July 25, 2017
A San Juanderful Day: Minke Whales, Steller Sea Lions, and Transient Orcas around San Juan Island
- [Naturalist Erick D., M/V Kestrel, 7/24/17, 2:00PM]
Yesterday, Captain Mike and I took a great group of folks from Friday Harbor to search for whales and other wildlife! We first went south towards Cattle Pass and Whale Rocks. Whale Rocks are a collection of rocks south of Lopez Island. They are called such because they appear like whales rising from the waves not due to the presence of whales, but it is a super beautiful place! As the tidal flow ripped around the rocks we saw a bunch of Harbor Seals tanning and even a few swimming around in the nearby kelp beds. Then we saw some Steller Sea Lions (Northern Sea Lions)! These huge sea lions are usually only seen during the winter months when they overwinter in the islands. These few young ones and one adult male decided to come early or just stay here most likely because they knew they would be unsuccessful up in the breeding grounds to the north.
After getting our fill of the pinnipeds we rafted on over to Long Island also south of Lopez Island. We got pretty close to land and got to see a mated pair of Bald Eagles perched around their nest as well as two of their fledglings still in the nest!
We soon moved even further south, south of San Juan Island to start our search for some whales! We started to look just south of Salmon Bank, an underwater mound that is a great feeding place for marine mammals. We soon saw a few bait balls forming. That is when a large school of small fish is near the surface so seabirds flock around it to eat. As the birds swirled around us not one but a few Minke Whales popped up too, lunge feeding through the bait ball as well. Minke Whales are a small baleen whale around 30 feet long that feed on small fish, squid, and crustacean species. There is a resident few that live in the inland waters that we often see, but they have to be careful because occasionally they are on the menu of the mammal-eating Transient Orcas. We soon left these lunge feeding Minke Whales and their sickle-shaped dorsal fins to head back north.
We didn’t get too far when we saw a group of mammal-eating Transient Orcas swimming through San Juan Channel. They were not really moving much since they were swimming against a super strong current as the tide came in. They were playing around a little bit though. This group of several different families had a bunch of different ages in it. There was a large adult male and few adult females and a bunch of younger orcas. There were some tail slaps and a few rolls as we watched them travelling southward. It was so great to witness how playful they were today. Whale folks, until next time, Naturalist Erick out.