April 4, 2018

There She Blows: J pod and the First Sperm Whale in the San Juan Islands!

Sperm Whale

[Saturday, 3/31/18 – 4:00PM – M/V Sea Lion – Naturalist Erick]


     On Saturday, there were so many folks that wanted to go watch fun wildlife that we had a second trip! In the summer we have two trips every day, but this was definitely a treat for this time of the year. Captain Mike and I picked up a new group of guests and headed back out. We headed north in San Juan Channel and pointed towards Boundary Pass. The Orcas of J Pod which we had left in the northern end of Haro Strait had continued to move north and were starting to slowly travel north in Swanson Channel. We met up with them north of Turn Point. It was great to see them again and this time we got closer looks at the rest of J pod. We of course saw the J17’s, the J11’s, and the J22’s as well as the rest of J pod traveling north. A lot of the younger ones were playing around, and they surfaced pretty far out of the water giving us great looks at their white eye spots and chins. It was absolutely amazing to see these black and white animals in the calm waters of twilight. We usually see J pod (part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Community) in the summer and early fall since their main prey is salmon and that is when the main schools of salmon migrate through our waters. J pod along with the rest of the Southern Residents are critically endangered so it is always amazing to see them, and I hope they were finding plenty of food. After watching those orcas frolic and play we turned back south to find some of other fun wildlife. As we approached Turn Point on Stuart Island a large animal rose out of the surface in front of us and gave a huge blow. At first it was super startling, but it soon became very exciting when we realized it was a Sperm Whale! There had been reports of a lone Sperm Whale, Yukusam, slowly making its way down the Inside Passage and now he was here! This is the closest a Sperm Whale has ever been spotted to Friday Harbor and definitely the first one spotted in the Salish Sea! It was amazing! These animals are the deep diving champions of the sea. They can dive for multiple thousands of feet to feed on the bottom of trenches and stay submerged for 45 minutes. He had just surfaced so he logged right at the surface taking deep breaths for around 10 minutes. This looked like a nearly full-grown male and it was so cool to see its leftward-leaning blow and the crazy lines along its back. Sperm Whales are kind of their own thing and have so many unique qualities about them. For example, they only have teeth on their bottom jaw. They have two nares like all the other whales, but one just ends before it exits their head. We watched as Yukusam breathed and breathed and then eventually dove revealing all the sharp “knuckles” running along its spinal ridgeline and eventually its giant flukes. So Cool! We waited there basking in the glory of what we just had the opportunity to witness and our vessel coordinator who was on the boat this trip put the hydrophone in the water and we waited. Then we heard it! There were these super loud clicks coming over the hydrophone. The Sperm Whale, Yukusam, was using its echolocation to search the 1,000-foot depths of Haro Strait. They were unbelievably loud! Sperm Whales use echolocation just like orcas to find their food in the dark waters. Sperm Whale food usually is squid or bottom-dwelling fish species. Since he was probably going on quite on a long dive we did not stick around for another surfacing. We continued south and took a quick pass by Spieden Island to look at a bunch of Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Steller Sea Lions. That was all we had time for on such another exciting and surprising day and we enjoyed the sunset as we made our way back to lovely Friday Harbor. You never know what you’re going to find out here!

Whale Folks that’s it for today.


Until next time,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris