July 15, 2019

A true wildlife adventure in the Salish Sea!

Erin | M/V Kestrel | Sunday, July 14, 2019 | 11:00 AM

It was an absolutely wildlife-filled day on the water this morning. We began our trip heading south out of Friday Harbor. We made our way to Cattle Point and got a lovely view of the lighthouse. Then we went directly across the San Juan Channel to Whale Rocks and we saw over 20 harbor seals hauled out of the water! There were a few swimming around in the water as well. Not only were there harbor seals, but there was a Steller's sea lion up higher on the rocks! It was a very nice surprise to see the sea lion, because most of them have headed to their breeeding grounds. The Steller's sea lion is also double the size of a harbor seal! After watching these animals for a while and talking about all of the currents and upwelling happening around us, we went into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and searched for some other wildlife! 

There were lots of birds in the strait, and they were all gathering in specific areas, so we assumed there were some baitballs, or schools of fish, underneath them. We started looking to see if there was a Minke whale driving the baitballs to occur, and soon enough we saw two different Minke whales come to the surface! Minke whales are a bit hard to keep track of as they are travelling through the water, but one of them was doing a circling behavior. Perhaps it was corraling fish so it could lunge through them! We got a couple of great looks at the Minke whale, and then we headed toward the south shore of Lopez Island. We saw a big blow right near the shoreline, and we knew it wasn't a Minke whale, since they don't really have a visible blow. It was a gray whale, which is another type of baleen whale that is much larger and looks very different. This gray whale was travelling right along the shore, and almost every time it dove it showed the underside of its tail, or its fluke. It was absolutely beautiful! Gray whales feed on benthic invertebrates, so they spend a lot of their time near the seafloor. After watching the gray whale for a while, we headed toward Orcas Island to see if we could find any more wildlife. 

On our way, we saw lots of harbor porpoises surfacing. As we travelled towards Orcas Island, we saw a bald eagle dip into the water and grab a fish! We then got to see it fly toward a nearby tree! There was also a bald eagle nest a few trees down! We went through the passageway between Shaw and Orcas Island, and we ended up going through Johns Pass and to the north shore of Spieden Island. Here we saw a Sika deer, which is one of the more rare sightings to see on Spieden Island. The pure diversity of animals we saw today made for an excellent trip. To see so many animals in their wild, natural habitat is exciting. 

Naturalist Erin