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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"We've made contact! We've made contact!"

Reports this morning were of all three resident pods heading out west towards the open ocean, so it looked like we might not see orcas on our Western Explorer trip early this afternoon. We headed out with sunny skies and flat-calm water, ready to join the search for any transient whales that might be in the are and off to look at all the other wildlife the San Juan Islands have to offer.

Just a few hundred yards from our slip we spotted a juvenile harbor seal who was foraging on some bait fish. Whenever the seal dove, all the bait fish would start jumping into the air! As we cruised north harbor porpoise could be seen in small groups of two or three animals everywhere. We stopped to watch a bald eagle swoop down towards the water (it failed to catch a fish), and also looked at red-necked phalaropes, rhinoceros auklets, common murres, pigeon guillemots, and several species of gulls.

Patos Lighthouse, with cool cloud formations behind

Captain Ivan knew that no one had searched near Sucia and Patos Islands yet, and also knew that the transient orcas in the area yesterday have been seen in that area before, so that's the direction we headed next, following his hunch that if the whales were still in the area, that's where they might be. As we passed Patos Lighthouse we saw some rooster tails up ahead of us - a telltale sign of Dall's porpoise! We haven't seen as many Dall's this year so we were excited to go check them out, when all of a sudden three MUCH bigger dorsal fins surfaced behind the porpoise - killer whales!! There was a stunned second of silence before the whoops of excitement began. Then Ivan got to get on the marine radio to tell the other whale watch boats "We've made contact, we've made contact!" meaning that we've found whales - an honorable moment in a whale watch captain's day as he gets to be the hero of the hour.

It's always so exciting to be the boat that first spots the whales. The orcas travel up to 100 miles a day and one never knows where they will show up first thing in the morning, but the residents have some pretty typical traveling patterns. Transients are much harder to find, so luck and Ivan's intuition were definitely on our side today!

There were four whales in the group we found today - females T18 and T19, 14 year-old male T19B, and youngster T19C. T19B has a "sprouting" dorsal fin that, for now at least, has a very characteristic lean, making him easy to identify from a distance:


Soon after we found them, the whales started a resting pattern, traveling slowly in a tight group and going down for four minute dives. On one surfacing they came up in a beautiful line all together:


T19, on the left, is the mother of T19B and T19C. T18, on the right, has two notches in her fin. It is unknown what her relationship is to the other three, but she is often with them:


Here's another look at that amazing dorsal fin on T19B:


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

4 comments:

Warren Baker said...

Some of that fresh sea air would have been nice on my patch today Monika, the air felt thick and clammy today!

PS i'll update my august list on tomorrows post.

Lancs and Lakes Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika

Just found out my name has been put forward to help do cetacean surveys on the ferries out of our local port. Someone must think I know what I'm doing cetacean-wise? Anyone know what a Cuvier's Beaked Whale actually looks like?

Cheers
Dave

Monika said...

Warren - We've definitely gone back to cool, drizzly weather after our heat wave here....you're welcome to some of our fog, for sure!

Dave - That sounds awesome! Good question about the Cuvier's beaked whale ;) If I ever see one I'll be sure to let you know.

Julie said...

That sounds awesome! Good question about the Cuvier's beaked whale ;)
___________________
Julie
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