June 13, 2018
Residents Staying in the Salish Sea and more Humpback Whales!
[Tuesday, 6/12/18 - M/V Sea Lion - 12:00 - Naturalist Erick]
Another grand day in the San Juan Islands! It did start out a little grey, but was still pretty warm for June as Captain Gabe and I headed north with a great group of people aboard the M/V Sea Lion. We traveled up past Spieden, Johns, and Stuart Islands until we reached Boundary Pass. Here we started to see some blows against the cloudy grey sky reflected in the still waters of the Salish Sea. It was Orcas! It was a super tightly group pod that was slowly traveling northward. We would see two waves of black fins of all different sizes rotate up above the water. It was so cool!
As we neared them we soon saw that these Orcas were part of the Southern Resident Population of Orcas. Orcas worldwide are divided up into ecotypes and these ecotypes may have overlapping ranges but they are what biologists call ‘culturally’ different and they no longer interact or interbreed in between ecotypes. There are two ecotypes that we usually see in the Salish Sea at they are the Southern Residents and the Bigg’s Orcas. The major difference between them is that the Southern Residents feed on fish (primarily Chinook Salmon) and the Bigg’s Orcas eat marine mammals (primarily Harbor Seals). This group seemed like a mixed group of Southern Resident Orcas so there could have been some of L pod and some of J pod too. It was hard to know though since they were barely surfacing and it is usually helpful to see the markings just behind their dorsal fins to identify them.
This group appeared to be in a tight resting while traveling group as they slowly swam along the Moresby Island shoreline. With depleted Salmon stocks in this area and these Southern Resident Orcas being critically endangered it is always amazing and super lucky to see them out here. Next Captain Gabe and I took ourselves just a little bit south east to the other side of Stuart Island in Boundary Pass when we spotted a Humpback Whale! This whale, unlike orcas, has no teeth but instead filter feeds using a substance called baleen on their upper jaw. These whales are also a lot bigger than Orcas since they are 45 ft long while orcas are just around 25 ft long! We watched this whale travel back and forth along the shoreline look for strong concentrations of food until it was that time again to head back to Friday Harbor. We made one final stop at Flattop Island to see a bunch of Harbor Seals and a majestic Bald Eagle!