September 28, 2020

Unexpected Whale of a Day; Duo Humpback Whales and Southern Resident Killer Whales Come Feed in the San Juan Islands

Southern Resident Killer Whales in Boundary Pass

Olivia | M/V Sea Lion | Septmeber 28th, 2020 | 13:00

Today was probably the clearest day we have had in over a month. No clouds were to be found in the blue, sunny skies and our old friend Mount Baker stood tall waving hello after a few weeks sitting behind clouds, smoke, and lots of fog. It was already setting out to be a gorgeous, fall day out boating in the San Juan Islands with a little twist of summer on top. Our migrating Humpback Whales have spent most of the summer foraging south and southwest of Victoria, B.C., or the Canadian side of the Strait of Georgia, leaving us longing for them on the United States side of the border. In a normal season, this would be no big deal, but due to the new Covid-19 restrictions, that border is closed both on land and on shore. However, something lured them all in today as we left the dock with numerous Humpback Whale reports in Haro Strait.

We decided to head north around San Juan Island, through Spieden Channel, and to the northern side of Haro Strait where we came across TWO Humpback Whales swimming and foraging along the border on the U.S. side! This was remarkable! Just this morning Captain Brian and I were discussing how we are jonesin for some Humpback Whales, and here they were! Averaging four to five minute dives, these whales provided phenomenal views as they came to the surface, and even a dual fluke as they dove beneath the cool, salty waters.

Traveling north for Turn Point, we decided to peel off and go investigate a loose Killer Whale rumor reported from shore between East Point on Saturna Island and Patos Island in the United States, heading south through Boundary Pass. Wondering if this were accurate and whom it could be, we decided it was worth being detectives since we were already in the vicinity. Not only were the waters calm, blue, and warm on our travels over, but we made the right decision as we caught eyes on numerous black dorsal fins spread out along the pass. The most exciting part? It was K-Pod of the Southern Resident Killer Whales!!!

We knew that they dipped into Haro Strait the previous night, Captain Brian seeing them on their Kestrel trip and folks hearing them off County Park after sunset, but no one knew where they had gone to and we assumed it was a brief hello and goodbye. How lucky were we? Not only were we able to see two Humpback Whales in perfect light, but also the critically endangered ecotype of Killer Whales that historically called our waters home. We watched as they breathed, rolled, were back sliding, BREACHING, and traveling in the sunshine- happy to be home. We abide by county, state, and federal guidelines surrounding these marine mammals, specifically this ecotype where we practice slow speeds and stay 300 meters away.

With all 17 individuals spread out and not able to predict their movements, we respectfully turned off the engine to let them pass opposed to potentially causing them harm or getting in their way. To our amazement, a large female surfaced near our vessel and swam all along the side checking us out! This was a cry worthy moment as one of the most precious orcas, with their high intelligence and free-willed spirit decided to come and say hello. This was one of the dearest moments the entire summer for me [I cried over dinner again] and an exceptional, rare moment I could not express enough to our passengers.

With salmon on the decline and loss of natural habitat, we are losing our Southern Resident Killer Whales as they starve and go to great lengths trying to find food, successfully give birth, and raise those calves into adulthood. With every ticket purchase, we set money aside for Salmon Restoration to help the orcas that revolutionized our research on Killer Whales globally, as well as culturally in the Pacific Northwest. Come learn what you can do to help save them. As long as I live, I will never forget these unique, soulful moments in the Salish Sea.

Humpback Whales in North Haro Strait