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Sunday, September 7, 2008

The T19s

The setting for our whale encounter this afternoon was perfect: sunny skies, and right in front of Patos lighthouse and Mt. Baker in the distance:

At first the four whales we were with (T18, T19, male T19B, and T19C) were being typical transients: two or three short breaths at the surface, a dive of more than five minutes, than another surfacing in a completely unpredictable location. Before this summer, I really hadn't seen transients all that often, but over the last month it seems like they're everywhere. I had never witnessed a kill before this year, either, but as we spotted some splashing on the surface of the water it became apparent that I was about to witness my third kill of the summer. Male T19B was in pursuit of a harbor porpoise. Can you see the porpoise in both photos below? It looks so tiny!

Suddenly the splashing stopped and all the whales were down for another longer dive, and I presume this is when the kill actually happened, because when they came up again they were engaging in another typical transient behavior, what I call the "celebration" after a kill. I don't know if they're really celebrating, but it certainly seems like it as they breach, tail slap, and spyhop almost every time after feeding. Then, after another longer dive and just before we had to leave, they surprised us by surfacing right off our starboard side! We had mostly been 200-300 yards away from them, and this was the closest I had ever seen a transient. This female is T19:

Another female (either T18 or T19C) surfaced right behind T19, and Ivan confirmed what we had heard from another boat just beside us - she was carrying something (a piece of porpoise flesh?!) in her mouth. You can't really see it in the photo below, but I can imagine there being something (more of a grayish color) in the front of her mouth just under the surface of the water. I'll tell myself you can see it in the photo because I know it was there! What strikes me about this photo though is that you can see her rib cage! Probably not a good sign....

Another fantastic transient encounter!! And better yet, the word is residents are on their way back in from the ocean right now!

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