July 15, 2020

Too Much In One Day: J pod Orcas breaching off the west side and 2 Humpback Whales!

Southern Resident Orcas

Erick | M/V Sea Lion | Wednesday, July 15, 2020 | 1:30PM


            It is very much feeling like summer now. Capt. Pete and I took a group out on a beautiful, warm sunny day here in the San Juans. Now, it definitely was not hot especially once we got out on the water. We started going by going south through San Juan Channel and into Haro Strait. There had been a report of groups of orcas off the southwestern coast of San Juan Island. We soon saw blows a few miles offshore on False Bay! As we got closer we could see that they were Southern Resident Killer Whales. This was J pod! They have been hanging around the islands the past few days, which is historically what they would be doing in the summer months here. The Southern Resident Orcas are one of the two types of orcas that we see in our waters. They historically have been the most common since they feed on the Chinook Salmon that travel through the Salish Sea to get to their natal streams. In the past few decades – and especially in the past few years – the Chinook salmon populations have been declining, mostly due to human causes. For that reason and others the Southern Residents are critically endangered and in the last few years, they have been here in the Salish Sea less and less. For all those reasons we have felt super blessed to see J pod here for the past few days! Capt. Pete stopped at the first group that was foraging offshore. They were really spread out, but we got some great views of J31, Tsuchi, and her calf, J56, Tofino. Tofino is the newest member of J pod who was born in May 2019. It was amazing to see this mom and calf together while the mom hunted. The mom would do deep dives of several hundred feet to get to the depth where Chinook Salmon commonly inhabit. While mom dived, Tofino would stay at the surface and roll around, and hit its tail on the surface to make a commotion. Once mom would surface, baby Tofino would then roll around mom’s face which is obviously the most fun! Since it was a calm day and they were a good distance away we decided to drop the hydrophone in the water. It was a good idea because they were super chatty! We could hear lots of loud vocalizations as well as echolocation clicks. The vocalizations are what we would call their language and each type of orca in the world has their own. Even within the Southern Resident Community each pod has their own dialect. When you hear the echolocation clicks you are hearing them search their underwater world. This works like sonar on a submarine and allows them to see their prey or anything else in the water!

            After listening to them for awhile we headed back towards shore and began to see two Humpback Whales traveling slowly north! We rarely get to see Humpbacks and orcas in the same place, so this was sooo cool. We Watched them as they travelled and fluked up several times to show their enormous tails! While we were watching them another group of J pod orcas got closer and a male breached several times around the boat! It is always so amazing to see them be so playful and is probably one of the main reasons why people love these orcas so much! After watching another group on our way back east we saw some more breaches and a few cartwheels. As they headed offshore for more fishing, we headed back towards Friday Harbor. We made one last stop at Whale Rocks where we saw two male Steller Sea Lions! These guys usually do not return until the fall, but they are always super fun to watch! Behind them, to get a good since of scale, the 300-lb Harbor Seals were dwarfed on the rocks. Phew! Another unimaginable magical day in the San Juan Islands!


Stay Whale everyone,