October 29, 2019

Southern Residents and Humpbacks with TONS of other Wildlife!

killer whales

Sarah | 10/29/2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00pm

On Tuesday we enjoyed an amazing day on the water with tons of wildlife and great weather. The chilly fall weather didn’t keep us from enjoying the magnificent Salish Sea Marine Ecosystem, we just bundled up!

We started the trip with a start at Flattop Island just north of San Juan Island. We got great looks at some harbor seals in the water around the rocky outcropping and even hauled out on the rocks. These are our most numerous marine mammals here in the islands, and they come in a variety of coat colors! We have seals that are almost black to gray to even light blonde. While we were looking at the seals, we also got great looks up at a trio of bald eagles perched in the trees over the seals. All three of the eagles had adult plumage, that classic white head and white tail feather look.

After leaving Flattop Island we pointed further north towards Cowlitz Bay, we had numerous harbor porpoise surfacing around our boat, but also got a chance to catch a glimpse of some Dall’s porpoise. While we were looking at the porpoise Captain Erick got a call on the radio that there was an unconfirmed rumor of some sort of whale not to far away. We decided to point in the direction of the report, towards Turn Point on Stuart Island.

As we approached the lighthouse, we started to see exhalations and dorsal fins! We had found some of the Southern Resident killer whale population! We got a chance to see right around a dozen whales from this critically endangered fish-eating population, with only 73 individuals left we got to see a significant fraction of the population! We got the best looks at the J22’s (J22 “Oreo” and her son J38 “Cookie”), the J35s (J35 “Talequah” and her son J47 “Notch”), J27 “Blackberry”, and the L47s (L47 “Marina” and her family). While we were watching the whales, researchers from the Center for Whale Research arrived on scene to continue their field efforts at censusing the whales. Whale watchers take pride in being able to help researchers find and record sightings, and, because we were on the water, we were able to get several other researchers in the zone to find the whales.

While we were watching the orcas, a humpback whale made its way into the area. We got a true size comparison between the massive mysticete and the orcas. Humpbacks can be twice the length of an orca! When the humpback whale fluked up and showed the underside of its massive tail we were able to identify it as BCY0458 a whale known locally as “Raptor.”

We finished the day with a stop at Spieden Island to check out some more bald eagles, non-native hoofstock (mouflon sheep, fallow deer and sika deer), harbor seals, and also some Steller’s sea lions. It was an excellent day in the Salish Sea, October trips just don’t get better than that!