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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Surfing, Sea Snakes, and a Superpod

What a day! I worked a double today on the Western Explorer and both our morning and afternoon trips were fantastic. This morning the whales were still split up into two separate groups like they were yesterday afternoon, and we caught up with part of L-Pod with a couple of K-Pod whales as they headed north up Boundary Pass. (This gave me a chance to see for myself who was missing from the encounter we had yesterday afternoon, since these were the whales that were further south yesterday. For those keeping track, this southern-most group included the L5s, half of the L12 group [L41, L77, L94, and L25], K21 and K40, and although we didn't see them, reports were the L2s were in the area as well.)

The first group we followed along was, interestingly enough, three males all together: L73 Flash, L84 Nyssa, and K21 Cappuccino. They were in a very playful mood, spending a lot of time rolling around at the surface. Here is K21 diving with another male upside down behind him with his pec fins in the air:

Here's a look at L73 Flash on the left and the younger L84 Nyssa on the right:

When it comes to orca sexual behavior, as with most dolphins, it seems like the attitude is anything goes. These three males were definitely engaged in some type of sexual activity as evidenced by the large pink "sea snake" this male had exposed:

Here is an angle you don't see to often of an orca with its head completely out of the water as it comes up to breath. This was a male doing an interesting surface lunge as they all frolicked about:

The coolest part of our encounter this morning was seeing the orcas surf in freighter wakes - twice! Right when we got on scene a freighter passed by, and four of the whales swam at top speed through the swells with just their dorsal fins poking through the surface (a behavior we call "sharking) occasionally coming up for a huge full-body lunge. At one point we could even see one whale under the surface in the big wave of the freighter wake. They proved way too fast for me to capture any photos, but right before we left another freighter came by. While I've heard of orcas surfing on freighters I hadn't ever seen it before today - could they possibly do it a second time? They did! This time it was K21 Cappucino and L41 Mega, and although they were a little further away making it hard to pick out the swells of the freighter wake, I was fast enough with the camera this time. Here is one of the males sharking. You can tell how fast he's going by the spray flying off the top of his fin:

L41 Mega did a full body lunge as he played in the freighter wake. It was so cool to see them engaging in such a spectacular play behavior:

When we left the whales this morning, the group of Ks and Ls we were following was heading north towards the southbound Js, Ks, and Ls, and by the time we left the dock for the afternoon trip all three pods had met up - superpod time! We had a little further to travel, but we met up with ALL the whales (all members of all three pods) in the southern end of the Strait of Georgia where they were all spread out and in no hurry to go anywhere.

Whenever we have a superpod the whales are likely to intermix and mingle with one another instead of staying in their immediate family groups like we are most used to seeing them. I was having difficulties identifying the whales we were seeing, and when I came home and looked at my photos I found out why: they were REALLY mixed up! We had a nice pass of one group that included partial family groups from all three pods: J16 Slick and two of her offspring J26 Mike and J42 Echo, K26 Lobo, and L5 Tanya and her nephew L74 Saanich. What an odd group of whales to see all together, but I always find it so interesting who is hanging out together during a superpod. Here are some photos from that pass....these photos were all taken within a minute or two of one another:

Two year-old J42 Echo right behind mom J16 Slick

J26 Mike

There were a couple other whales in this group that I wasn't able to identify, like this young male who may have been J33 Keet. I love this shot because of the reflection of the fin and eyepatch in the water.

L5 Tanya

K26 Lobo just breaking the surface as he comes up for air. I was able to identify this whale because I have a whole sequence of shots that shows his saddle patch and dorsal fin.

There were large groups of orcas spread out for miles all around us. It was a nice, calm afternoon and as the whales weren't in any hurry we got to spend some time just drifting and listening to their blows. The setting couldn't have been better with blue sky and water and a backdrop of the mountains of the mainland in one direction and the US and Canadian Islands to the other direction. There were lots of great photo-ops, like this one of a male surfacing in front of Mt. Baker:

Right before we left we had a nice pass of a male and female, and I wasn't able to figure out who it was at the time. Some of our passengers wanted to know who it was, so I told them I would be able to tell by looking at my photos and that I would post it here on the blog, so here is a photo showing those last two whales, who turned out to be L22 Spirit and her son L79 Skana:


Jeanne said...

Monika, that is so wonderful that you had to work a double - yea!! What wonderful encounters you had today. Thanks for posting all that...I wondered all day long what was going on. It sounds like it was awesome, of course the whales always are. It was so interesting this morning as the whales were going north...I was surprised to see who went past the park.

eileeninmd said...

I love the Orca whales and once I found your blog I just had to follow. I love the photos, the Orcas are wonderful. That pink snake picture is wild. I was in the area years ago and went on a whale watching trip. We were not lucky and the tour guide said there are not many days during the year that the Orca are not seen. We happened to be on one of those days. What luck! Thanks for sharing your sightings and I will keep following.


Dawn said...

thank you so much Monica, we did not get a trip out to see the whales this year. I miss them!

Jac Van B said...

Monika! I'm so jealous! You saw them surfing in the wake of a freighter...we were just talking about this. Wow. That is so freakin cool!!

Anonymous said...

i love your orca pics... wish i could see them in real too........ must be a magnificent sight.... keep writing abt them... at least, i'll get to view them through your experiences! :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Monika Wieland
I am really happy with your post as well as your beautiful sea Orca whales and also i felt cool to see that you are whale watcher,bird watcher..I also like it..a very beautiful stuff.thanks
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