August 15, 2019

Southern Resident Killer Whales Swim Back to San Juan Island!

J Pod Orcas in Haro Strait

Olivia | August 15th, 2019 | M/V Kestrel | 11:00am

My favorite trip thus far.

I cannot express the realm of emotions myself, Captain Gabe, and our 19 passengers went through on our 11:00am Adventure Tour. We heard reports early in the morning that our Southern Resident Killer Whales (J Pod) had returned to Haro Strait per Lime Kiln recording their dialect through the hydrophone. With a thick bank of fog south and west of San Juan Island, we decided to head around the northern side to check out areas of water that haven’t been scanned yet to see if any cetaceans were lurking around. We made a pit stop at Spieden Island to view Bald Eagles, Harbor Seals, and Mouflon sheep and then boated through John’s Pass. We traveled around the northern side of Stuart Island, around Turn Point Lighthouse, and back down through Haro Strait aiming for the dense fog.

On our route down there, the large swells gave us a wild, pirate-like ride while scanning the Salish Sea. For the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, in U.S. waters we need to keep a distance of over 300 yards and travel under 7kts within a half nautical mile away. Just past Lime Kiln Lighthouse, we started traveling slowly through the white blanket that surrounded us. Unaware of where the whales were, Gabe shut off the engine so we could listen for their exhales. All of sudden out of the fog, not to be mistaken for a small sailboat, was a large, male dorsal fin! I cannot explain the excitement we all had and how eerie, beautiful, and breathtaking this moment was. We stayed with the engine turned off while they slowly traveled around us and eventually the fog started to lift giving us visibility all the way to the shoreline and the surrounding whale watching, education, and research vessels that were just as mesmerized as we were.

We viewed this endangered species for about 20 minutes, restricting our time with them in order to properly respect the marine mammals. Talking deeply about their conservation, the part we can still play, and how incredible a species they really are, we made conscious moments to stop, listen and take in every moment. Finally drifting away, Gabe brought us towards Salmon Bank to see a Minke Whale and Whale Rocks to get blown away by the immensity of the massive Steller’s Sea Lions.

It is always an emotional topic to discuss the critical endangerment of our once abundant orcas, but to view them in the flesh, watching them breath, fish, and travel together was something on a whole new level. Like I mentioned, a broad range of emotions swept us all in the most powerful way. We had folks from Australia, a woman fulfilling her bucket list, dedicated girls in their orca apparel, and so many more big-hearted people that Gabe and I had the pleasure to share this with. This has been by far the most captivating, empowering, emotional, and phenomenal trip- I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of it.

We as humans are at fault for a lot of the endangerment of species around the world, but we also have the power to make a change. Even if we rarely see these ocean giants, come join us on any of our whale watching vessels to learn more about the Southern Residents, salmon restoration, and heaps more with the unbelievable biodiversity of our Salish Sea!