July 27, 2022

Whale "trifecta" south of San Juan Island

Elle | M/V Kestrel | 7/27/2022 | 2:00 PM

After departing from Friday Harbor we headed south in San Juan Channel. Near Cattle Point Lighthouse, we entered some choppy water, produced by fast currents mixing together, as well as wind. Above the waves, we saw a fifteen-foot puff of air: an exhalation from a humpback whale! The whale surfaced and dove, rarely staying under the water for more than a few minutes as it fought against a six-knot current. The whale didn’t make much progress as we watched but kept swimming steadily. After watching this fifty-foot animal for a long while, we moved on to see what else was out there. We entered middle channel and headed northwest. We spotted two small vessels from Straitwatch and Soundwatch in the distance. These organizations do research on vessel traffic and noise, and educate and correct boaters around southern resident killer whales. Seeing these boats, we slowed down and started looking for orcas. We spotted a huge black fin. A big male from the J-Pod was foraging on the west side of San Juan Island. We watched this whale from a half-mile away, so as not to interfere with his foraging. After getting some great photos of this whale with Mt. Baker in the background, we set back towards cattle point. Near Salmon Bank, we encountered a minke whale! Minkes like to hang out near banks, which are like underwater hills, because that’s where the fish are. We could spot big groups of fish by looking for tons of birds on the surface. Speaking of birds, we saw nearly twenty brown pelicans hanging out with some cormorants at Whale Rocks, just south of Lopez Island. These are rare to see this far north so we were stoked! Behind the pelicans lay a small group of Steller’s sea lions, a migratory pinniped that usually heads further north by this time in the summer. Today was a spectacular wildlife day with plenty of birds, pinnipeds, and “the trifecta” of whales!