Whales were reported in Haro Strait as we got underway and we headed down around the south end of Lopez Island on our way. As we cruised through Swirl Rocks we found a harbor seal hauled out and as we passed there was another surprise in store. A newborn pup was on her other side. It was so cute!
Newborn harbor seal pup.
We would have more babies to visit with later in the trip but for now we pushed off to the westside of San Juan Island. But the whales would be the first cool thing to see on the way. A group of gulls and rhinceros auklets were working at a bait ball and we slowly cruised up to get a good look. Good thing too because there were tens of Spiny Dogfish, one of our local shark species, feeding on them at the surface. It was really cool to see! When the fish raced off, followed closely by the sharks and birds we headed in the opposite direction. We cruised over Salmon Bank heading up island, and it wasn't long until we found the first whales near Eagle Point.
Obviously the fishing was good as there were many private boaters in the area, but these whales must have been full for the moment because they appeared to have another agenda. They were pushed up close to the rocks and it wasn't long before we saw at least one of the reasons. An adult female spyhopped with kelp draped over her pec fins. Others were dragging kelp with their dorsals. They seemed to be enjoying their fun. As they came further south and parallel to us I was able to identify them---members of L-pod and K-pod. We had Spirit (L22) and her adult son, Solstice (L89). With them were the K12s, including the matriarch, Sequim (K12), Sekiu (K22), Rainshadow (K37), Saturna (K43), and Sekiu's teenage son, Tika (K33).
As most of the whales traveled down island Solstice remained up at Eagle Point and seemed to be in foraging mode. Tika, though further south than him, lollygagged behind instead of swimming with the rest of the K12s. His mom continued on with her own mother and siblings but eventually she turned and went back to him. They both went down on a deeper dive and when they surfaced they were together and heading south after the others in a bit of a hurry. It was very interesting to see and makes me wonder what was "said" on their dive. Was Sekiu tired of her son lollygagging? It's fun to ponder the possibilities even though we'll never know.
Spyhop with kelp.
As the whales grouped back up they got even more active with breach after back dive after tail slap after cartwheel. Sekiu breached numerous times as they pushed offshore towards Salmon Bank.
Sekiu (K22) breaching.
Rainshadow (K37) headstand.
As they pushed off shore towards the south we headed northwest towards another group of whales that was crossing Haro Strait in resting mode. We hung back as they passed, definitely grouped up in the typical resting fashion. It was the J16s, including the two new calves, J50 and J52. They'd be up for five or six breaths before they dove deeper and we waited aways back to get another look before we headed back east towards our dock. But this family came up from their dive much closer than expected, having dove well beneath several closer boats and surfacing off our port side. While I hate to even attempt to presume what the whales were thinking I was wondering if they were bothered by a large sailboat that was motoring up to them each time they surfaced.
We got great looks at each member of the family as they swam down our port side and with the engines off we could hear their blows and it was pretty magical. We got a great look at J50's rake marks that she's had since birth and J52 popped up in his mother's slipstream, raising his head high as if getting a look over his mother's back. Very cute! (**Please note while these seem very close they are still taken with a 400mm lens and cropped for detail.)
J50's rake marks.
J52 taking a peek.
They continued on past us and we left heading back south as they continued east towards Lime Kiln State Park. On our way back in we found another bait ball with more Spiny Dogfish. With the sun out I was able to get a few photos of them as they chomped down on a school of herring.
Spiny Dogfish underwater.
Spiny Dogfish chowing down on a herring bait ball.
The whales we had visited in the morning were still on the west side of San Juan Island when we left the dock in the late afternoon and we headed out the same way we had earlier. There were still plenty of bait balls around but another special treat were two tufted puffins at Iceberg Point. One came up fairly close to the boat and I was able to get some decent shots of them. It was a real nice way to start the trip.
Tufted puffin at Iceberg Point.
As we got off the westside of San Juan Island we found the K12s right away. Tika (K33) and his mother Sekiu (K22) were parallel to each other and us pushing up island. The rest of the K12s were in shore, also heading up island. Solstice (L89) showed up with Tika and as the whales slowly caught up to one another Rainshadow (K37) peeled off from his mother and younger sister, Saturna (K43), to join the two older males.
The three of them became very social and tactile, rolling around and on top of each other. They weren't going anywhere in a hurry, they were completely involved in themselves. We saw tail slaps, pec slaps, lunges, and even a backdive by Solstice. They continued to romp about for over an hour, with Rainshadow leaving first. He headed back north after his mother and sister while the two older males continued south as they socialized.
Tika (K33) and Solstice (L89) surface almost simultaneously.
Solstice does an upside down tail lob.
Aerial scan by Solstice (L89)
But Rainshadow wasn't to be gone too long. From behind us three whales approached and it wasn't long before we were able to confirm it was Rainshadow back with his mom, Sequim (K12), and little sister Saturna. The three were cutting through the glassy waters and it was really a beautiful pass.
Three of the K12s (Sequim, Rainshadow, & Saturna).
But they weren't the only whales coming south. Not by a long shot! Almost on their tails came the J16s, appearing a little more lively than when we had seen them earlier in the day as they moseyed south.
J50 and her mother, Slick (J16) heading down island.
After them came a group of whales we hadn't seen earlier in the day. It was the K13s! They were in ones and twos with Skagit (K13), and her two sons Scoter (K25) and Cali (K34), spread out but in the lead. Spock (K20) and her son Comet (K38) were offshore from her sister and nephew, Deadhead (K27) and Ripple (K44).
As we headed off, leaving the whales behind us I watched one whale spyhop in the silvery, late evenings waters. What a beautiful goodbye.