On the morning of March 4th we received word on San Juan Island---J-pod had been sighted! Lucky for us we had a boat leaving midday and we knew which way we wanted to head. Towards Victoria!
As we approached the southern end of Vancouver Island we spotted blow after blow. We had definitely spotted the whales. No one really knew what to expect; after a year of unimaginable losses for the Southern Residents, and J-pod in particular, the groupings and status of the pod as individuals, matrilines, and a whole remained to be seen. In a certain sense, even now, it still does and if I were to guess will be that way for some time.
Some of the first whales we saw--Tahlequah (J35), Notch (J47), and Oreo (J22).
Some of the first whales I was able to identify were Mike (J26), Talequah (J35) and Notch (J47) of the J17s and Oreo (J22). Mike was ahead of the others and the other three were swimming slightly ahead of another large group of whales. These included Oreo's teenage son, Cookie (J38). His dorsal fin has definitely grown more over the winter. This duo was a trio until last December when Doublestuf (J34) was found floating in the waters off of Sechelt, British Columbia in the Strait of Georgia. He had apparently died of blunt force trauma to the back and head. Was it a ship strike? An explosion or sonar incident from the Navy? An accident with another whale? We will likely never know for certain. What we do know is that Doublestuf was taken far too soon and even though it was expected it was still quite a shock to my system to see this beloved family without him.
Teenage (sprouter) male, Cookie (J38).
With this group were the newly-orphaned children of Samish (J14). Up until August they swam with her but she disappeared suddenly and without warning sometime in early August. As if that wasn't enough their great grandmother, Granny (J2), would be noted as missing by early December (announced January 2017), however she was last seen for certain by CWR on October 12th. Hy'shqa (J37) and her son, T'ilem Inges (J49) were side-by-side. Younger sister, Suttles (J40) was also in the mix.
Hy'shqa (J37) and her soon-to-be 5-year old son, T'ilem Inges (J49).
A second group of whales appeared and swam quickly to catch up to the others. By the time we caught back up with them Blackberry (J27) and his siblings, Tsuchi (J31) and Mako (J39), had joined up with Hy'shqa, Suttles, and T'ilem Inges. The six swam together as they headed across Haro Strait northward.
Tsuchi (J31), Suttles (J40), and Blackberry (J27) swimming in Haro Strait.
Still to the south were more whales and we stopped to say a quick hello to Se-Yi-Chn (J45) and the J-pod adoptee, Onyx (L87). Onyx lost his mother in 2008 and had most recently been the near-constant companion to Granny (J2). After she passed many people wondered what would happen to him. He had survived the loss of his mother and many adopted mothers. What would happen now? We still don't know, but for now he remains with the family he has most recently adopted. It is heartening to see him with Se-Yi-Chn, a newly orphaned young male as well. Maybe they're sharing a common grief. Maybe Onyx is taking the young whale under his "wing". We can truly only hope they're finding some comfort in each other's presence.