June 21, 2019

Porpoising Orcas in the Haro Strait! 06/21/19

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Jordan | M/V Sea Lion | 06/21/19 | 12:00pm

The sun shone high in the sky on this lovely Friday in Friday Harbor! Almost immediately, the crew received reports of whales not too far away, so everyone got really excited.

Captain Pete, Naturalist Erin and I took our vessel, the Sea Lion, out of the harbor and headed south through the San Juan Channel. Passing between San Juan and Lopez, we boated past Cattle Point lighthouse, a beautiful southern point to our island. Then, we turned and headed up the west side of San Juan Island through the Haro Strait. We kept boating till we spotted boats in the distance and reached an area called False Bay! Here we found orca whales!

We knew they were transients based on their dorsal fins and unique saddle patches! Most likely these animals were in stealthy hunting mode as they travelled alongside the island looking for their marine mammal prey. They searched for harbor seals, sea lions and harbor porpoises throughout the seas.

Then, slowly, they disappeared. It was odd, we looked and looked and the dorsal fins stayed hidden for several minutes. Some of us worried that they had spontaneously switched directions and had turned around. But then, suddenly, a whale leapt completely out of the water right near our boat! Then her family members behind her started leaping after her as well! We call this behavior “porpoising” as they showed us their whole bodies, flying through the sky. Though the exact reason they were porpoising today was unclear, it is often a sign of hunting! They very well could have been chasing after a pod of porpoises! It was so special to see this behavior! Everyone was so excited as we watched these whales in action in their natural environment.

Eventually, they calmed down and we knew it was time to head back home. We headed north around Henry Island and around the northern point of San Juan Island. We passed under Speiden Island and spotted a whole group of harbor seals!

So many seals laid out on this tiny little rock close to the water’s edge. Soon, that rock would be completely under water as the tides came up.

Then, we saw a bald eagle! He perched high up in a tree, his bright white head poking out behind some branches as he lay in wait for any potential prey to swim or fly by.

Random side note: I just wanted to mention how incredible all the kids on board were. All the kids were unbelievably enthusiastic about, not only seeing orcas, but learning all about our wildlife and asking so many questions! It made me so happy to see so many bright, young, eager minds yearning to learn about the environment.

Finally, we headed back home after a truly fantastic day out on the water.