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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spectacular Sunday

This afternoon we had an amazing trip on the Western Prince. In addition to seeing about twenty huge Steller sea lions and four playful Dall's porpoises, we had a beautiful time with members of J-Pod off the westside of San Juan Island.

It was one of those lazy afternoons where we could spend a lot of time with our engines off just drifting in the flat-calm waters as the whales milled and foraged everywhere around us - no matter which direction you looked you could be watching whales. At one point we saw a young whale heading towards our bow. We didn't see it for a while, until I looked down and saw the whale on his/her side underwater right as it passed our bow! It was so cool because the whale never even surfaced in our immediate vicinity, but we could see it as it swam by underwater. It's hard to get photos of the whales underwater because of the distortion and reflections, but this shot captured it pretty well. The whale is tipped over onto its right side, and you're seeing the left side of the whale with its white eyepatch and chin near the top of the photo and its flank white patch near the bottom:

We had nice looks at most members of J-Pod, including J27 Blackberry, pictured below, who was traveling with his younger brother J39 Mako:

Here is J41 Eclipse, a special little whale to me because I saw her shortly after she was born back in 2005. It's been awesome to watch her grow up over the last four years. Her mom J19 Shachi was swimming nearby.

J33 Keet (13 years old) and J36 Alki (10 years old), a brother and sister, were splashing around together, doing lots of surface lunging and upside down swimming. We also saw Alki do three spyhops in a row. Here is J33 Keet surfacing with San Juan Island and Mt. Baker in the background:

We were just parked watching the whales head offshore when all of a sudden the whales on both sides of us turned towards us at the same time. There was nothing to do but wait and see what would happen. I've heard that sometimes on a bright sunny day when the boat casts a shadow salmon may take refuge under the boat and whales may come over to pursue those fish. I never really believed it until today, when it sure looked like that's what was happening. The whales came towards us from two directions, swam under the boat, and spent several minutes circling around doing sharp turns at the surface that we often associate with foraging. During all of this one whale passed right off the stern, making for a good opportunity to get some more underwater shots. Check out this head-shot looking down at who I think was J33 Keet. I've never gotten a photo anything like this!!

Here is that smae whale surfacing a short distance later:


julie said...

awesome, monika! i wish this kind of orca behavior would be acknowledged by the noaa proposal. i have been reading it in prep for the talk i'm giving and for making comments. i notice that the proposal is all about boats changing orca travel patterns but no one mentions the fact that orcas will seek out the boats, not necessarily move away from them. it's very cool to think the orcas might be feeding under/around your boat, counteracting the idea that boats always disrupt foraging!

Monika said...

Julie - From all my observations, I'm really of the belief that the whales are going to do whatever they're going to do whether the boats are there or not....for the most part, they don't seem to either avoid the boats or seek them out. If the theory of chasing salmon taking refuge under boat shadows is true, then that is definitely a strong counterpoint to the boats inhibiting foraging argument. I think the general opinion coming from NOAA is that ANY impact on whale behavior, whether negative or positive, is a bad one.