June 27, 2016

Those Royal Rorquals

Ever heard of a rorqual? Try saying that word ten times fast! Rorquals are the largest group of baleen whales, and even include the largest known mammal on Earth, the blue whale (those fellas can reach up to 200 tons - WOW). But what exactly is a baleen whale? There's some basic facts that can help you organize your thought process when you're comparing an odontocete (toothed whale) with a mysticete (baleen whale). Mysticetes have two blowholes. They're filter feeders. And they can be massive. A few species of these these large marine mammals are commonly spotted around the San Juan Islands, adding excitement and wonder to many whale watches that we embark on. Oh, those mighty and royal rorquals. 

Today felt like the first real day of summer out here, sunny and warm with sparkling, calm waters. What a beautiful place to call our backyard! The M/V Sea Hawk left Roche Harbor and cruised northeast for a ways before encountering an individual from the smallest group of rorquals - a 30 foot long minke whale. These animals have a prominent, falcate dorsal fin and a nearly incomprehensible blow, so it's always exciting when they're spotted from our boats - they require some keen eyes and solid whale-watching skills. This particular minke kept us on our toes, surfacing frequently in all directions. What a way to kick off the trip!

After leaving the minke behind, we continued our cruise along, enjoying views of harbor seals and bald eagles. We didn't have to wait long before we recieved reports of a humpback whale - yet another member of the rorqual family! Humpbacks are quite a bit larger than minkes, maxing out at about 50 feet and around 45 tons. This humpback was swimming north along the western side of Henry Island, delighting us all with her frequent blows and a few good views of her tail flukes.

I love days like today, when we get to see these beautiful, graceful, gentle giants. Rorquals! Come join us on a whale watch and let these whales blow you away, too!