June 12, 2017

Simply Another Magical Day in the Salish Sea

[06/12/17 ~ 1:00 Kestrel]

Even on my second season here at San Juan Safaris, there are still days where I'm simply in awe of the area that I'm surrounded by. The churning waters of the Salish Sea, punctuated by evergreen-capped islands, both hosting a unique and charactaristic array of wildlife that I always feel blessed to be graced by on a daily basis. Today was one of those days, with crystal-clear skies and water just choppy enough to keep us on our toes, and reports of whales abound!

With winds picking up to the south, Captain Gabe wisely took the Kestrel and its 13 passengers north towards a report of transient killer whales in the protected waters around the Canadian Gulf Islands. We were immediately grateful for his decision when we ventured out into San Juan Channel from the harbor and were greeted by whitecaps and even a bit of a swell. Luckily, the Kestrel is stable and fast and we quickly whizzed through the rough waters in a marine roller coaster ride, making our way into the remarkably calm waters just north of the island. We stopped breifly to observe some bald eagles and harbor seals hanging out on the coastlines and rocky beaches that are so common here in the San Juans before completing the last leg of our trek towards our whale report.

Arriving on scene, we slowed the Kestrel to a crawl and started scanning the waters around us, keeping our eyes trained on the blue seas, looking for the characteristic black dorsal fins of orcas as they break the surface of the calm water and their tall blows bursting out of their lungs as they surface. Suddenly, there they were! The first looks of the day are always a magical moment for me - hearing that powerful exhalation, recognizing a familiar family group, catching a glimpse as they skim the surface. It's true, whales never disappoint. Regardless of what they're doing, I always find whales enchanting - snoozing whales, breaching whales, traveling whales, or whales munching on prey. Today, however, we were lucky enough to see killer whales doing what they do best - killing something!

Hunting behavior is fairly recognizable for orcas - usually characterized by fast direction changes (and the resulting unpredictability), circling one area, fanning out and converging on one spot, and splashing above the surface. By the looks of it, these whales were fighting a tough battle with some unlucky marine mammal below the surface, because their hunting behavior lasted an entire hour! Ending in synchronized porpoising (speeding through the water so fast that they throw off their own wake), the T2C's finally finished off whatever it was they were hunting and began their post-meal resting behaviors. On that note, we left the scene and moved back towards Friday Harbor. On our way back, we even got some more views at bald eagles, this time munching on a red rockfish, as well as some Dall's porpoise playing in the rough water of San Juan Channel!