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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Superpod Split - L-Pod in San Juan Channel!

What an interesting day! Last night a superpod (all members of all three pods) headed north towards the Fraser River, and this morning they were found coming back south down Boundary Pass, a pretty typical route for them. But then a very strange thing happened - most of L-Pod broke off from everybody else and came down some of the inland channels, first through President's Channel and then south through San Juan Channel. It is only about once or twice a season we get resident whales traveling through San Juan Channel, and today was one of those days!

Here's a map to show you what the whales did today. J-Pod, K-Pod, and two small L-Pod family groups took the "normal" route south to the west side of San Juan Island. The rest of L-Pod took the bizarre route:

I was out on the Western Explorer this afternoon and literally all we had to do was pull out of the marina and we could see whales in front of us. The whales were in two groups, and we met up with the lead group, which seemed to be all of the L12 subpod, a group of ten whales, including L12 Alexis and male L85 Mystery:

While it was sunny and clear in Friday Harbor, as we headed south through San Juan Channel we encountered first low-lying clouds and then fog. Check out this Washington State Ferry emerging of the mist with a hazy Mt. Baker in the background:

We continued following the L12s into the fog, and L41 Mega was, as expected, with his sisters and older female L25 Ocean Sun. Here is Mega and one of his sisters, L77 Matia:

After a time we broke off to check out some other wildlife, including harbor seals, a couple of sea bird nesting colonies, a bald eagle nest, and three bald eagles. Then on our way back to Friday Harbor we encountered L-Pod again down at Griffin Bay, and by this time the fog had mostly burned off. After the L12s went by we were able to confirm that most of the rest of L-Pod was present. "The big part of L-Pod", as I call them, spends a lot of time out in the open ocean so we don't see them as much as the other Southern Residents. For this reason, it's always fun to see them.

The L5 and L54 matrilines were there, and several of their members are pictured in the photo below. From left to right we have L100 Indigo (an 8 year-old male), L5 Tanya (a 45 year-old female), an unidentified whale, and L73 Flash (a 23 year-old male). Flash has a wavy dorsal fin and is often confused for J1 Ruffles, but if you look closely he has a notch near the base of his fin that is the sure-fire way to tell them apart:

There are so many big male dorsal fins in L-Pod, which is great to see! I remember not too long ago when we had only 3 breeding age males in the entire population, and its neat to have watched so many young males grow up. Here is L92 Crewser (15 year-old male) surfacing with L84 Nyssa (19 year-old male). You can see that males' dorsal fins don't grow at the same rate, as Crewser is younger but seems to have a taller fin. It's not often you get to make a direct comparison like this!

It wasn't all males, though. We had a small group fo whales come porposing by, including youngster L105 Fluke. It seems like every time I see Fluke he's flying out of the water in some fashion or another. Check out this sequence of him surfacing:

After getting back to port I headed out to the west side of San Juan Island to check on the progress of the southbound J and K Pods. Off Land Bank I got a nice pass by the "real" J1 Ruffles - no notch on this one! He was the closest whale there was to shore - the others were spread out up to several miles offshore.

I heard that L-Pod came out of Cattle Pass and porpoised north to meet up with Js, Ks, and the rest of Ls. The three pods were only separated for a couple of hours but I guess they couldn't wait to meet up again! We've had a superpod going on for days now, and it seems like there are whales everywhere. I know, I's a rough life.

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Unknown said...

Lucky!! Great photos and story.. Those whales sure keep you guys on your toes guessing.. I guess they don't want you guys to get too bored with life.. :) Hope they are still superpodding when I get there in a week... Can't wait and hope they are close to shore since I will be shorebound this time around. Have a great weekend!

Monika said...

Michele - I hope they're still superpodding next week too! (I like superpod as a verb!) With these whales it never fails: as soon as we think we know what they're going to do, they do something completely different.