June 10, 2017

A Whale-Packed Day in the San Juans

[06/10/2017 ~ M/V Sea Lion 1200 Departure]

One of the biggest challenges of whale watching is in the name itself: you're watching WHALES. Wild animals, who can travel 100 miles per day easy, who spend the majority of their lives underwater where we can't see them. Untrained, unpredictable, wild animals. This also happens to be the fun of whale watching. You're watching WHALES! Wild whales that are on their own schedule and doing their natural whale behaviors while you just look on in awe. And while it is always worth it, no matter what lengths we go to to find whales, some days are simply more difficult than others. Luckily, today was one of those days that was so easy it was basically postcard magic.

We left the harbor with reports of... wait. Scratch that. We left the harbor and weren't even in radio range yet when we saw a fleet of whale watching boats moving south down San Juan Channel towards us. With a quick call to one of the captains, we were informed that they were tracking a family group of transient killer whales. Right there, outside of Friday Harbor. Captain Pete and Naturalists Sarah and Sarah chuckled when they pulled the boat around and inline with the other onlooking vessels. Not even five minutes into the trip, and we were there!

We soon ID'd the family group as the T2C's, who are usually seen much farther north in the water off of British Columbia. This family consists of the matriarch T2C and her two sons, one fully grown and one still sprouting and miraculously growing despite having pretty severe scoliosis. Her other two calves are too young to sex, with the youngest having been born just this past winter! Although an orca calf is about 8 feet at birth, when placed alongside a larger whale like T2C's oldest son, this newborn killer whale looked absolutely tiny. 

We ducked away from this group of orcas for a second to check out some hauled-out sea lions on Whale Rocks. Once we got there, we heard another report further south, of a humpback whale feeding on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We motored another 10 minutes and, without any trouble at all, spotted a beautiful humpback named Split Fin. This was just too easy! Not even 20 minutes had gone by in the trip yet without our passengers actively watching whales. What an unbelievable treat!

To keep the momentum going, we ran into the same group of killer whales on our way back to Friday Harbor, ending the trip with the maximum possible whale time we could given our three-hour window. Considering some days we have to travel over an hour to track down a whale, today was a remarkable treat!