June 23, 2009

A terrific Tuesday with the Orcas!

I knew when I woke up this morning and the sun was shining that it was going to be a good day! And it was.

Both our trips today had amazing looks at the Orcas or Killer Whales that frequent the San Juan Islands. We lucked out on our 1pm tour with reports of Residents (salmon-eating Orcas) eastbound near Victoria, BC. A little trip to the south around Cattle Pass and across the Straits (which looked as if it were a pond today)....so calm, clear views of the Olympic Mountains to the south and we met up with the whales crossing to San Juan Island. They had been traveling quite fast according to the other boats and they ended up splitting into 2 or more groups, with some whales moving towards the southern half of the island and other northbound up Haro Strait. The Orcas were quite spread out in all directions....apparently it was J pod and K pod. (I'm still getting back into the swing of identifying these guys.)

We had some wonderful views of 2 younger calves playing in the currents where the kelp was collecting, along with logs and other debris. One even draped a bit of kelp across its dorsal fin!! There was some breaching, tail slaps and just some great looks at the whales.

We moved north, from one group to another and left them off of Kellet Bluff, Henry Island as we looped around the north side of San Juan Island. A peek at 2 Bald Eagles posing side by side at the top of a tree on Sentinel Island. What a picture that was!! And off we were back to Friday Harbor, having circled San Juan Island.

Then the 5:30 pm Sunset Tour. Wow! This is why I absolutely love the evening trips. It was one of those nights where there was no wind, the seas were like glass, and the clouds cleared so I could finally see Mount Baker in all its glory in the Cascade Range! J pod had covered some ground and was up in the Canadian Gulf Islands. So to Canada we went. We had a small intimate group of people on the boat who got one of the best shows I've seen in a long time! We were able to watch J27 (Blackberry) who at 18 is turning into quite the large male. Along with J27 was his sister J31 and a sprouter male who I believe was J34, and a few others I didn't ID. There were actively spy hopping, rolling, foraging, and moving northbound.

The unfortunate part of this experience was a private boater that was much too close to the whales, who continued to pursue the Orcas and park as close as possible to the animals. It is illegal for any vessel to be within a 100 yards of these Endangered Southern Community of Killer Whales (pods J, K, L). Many folks don't realize that this is law and the point being we want to give the Orcas enough space so that we boaters are not causing them to alter their normal behavior. Hopefully as more people learn this, we will all be more conscience of how we conduct ourselves around the whales.

We were able to also get great looks at J26, the other 18 year old male with his mom J16 and younger sibling J42. Again very active tonight! Breach after breach, even by the little calf! The next family group included J17, J28, and newborn J44? I kept looking for the little one but the glare on the water against the dark rocky shoreline made it difficult. By now we were nearing Active Pass and it was time to head home.

Our guests on board were frantically snapping photos trying to capture all the activity and I couldn't believe how lucky we were!! What a beautiful and special day in the San Juans.

-Jaclyn, naturalist

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