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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Magnificent Minkes and Outstanding Orcas

A real summer heat wave has hit us here in the islands. While we've "only" reached temperatures in the 90s compared to the mainland that is topping out at over 105 degrees, its certainly hot enough that it was a real pleasure to get out on the water and cool down! I never thought I would wear just a T-shirt and not the anti-exposure suit on one of our zodiac trips, but today was one of those days.

This morning on the Western Explorer trip we saw no fewer than three different cetacean species: harbor porpoise, minke whales, and orcas. For whatever reason there seems to be more minkes around this season, and Captain Ivan has a spot marked on his GPS where he's been reliably seeing them just about every day a little ways south of Salmon Bank. Today we saw three minkes out there, and got good looks at two of them. Here's the first one:

Minkes are among the smallest baleen whales at about 30 feet long. They are common worldwide but are often overlooked by whale watchers in favor of larger, more charismatic species. It does take patience to watch them - they are affectionately known as slinky minkes by the locals since they are hard to track and can go down for long dives - but they are really cool animals if you take the time to observe them. The second minke we saw was a bit smaller, probably no more than about 18 feet long indicating it was probably a young animal:

After surfacing a little ways off our starboard side it showed definite curiosity about us, as it swam along the length of the boat before surfacing right off the bow. Its not often you get to see the entire body of a whale and observe it as it swims. This little whale showed us how beautiful minkes are, with some swirled white marks on their sides and white chevrons on their pectoral fins. I just held up my camera and clicked with no idea what I would get, but in the shot below you can see one of our young passengers looking at the minke underwater. The head of the whale is to the left, and the brightest white marking you see is the chevron on the pec fin:

As we left the minkes the orcas weren't far away. All three pods were in the area this afternoon and we met up with a very spread out L-Pod. The whales were foraging in ones and twos and we got the chance to check out several different groups. The L12 subgroup spends a decent amount of time around the San Juan Islands in the summer, but the "big part" of L-Pod doesn't come in nearly as often so its always exciting to see them since we don't see the whales nearly as often.

L92 Crewser, a 14 year-old male, with his mother L26 Baba

L12 Alexis

L72 Racer, who had five year-old calf L105 Fluke close in tow

Just as I was getting home at the end of the day, I noticed a pair of hairy woodpeckers flying around the buildings above the marina. I only see this species a couple times a year around here, and had never seen one this close to home, so it was a cool sighting! They were down in the shade and a little ways off so it the photos didn't turn out great, but here's proof anyway that they were here:


Warren Baker said...

I like that underwater shot of the minke. Well done with the Hairy Woody!

PS stop rubbing it in about your lovely weather, it has been an abysmal summer here!! :-(

Monika said...

Thanks Warren! You can take the heat away from us and keep it, if you'd like. Too hot for me! Luckily its started to cool down.