March 4, 2017

Springtime is knocking! J Pod Back in the San Juan Islands

L87 Onyx

I often measure time in days, weeks, *gasp* months between whale encounters. In the winter orca encounters are sporadic, but as we creep into springtime there are more and more sightings and less and less time between those sweet moments.

This morning I rolled out of bed, ate some breakfast, took the dog for a walk at English Camp (look at the picture, she’s adorable), and then checked the reports from our Pacific Whale Watch Association member companies. I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear. Inbound whales. Potentially residents. Game on.

Leaving Friday Harbor we headed south towards Griffin Bay and Cattle Pass. We spotted bald eagles swooping over the water and the small islets, and loved seeing auklets, murres, and cormorants diving through the waves. The sun was shining, the water was smooth and we had whales reported.

Just outside of Cattle Pass we stopped at Whale Rocks to marvel at a gigantic adult bald eagle up on top of the easternmost rock, and some sea lions rolling through the ripping current. The area around Whale Rocks is known for its high current conditions and areas of upwelling. A pair of juveniles swirled and played against the current as we rounded the first rock. On the western rock there were several adult sea lions hauled out sunning themselves in the rare winter sun. We listened to them vocalize and watched them jostle for the best spots on the rock. As we were watching the adults, a curious young sea lion made its way up to the boat. It gave us a thorough once-over before diving beneath the perfectly clear blue-green water.

We made our way out into Haro Strait heading towards Discovery Island near Victoria. As we made it out int o the middle of the Strait Mike and I started noticing blows everywhere. Poof! Poof! Poof! The exhalations hung above the water illuminated by the clear afternoon sun. We found ourselves surrounded by J Pod, members of the Southern Resident population, salmon-eating orcas who live in large family groups. It was so nice to see the familiar dorsal fins slicing through the water. First came J16 Slick, my favorite female, and her daughters J42 Echo and J50 Scarlet. J42 and J50 were playing and trailing just behind their mother as she shot towards Hannah Heights on San Juan Island. We peeled away from their small group and headed towards another group of J Pod whales. This next group turned out to be the remaining J14 whales, J37 Hy’shqa, J40 Suttles, J45 Se-Yi’-Chn, and J49 T’ilem I’nges and the J11s, J27 Blackberry, J31 Tsuchi, and J39 Mako. This social configuration was very interesting to me because both are families who have lost their matriarchs. To see the J11 family traveling with the J14s makes me want to think that they might be passing along some sort of comfort, feeling some sort of empathy for their shared lots. Nearby we found L87 Onyx, the late, great J2 Granny’s adopted son. He was traveling close to the rest of the whales as they all made their way towards San Juan.

These are the sorts of days that I store up and save for the long, whale-less days of deep December, when the last whale sightings were a month in past. It was excellent and the quintessential, save for the sun (!), Pacific Northwest Day! We are so lucky to be able to share this beautiful place, and the creatures who live here, with our guests!