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Monday, July 5, 2010

4th of July Fireworks ~ Orca Style

The Fourth of July holiday weekend is always the busiest of the year in Friday Harbor, and this year was no exception. With a wedding to attend and a couple of long work days I haven't even had time to look at my photos, let alone blog, until now! Luckily the whales continued to hang around and we saw them on both trips yesterday aboard the Western Prince.

In the morning we met up with part of J-Pod two miles south of Turn Point. As soon as we got on scene we had a great pass by J1 Ruffles, the oldest male in the Southern Resident community at an estimated 59 years of age.

It's always great to see him, and nearby was J2 Granny, the oldest female at an estimated 99 years old. As we watched them slowly make their way north we had little idea what was in store for us! It started with a huge belly-flop breach by Ruffles, who I often describe as a stoic whale that doesn't often participate in a lot of surface behaviors. In fact, before yesterday, I had only ever seen him breach once before. Of course my camera wasn't ready, but he gave me another chance as over the next half hour he breached six times!! Here are two of my favorite shots from a couple of the breaches:

Ruffles seemed to get some of the other older whales going as Granny, in the distance, gave two huge cartwheels. Before we left we saw J33 Keet and 77 year old female J8 Spieden coming along, and Spieden gave a huge water-clearing breach too! People often ask if the older whales slow the group down and I explain that often they're actually out in front leading the way. Today Ruffles, Granny, and Spieden showed that they are alive and well, and still going strong!

On our afternoon trip we met up with a different part of J-Pod who have been traveling with a couple of K-Pod whales. The swells had picked up a little bit which made IDs a little difficult, but there were probably at least six or seven whales traveling together in this group. At first they seemed to be lazily milling about, but then they grouped up and started to get a little more active. This male gave a series of tail slaps, generating some huge splashes:

J34 Doublestuf, a twelve year-old male, was doing a lot of rolling around at the surface with a female whale that we weren't able to get an ID on. It was fun to watch them, as you would see a dorsal fin here, a tail there, and then a pec fin or a belly as they continued to hang out and play around.

Despite all the fantastic orca sightings of late it's never just about the whales and we always have other wildlife to look at as well. The beginning of July always marks the start of the harbor seal pupping season in local waters and this week we've seen our first pups of the year hauled out next to their mothers. This one lifted its head to give us a curious look while it's mother paid us no mind:

We passed a group of a half-dozen harbor seals hauled out on Spieden Island, and when a bald eagle flew overhead and landed on the cliff above them they barely even looked up. Suddenly a river otter hopped out of the water right next to the seals and ran right by them into a hole in the rocks, and that certainly got their attention as all the seals bolted into the water!

In terms of bird sightings, in addition to several eagles we saw a pair of black oystercatchers, several flocks of rhinoceros auklets, and a group of 20 or so Canada geese on Green Point. We also saw this pigeon guillemot in Spieden Channel, and I like this photo because to me the water looks like something out of a painting instead of a reflection of the island and sky above:

The Friday Harbor fireworks at night were a great ending to the day, but all the orca "fireworks" were my highlight on this 4th of July!


Ark Lady said...

Sounds like you had a great day. We were busy down here too with all the touristas.

Some great photos--so hard to catch those!

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

99 yo! - if only they could talk and let us know what the oceans were like in their great great grand parents day - maybe than we'd realise what a mess we've made of their environment.



Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Shoulda said - if only we could understand their 'speech'