April 24, 2018

The Return of the Humpback Whales!

Humpback Whale

[Saturday, 4/21/18 – M/V Kestrel – 1:00PM – Naturalist Erick]

 

The past few weeks we have started running trips on our adventure vessel, M/V Kestrel. This craft is a RIB, a Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat, and can go pretty fast, around 30 – 40 knots. We suit up in these dope red and black exposure suits and head off. Captain Brian and I took a full group of folks northward to go search for somefun and exciting wildlife. This Saturday was sunny with a little breeze. We made our first stop at Green Point on Spieden Island. Since it was windy none of the rocks were covered with our blubbery, furry toasted marshmallows aka the Steller Sea Lions. They were all rafting, swimming, and hunting in the rapids that form as the tidal current whips past the sharp point formed by the eastern edge of Spieden Island. It was so incredible to float along with the current, up and down with the standing waves and watch the Steller Sea Lions float along with us. We continued along the shoreline and saw several other groups of sea lions swimming in the current. In one cove we came upon one of the larger males tearing up a halibut. This brought all the gulls and a Bald Eagle to the scene as they all jumped in trying to get some leftovers. After watching that show for a while we continued west along the shore and spotted several groups of Harbor Seals lounging on the rocks as well as the exotic animals that still call Spieden Island home after its previous owner left them there. We saw large herds of Mouflon Sheep and a few small groups of Fallow Deer wandering the grassy slopes that rise out of the water. After seeing all this we headed further west towards Turn Point and northern Haro Strait. Here, among the dark waters in the channel, we suddenly saw a blow! Then another one! It was two adult Humpback Whales! They’re back! All throughout this spring we’ve been waiting for the Humpback Whales to return to the northern Pacific. After the winter ends the Humpback Whales start swimming north from tropical breeding grounds towards their summer feeding grounds in the north Pacific! In the past decade and a half the Humpbacks have returned to the inland waters here. It’s more evidence for the success story of Humpbacks in the north Pacific. They were whaled heavily in this area and were absent from the inland water here for decades, but the population has increased significantly, and they are returning to places in their old range. These two Humpbacks were swimming north in the deep channel and it was so cool to see them traveling close together. Every so often they both would fluke up showing the underside of their tails as they did a longer dive. The underside of the tail is unique to each whale and helps us to idenitfy them. These two were identified as Slate (BCX1210) and Uluka (BCXuk2017#8). It is so great to see these giant baleen whales back. The past couple of years we have seen a few Humpbacks stay throughout the whole summer too! So, we hope we see more as the spring migration continues and that even more show up this year! Next, we headed east along the Saturna Island coastline. This coastline is made up of large sandstone cliffs topped with evergreen trees. We slowly motored along and marveled at the amazing cliffs and since it was low tide we could see the line of Purple Sea Stars lining the inter-tidal zone on the bottom of the honeycombed carved cliffs. After this incredible experience we did have to head back, but it was just such an amazing day and we are so excited that the Humpbacks are back!

 

Whale folks, until next time!

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris