandem, had the porpoises bow riding between the two boats.  Passing from one boat to the other and splashing through the waves.  You could see the bold black and white markings and hear the blows as they sped along, darting under the boats and then back out.  The porpoises finally dipped under and disappeared, so we made our way back to Friday Harbor content with all of the time that we had spent with the fine creatures of this extraordinary location.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you who made this a truly wonderful season on the water, thank you and we will...

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist