September 5, 2019

Southern Residents Near San Juan!

Jordan | M/V Kestrel | 09/05/19 | 11:00am

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, random dogs were barking in the distance; it was looking like a great start to our whale watch!

Captain Gabe and I took our new friends out of Friday Harbor on the Kestrel. We headed down south through the San Juan Channel towards Cattle Point.

Along the way we stopped to watch a big bait ball! Swarms of birds were pecking at the surface of the water and diving down to catch fish that were balled up due to a seal hunting below. The interaction between all these animals was fascinating to watch. We could even see the birds and fish swimming underwater!

We continued a bit further and found some Steller sea lions! These massive animals wandered around their rocky island home as some barked at each other, aggressively baring their teeth. Others swam and flopped around in the water and flashed their flippers at the surface.

We then boated up the west side of San Juan Island, stopping near False Bay as we saw our first orcas! We spotted a huge male coming towards us. We stopped our boat and watched in awe as he passed by. We were able to identify him as J27 “Blackberry!”  This 28-year-old killer whale is a member of J pod, one of only 3 pods within the critically endangered southern resident population of orcas.

We watched as he and his family members swam all around our boat, scattered across miles of San Juan coastline. The whales seemed to be foraging for food as they searched for their depleted prey, the chinook salmon.

At one point, we watched as the whales gathered together and started socializing and playing as they travelled south. We even saw multiple breaches! The whales jumped completely out of the water and crashed back down with a huge splash! So impressive. They exposed their whole bodies, so we were able to get great looks at their white bellies.

Then, we started identifying K pod whales! We suddenly, had to shut off our engines as a whale approached our boat! We identified her as K22! Also known as “Sekiu.” As she passed close to our boat, we were able to catch a great look at her unique saddle patch. With that print, we were able to scan the photo identification catalogue to confirm her identity!  

Eventually, we headed back home towards the harbor. What a very special trip! I’m always incredibly happy to see the southern resident whales and be able to love and support them through the trying times they’re going through.