Today we learned a very important lesson…
Minke Whales have TERRIBLE breath.
We headed south out of the harbor, went down through Cattle Pass and ended up at Hein Bank. There were birds everywhere. Always a good sign. We stopped and waited to see what else might be enjoying the small bait fish. Apparently nothing.
We continued on in a southerly direction and about ten minutes later saw a black body come briefly to the surface. We stopped and waited for another surfacing. Too sleek to be an Orca with a dorsal much too small. Perhaps a Minke? The whale was well over a quarter mile away so we continued on, slowly creeping forward, not wanting to interfere but hoping for a better look.
Surprise! Suddenly a second Minke surfaced ahead of us. Capt Craig put the boat into neutral and shut down the engines. We watched the whale surface again and then dive in our direction. We moved to the other side of the boat and waited in anticipation. Nothing. Then we noticed a light glow moving up our port side. Just below the surface the Minke shot past like a torpedo and surfaced in front of us.
At first everyone was very polite, quietly eyeballing their fellow passengers to see who the offender could possibly be. The stench was overwhelming. In a moment it was gone, but returned the next time the Minke surfaced upwind of us. A visible sigh of relief swept the boat as everyone realized it was coming from the whale.
We spent the next half hour watching the two Minkes gracefully swooping around the boat. The weather was getting nicer and the sun was coming out. The wind died down and it was quiet enough to hear the whales surface before we saw them. Even their Minke stealth was no match for the glassy seas. We could see every ripple and every footprint they created.
Thus far my Minke encounters have mostly involved specks in the distance diving for long periods of time and then disappearing all together. These two were surfacing every couple of minutes and were staying in a close enough proximity that we were able to sit with our engines off and watch their graceful maneuvers without ever moving.
We made on more stop on the way home for two Harbor Porpoises. Again we shut the engines down and sat. The two seemed surprisingly content and kept on foraging. A handful of seals crept in toward us, eyeing us curiously with their big, brown eyes. We saw a flurry of activity at the surface and one seal propelled itself toward a small fish, leaping out of the water to capture the miniature snack.
It was an extraordinary day that I firmly believe deserves the title “epic whale watch”. They may not have been the whales we were expecting, but they gave us one of the very best whale watches of the season.
Coolest Minke Whales ever.
Naturalist, San Juan Safaris