Today myself, Alex and Captain Mike left the dock on the Sea Lion with a boat full of excited passengers, great whale reports and a beautiful evening ahead of us. As we left Friday Harbor we headed South past Griffin Bay in the San Juan Channel. We stopped near Goose Island (still on fire from 4th of July negligence and hot dry weather) to check out some seals lazily swimming in the current, popping their heads out to check on us as we passed. This time of year holds lots of curious young seal pups as their mothers go back to daily seal life and leave the weaned young, “weaners” on their own. A tumultuous time for a young seal, qeaners face many challenges like avoiding predators, finding enough food, and finding out the consequences of being TOO curious. As a result, not all of them will make it. The ones that do, however, might just pass on any genetic traits that helped them survive. We wish them luck!
As we finished contemplating the existence of seals, we rounded Cattle Point and began heading North in the Haro Strait, the body of water that makes one of the borders between the United States and Canada, Eh? The Strait was exceptionally clear both in and out of the water. We had fantastic views of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Reiner, two dormant volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain range. This was particularly exciting because, due to haze from fires in Canada over the past few weeks, we were denied these spectacular views.
Looking into the water was no less beautiful; we passed over a large swarm or “smack” of crystal jellies, silver-dollar-sized clear jellyfish that feed on minute animals in the zooplankton by stunning them with their Nematocysts, or stinging cells, then digesting them. Seeing hundreds of these living gems slowly pulsing through the turquoise water was worth the boatride in itself. We also saw numerous pink, or Humpy, salmon jumping out of the water. The water was clear enough to watch the happy fish swim away after it’s impressive leap.
However, we didn’t come out here looking for salmon and jellies, we were scanning the water for black dorsal fins, which we finally encountered near False Bay. It was J Pod (or J Squad if you’re really cool)! The first whale we encountered, easily identifiable by his massive dorsal fin and distinct saddle patch, was L87 (Onyx). A victim of hard times when he lost his matriarch, he left L Pod and began traveling with K Pod for a few years before settling in with the J2 matriline of J Pod. Knowing this, we could assume that the J2′s were present and sure enough the next dorsal fins we saw belonged to J2 (Granny) and J14 (Samish). Granny is the uncontested matriarch of J Pod. At the ripe age of 104 (oldest known killer whale), she is still spiritedly leading the squad.
We also got some great looks at the J19 group, led by J19 (Sachi). She was joined by her daughter J41 (Eclipse) and her new grandbaby J51. The new claves are always exciting to see, energetic miniature Orcas clumsily surfacing right behind mom. J27 (Blackberry), a very distinguished male, also travels with this matriline.
As all of the groups were quite spread out and swimming nowhere in general (“milling”), we assumed that they were searching for and eating Chinook salmon, their favorite food.
We excitedly watched most of J Squad feed, play, and swim for a while as colors from the impending sunset danced on the surface of the water. It was truly a beautiful moment. Although we all would have been happy staying on the West side all evening, we decided to say our goodbyes and begin heading back to Friday Harbor.
On our way back we again encountered some seals and many seabirds before arriving at the dock.
Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!
Naturalist Mike J
M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris