For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

J-Pod Near East Point

Once we get into October, the whales may start to spend more time out of the area, so I feel like every encounter is a special one. I myself hadn't seen them for more than a week, so yesterday when I heard that J-Pod was heading south from the Vancouver area, I decided to hop out on the Western Prince. It turned out to be a very good decision!!

We met up with the whales a few miles north of East Point and they were traveling in tight groups. It was one of those times where you get beautiful surfacings with lots of dorsal fins together. I love photos with so many whales at the surface together, and I don't know what it has been this year but its something I've seen a lot. Here's one of my favorites:

The group closest to us included J1 Ruffles, J2 Granny, and J8 Spieden, the three oldest whales in J-Pod who often travel together. With them was J14 Samish and three of her offspring (adult male J30 Riptide, juvenile J40 Suttles, and calf J45). Another young male, J33 Keet, was also in the same group.

From left to right, J2 Granny, calf J45, mom J14 Samish, and J30 Riptide

Oh yes, and don't forget the honorary J-Pod members, L7 Canuck and her daughter L53 Lulu, who never seem to be too far from Ruffles. L53 Lulu is the female on the left in the photo below. This is also a nice comparison of Riptide and Ruffles. When you see Riptide on his own, he looks huge, but when compared to Ruffles, you can tell he still has a little growing to do:

This next shot I love because it captures how close-knit these families are. The four whales in this photo are so close to each other, surrounding the young calf J45. The beautiful layered hills of the Canadian Gulf Islands are in the background:

For some reason there are certain areas where the whales tend to get really active at the surface. One such place is when they are approaching East Point, and yesterday afternoon was no exception. It was one of the most spectacular displays of surface behaviors I have ever seen, as the whales were doing everything from spyhops and tail slaps to cartwheels and breaches. I wonder what the whales are thinking when all this is going on?! They certainly seemed as excited as their human observers on this occasion. Check out this double tail slap by mom and calf:

There is no other way to describe what L53 Lulu was doing than to say she went ballistic. This is something I've only seen once before, where a whale starts doing tail slaps so fast you can't even see her tail moving, all you see is the huge fan of water she's kicking up. It looks more like the result of a breach, but that whole splash is from her tail!

I always wonder what it's like underwater when the whales are doing all these surface behaviors in such close proximity to each other. Sometimes it looks like a whale is tail slapping right into the face of another whale, or that a breaching whale must practically land on another whale underwater. Right after the crazy tailslapping Lulu breached. Here is the result of one breach that happened right near where Ruffles was surfacing:

The whales were still traveling at this point, but you could see splashes here and there, near and far, as they erupted a the surface in a flurry of activity. Here is a whale doing a half-breach between Ruffles and Granny:

All of a sudden, when we hit the Boiling Reef tide rip, the whales fanned out into small groups of 1-3 animals and started foraging. At one point the captain estimated they were spread from Patos Island to East Point and from Skipjack Island to Monarch Head. It got a little harder to keep track of them all as they milled about and went down for longer dives. For a while we had Ruffles foraging near the boat, lunging in different directions as he presumably pursued a salmon.

J31 Tsuchi and J37 Hyshq'a, two young females from different matrilines, were still frolicking a little bit at the surface and ended up swimming right between us and the Patos Lighthouse:

I had to save the best for last. Here is my prized shot of the day, a beautiful breach by L7 Canuck, who was not to be outdone but her very active daughter:

It was such an awesome encounter with J-Pod, as we got to see a little bit of everything from them traveling in tight groups to "going crazy" with surface behaviors to them being spread out and foraging. When it was time to go there suddenly seemed like there were no whales in sight. We saw Ruffles and Granny backtracking towards Patos Island, and we heard later they were back in the north end of Rosario Strait. I've never seem them turn and go down Rosario after "committing" by making the turn at East Point, but it's unclear exactly where they went during the night before showing up on the westside of the island again this morning. It sure is great to have them around for another October!


Vera said...

You're right - that last shot is spectacular. I also really enjoyed all of the other pictures. Wow! I really wish I was on that trip.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika that sounds like a truly awesome trip! Does their excitable behaviour have anything to do with the full moon?


PS had our first October sighting for this stretch of coast of a porpoise the other day in the five years I've been collating the records - sadly it was washed up dead after the storm but proves they are still in the area if unseen.

Monika said...

Vera - I'm glad I decided to go along!

Dave - Interesting theory about the moon. I hadn't ever thought about that. I know it does things to our tide, so their connection to it could be that way. Are porpoise seasonal there? We don't really understand much about local porpoise movements.