For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Sunday, July 19, 2009

J-Pod Boys, J-Pod Babies, and a Bait Ball

This afternoon on the Western Prince we met up with J-Pod as they headed north along the southwest side of San Juan Island. It was a cool day because we got to see all of the big males and both calves in the pod. We started paralleling them in front of Cattle Point Lighthouse, which is always a picturesque photo opportunity. The photo below shows on the left adult male J1 Ruffles (who had a piece of kelp trailing from his fin for several surfacings), then three siblings who from left to right are calf J45, youngster J40 Suttles, and young male J30 Riptide. (As always, click on a photo to see a larger view - several of these look much better bigger!)

We got a closer look at J30 Riptide a moment later. When he was a juvenile he was so hard to pick out of a crowd, but at the age of 14 his fin has sprouted to a very tall height for a young male. He's easy to find now!

Another young male is J34 Doublestuf who is 11 and pictured below. His fin has really "sprouted" this year. When he first came back this spring I didn't recognize him because he's grown so much from last year! We also saw with him the rest of the family group known as "The Cookies" - his mom J22 Oreo and younger sibling J38 Cookie.

J27 Blackberry, yet another J-Pod male, is pictured below. It's great to see so many tall fins, because a few years ago J1 Ruffles was the only breeding age male in the pod!

Here's a cool shot of a rhinoceros auklet flying over J27 Blackberry:

Next we followed along J27 Blackberry and his younger brother J39 Mako for a little while. They soon met up with another small group of whales and started doing what looked like some foraging. While all the whales had been traveling north at a steady pace, this small group totally stalled out and started circling, probably in pursuit of some fish. One or two of them even logged at the surface, which is just what it sounds like - hanging at the surface like a log!

I was really trying to figure out who it was we were watching, and it took a good close look at my photos after the trip and some input from my friend Jeanne to figure out who it was. We had the three siblings J27 Blackberry, J31 Tsuchi, and J39 Mako with new calf J44, who is the offpsring of J17 Princess Angeline. What really threw me off was seeing J31 Tsuchi with the calf J44, because Tsuchi doesn't have any offpsring of her own yet! At the age of 14, she could very well be ready to have a calf soon, so maybe she was practicing by babysitting J44 for J17 Princess Angeline, the mom who wasn't in sight! J35 Talequah, the older daughter of Princess Angeline, was present, too, so maybe she was keeping an eye on her baby sibling, too.

From left to right J35 Talequah, J27 Blackberry, calf J44, and J31 Tsuchi - an odd mixture of two whales each from two different family groups!

On our way back to Friday Harbor we swung out by Salmon Bank where we could see a huge bait ball. A bait ball is a school of fish that has been hearded together by diving birds like auklets, and then other birds like sea gulls take advantage of the condensed group of food by feeding on the little fish from the surface. Sometimes there are just a few birds involved, but they can become quite large with hundreds or even of thousands of birds engaged in the feeding frenzy. Here are a bunch of glaucous-winged and Heermann's gulls that were part of this bait ball:

The rhinoceros auklets, a stout little bird related to puffins, do most of the work by diving down and herding the bait fish together. They're remarkable birds in that they often carry several fish in their mouth at a time, pushing them into grooves on the roof of their mouth to carry them or allow them to go back for more. Here a rhino auklet runs along the surface of the water as he tries to become airborne:

Success! He has taken flight, with two pretty large fish in his beak:

Did you join us on this or another trip with Western Prince? We always appreciate your reviews on Trip Advisor.


Warren Baker said...

Fact packed post again Monika. Send a bit of that ''fair weather'' over here please. I'm sooooooo fed up with the wind!

Monika said...

Warren, I'll do my best! It sure is hard to spot birds in that wind you've been having.

The K said...

Great shot of the auklet flying with the fish!