September 16, 2019

Orcas Bringing Light to a Foggy Day!

What an adventurous tour today!

Captain Gabe, Naturalist Laura and I headed out of Friday Harbor and headed down south through the San Juan Channel. It was clear skies until we reached the southern tip of San Juan, catching a glimpse of the Cattle Point lighthouse before running straight into a wall of fog.

This fog bank was really thick as we entered the open body of water. So, I could only allude to the Olympic mountains hiding behind the clouds. We travelled southwest as we boated towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We even ended up passing Victoria before breaking out of the fog into clear blue skies and gorgeous water!

A few minutes after we escaped the grayness, we spotted orca whales! This pod of transient whales was identified as the T99’s, consisting of four whales led by the matriarch: T99.

Watching these whales, they were most likely searching around for their marine mammal prey. Being unpredictable in their nature, they did a 180 and turned around to head the opposite direction. Perhaps they were meaning to confuse prey that may have been in the area, or they could have heard something far off in the distance! In fact, everyone got excited when we spotted a few porpoises swimming super close to the orcas! The poor porpoises seemed oblivious to the danger so close to them!

If you looked closely, you could see one of the whales had a distinct series of notches in its dorsal fin! With these unique characteristics, we were able to identify that individual as T99B. In fact, each whale is as unique as a human thumbprint! So, we can identify each whale in a similar manner, looking at notches and scratches and shapes on their body.

Eventually, we headed back into the fog and towards the island. Near Cattle Pass, we found Steller sea lions lounging amongst the fog. Walking along the rocks and jumping in the water, these huge animals seemed unconcerned about our boat as we approached. They were funny to watch as we heard them making barking sounds at each other!

Throughout the trip today, we were lucky to see so many harbor porpoises! You could clearly see the tiny dorsal fins cutting through the glassy water as they swam in their tiny pods.

Finally, we made it back home. But what a lovely trip!