The residents remained MIA for most of the day Saturday until we got exciting news just before 3pm...the tide had turned and the whales were riding the flood in. Rumors that all three pods had been seen near Race Rocks was enough to buoy our spirits as we waited for the annual Orca Sing event to commence at Lime Kiln lighthouse. Even though the whales can (and will) do what they want we expected that they would come in and turn north to ride the tide, expending as little energy as possible, but once again they show they're the ones in charge. They turned south, bucked the tide, and headed to Salmon Bank area where they (presumably) stayed all night.
Early the next morning after scouring the waters for whales we headed back to the west side after stopping for some coffee in town and boy were we just in time! As I pulled into the turnout I saw an adult female surface with a juvenile breaching beside her. No time to stop! I backed out and continued to Lime Kiln where we arrived just in time to see three whales pass us going north. It was Nugget (L55), Jade (L118), and Lapis (L103). But no sooner had they passed by did they turn around and head south.
Lapis (L103) going north first, and then doubling back south again.
Of course, every once in a while some one has to ruin the moment. This morning it was thanks to an irresponsible pilot who buzzed us, the whales, and the lighthouse within a hundred feet or so! Jeanne Hyde made an interesting note on the whale's vocals that when the plane came down low and flew over they went dead silent until after he had passed. After several long seconds they resumed echolocating. While I don't believe he realized the whales were there what he did was still illegal and he has been reported. Remember, if you're on your own two two feet, in a boat, kayak, SUP, plane, etc. you are responsible for maintaining safe distances from the whales (and other people!). It's also nice to just be a decent human being and not try to deafen those of us attempting to enjoy the early morning at the lighthouse.
The plane. It's kind of like driving a getaway car with a vanity plate. Who won't recognize that?
Anyway, after the plane puttered off and the quiet descended again we realized the whales seemed committed, at least for the moment, to going south so we toodled down the west side, stopping off at American Camp where we encountered a furry "friend". This young one was hunting bunnies in the grass but paused long enough to give us a good once-over.
A young fox at American Camp.
But it wasn't long before we were back at Lime Kiln and we weren't alone! The whales had turned north and were blasting past the lighthouse like they were on a mission. The first whales we saw were members of the K12 matriline, including matriarch Sequim (K12) and her oldest daughter, Sekiu (K22). Following them at a more sedate pace were members of L-pod (the L4s and L47s).
Ophelia (L27) was one of the first L-pod whales that passed the lighthouse heading north.
Surprise! (L86) gives us a close pass. This photo, taken from shore, is uncropped.
Mixed in with the Ls were members of J-pod, group A. In recent years J-pod has been noted splitting into two distinct groups periodically. Group A consists of Granny (J2), Samish (J14) and her family, Shachi (J19) and her family, and honoree J-pod member, Onyx (L87).
Samish (J14) cruises by.
Eclipse (J41) and her young son, J51, were there too.
Onyx (L87) kelping as he approached the lighthouse.
But the J-As weren't just with the Ls! The K14s were mixed in with them too! The K14s includes matriarch Lea (K14) and her three kids, Lobo (K26), Yoda (K36), and Kelp (K42). Yoda was with T'ilem I'nges as they passed by and when I saw her the next day she would be hanging out closely with another mom and even younger calf. Is she learning the ropes of being a mom? We can only hope!
Yoda (K36) and T'ilem I'nges (J49) porpoising past Lime Kiln.
As those whales disappeared to the north the waters grew still and the hydrophone was quiet, but a quick tally in my head told me that not all the whales had come north. Would they? Would the ones that had passed turn back south? These are the questions I ask myself each and every time! But I wouldn't have to wait long for the answer. To the south more blows were seen. More whales were coming north!
First up were the K13s. This family consists of three generations. Skagit (K13) is the matriarch and has four surviving offspring that travel with her. They are Spock (K20), Scoter (K25), Deadhead (K27), and Cali (K34). Her two daughters, Spock and Deadhead, also have their own children---Spock's son Comet (K38) and Deadhead's son Ripple (K44).
The K13s---left to right, Cali (K34), Scoter (K25), Skagit (K13), and Deadhead (K27).
One great thing about the San Juan Islands is that everywhere you look you have a chance to see orcas. After the K13s passed I cast a glance skyward and saw yet another orca! It's Kenmore Air's wild orca sea plane and it was flying at a much more respectful altitude!
The wild orca plane by Kenmore Air! (this photo, unlike the other plane photo IS cropped.)
The orca parade was hardly over though. Following the K13s was one more large group of whales, consisting of five matrilines. It was the J16s, the J17s, the J22s, the K16s, and Cappuccino (K21). This group of J-pod, excluding the J16s, is known as Group B. The J16s often switch between groups or swim on their own. Cappuccino is the last of his own matriline and usually swims with two unrelated whales, Opus (K16) and her teenage son, Sonata (K35).
Oreo (J22) spyhops. You can ID her by the "beauty marks" in her eye patch.
J52 swims beside his mother, Alki (J36).
Polaris (J28) kelping.
Tahlequah (J35) spyhops.
Sonata (K35) and Doublestuf (J34) swimming together.
With the exception of the J16s these whales would swim south later in the day and be seen last around False Bay around 9pm.