July 25, 2020

Southern Resident Killer Whales Investigate San Juan Channel

SRKW at Sunset

Olivia | M/V Sea Lion | July 25th, 2020 | 17:30

After seeing part of L-Pod foraging in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on our 13:30 trip, we hoped for our sunset trip that they would still be foraging down there to give our guests the same opportunity to see Southern Resident Killer Whales as we did earlier. To our humble surprise, those Orca started traveling UP the San Juan Channel! What!! I had never heard of this behavior historically and immediately our hearts were racing with excitement. 
We made it just south of Turn Island when we spotted the black dorsal fins. They were divided into two groups, one group about 400 yards on our port side and a solo male about 400 yards on our starboard. We slowly traveled south as these guys milled up and then back down the channel again. Mount Baker was standing proud staring down at these familiar whales as the golden hour shined across the water. 
By the time we arrived down to Cattle Pass just outside of Whale Rocks, we lost sight as they went on a dive. Unable to anticipate their behaviors, and not wanting to keep moving without this insight on the off chance we would disrupt them, Captain Pete decided to shut down the engine and just stay still. We had the current pushing us on both sides, keeping us exactly in the same area. To our surprise, a large orca full body breached at our stern and immediately following, all six of them surfaced just off our port side, one of which rolled on its back as it came and investigated the boat. While we never hope to be mugged by these whales, in hopes to give them all the space and distance, it is always a humble reminder that they are curious, free-willed, intelligent beings that do as they please. 
We watched as they carried on south, assuming they were heading towards members of K-Pod to meet up for the evening. Sometimes that stillness, that moment as we watch the family travel together away from the boat into the evening sun, their exhales illuminating above the water, is one of the most magical moments to partake in. Making sure they were over 400 yards away, Captain Pete started up that engine again and we slowly turned back north up the channel. 
To our surprise, we stumbled upon a Minke Whale foraging in the channel! What!? Again, not a historical behavior I had been aware of, and way further north than where we typically find these baleen whales. We were still giddy with the entire trip as we stopped to look at Harbor Seals before ducking back into Friday Harbor. This evening will forever be one that sticks with us as we look back on our San Juan Island adventures.