The last four days have been incredible for crew and guests on our Whale Watch and Wildlife Tours in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. Nearly every tour this September has encountered whales including humpbacks, a fin whale, both Transient (mammal-hunting) and our Resident fish-eating Orcas. We’ll have to double check the historical data, but this may be a September record for whales present in the Salish Sea in our 20 years in business.
Like the weekend, Monday and Tuesday (Sept 28th and 29th) was full of autumn wildlife, both big and small. On Monday, Captain Mike, crew Emily and myself, and many happy passengers motored south through San Juan Channel on a sunny and crisp fall afternoon. In addition to killer whales, we received word early that an active juvenile humpback whale was sighted several miles south of Lopez and San Juan Islands. On approach, we could easily see his 15 foot long pectoral fins flopping in the air as he performed several back floats. We quietly observed his acrobatics of breaching, tail lopping, and several fluke-up dives before motoring along to our Southern Resident Orcas.
Members from L-Pod, the largest pod in the Southern Resident Community, were milling and foraging along the southwest side of San Juan Island near False Bay. Newest member of the SRKW community, L122, was tucked close in with its mother, L91. Although little L122 (less than a month old!) is tiny compared to its adult mother, L122 appears to be healthy, rambunctious, and full of zest. L92 Crewser, a 21 year old male, also gave our vessel a good look over as he cruised-on by.
Tuesday was equally as exciting with encounters with two different ecotypes of Orcas. After motoring south through Cattle Pass once again, we veered south to the shoreline along Lopez Island. There, we encountered the T49As, a well-known family of transient mammal-hunting Orcas. These whales are considered “in-shore specialists” and are primarily encountered along rocky shorelines in the Salish Sea where they are likely hunting seals, Stellar’s sea lions, and porpoise.
As with the day before, we traveled on to meet up with members of Lpod along the west side of San Juan Island. Many of the large males in Lpod, such as L41 Mega and L89 Solstice, could be seen swimming solo off in the distance, perhaps foraging on their own, which is not uncommon for adult male killer whales. Several mothers and juveniles including L121 (born last year!) and L119 came together and were playing, rolling, pectoral fin slapping, and tail lobbing as they continued north along San Juan Island. At one special moment, mom Calypso L94 raised her son Windsong L121 out of the water and we heard a surprising and very rare above water vocalization!
Overall, we’ve had a very special September with great autumn weather and amazing wildlife.
M/V Sea Lion