August 1, 2011

Orcas Island and Orca Whales

Today, even the Kittiwake had an adventure!  We traveled over to Orcas Island to pick up a family of ten for a private charter and from there on, we were surrounded by a continuous showing by Pacific Northwest wildlife!

First, it was a little harbor seal between Lopez and Shaw Islands.  Next, it was one then two stellar sea lions (BIG ones too--they can weigh up to 2,200 pounds and be ten feet long!) swimming in the currents between Lopez and San Juan Islands.  Further into the Cattle Pass, we discovered two bald eagles perched side by side above a water-front home.

Out into the waters off Salmon bank, where the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro straight meet, we found exactly what we were still holding our breaths for: L-pod of the Southern Resident Killer Whales!  The pod was spread out near and off shore and from Cattle Pass up towards False Bay.  It was every whale for itself, with a few being social and in pairs and trios.  Some seemed to be traveling, others hunting and one frisky pair may have been mating (was he an outsider from J or K pod?).  They were heading south but after thirty minutes of viewing, they all of a sudden went offshore and started traveling north.  At this point we decided to test our wildlife luck and moved on away from the orcas.

The visibility was excellent (we could see Mount Rainier and Mount Baker!), the wind was a mellow breeze and the ocean was flat: a rare and perfect combination for Minke whale searching!  We found "bird balls" (high densities of birds sitting on the water, potentially on a ball of bait fish like herring).  One bird ball took off all at once and minutes later, we found out why: a minke whale had come in to eat their herring!  We watched it for about twenty minutes and then moved on.

On the way back to Orcas Island, the wildlife continued to appear!  More stellar sea lions and harbor seals swimming and sunning at Whale Rocks; and our finale of harbor porpoises between Lopez and San Juan Islands.  Whew, we were exhausted after that (as evident by the six passengers--teenagers--napping on the ride back in)!  A truly wonderful day on the water.  Big thanks to the Lower family!

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris