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

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Dozen L-Pod Whales

This morning when we left the dock on the Western Prince, we didn't know which way to turn - north or south. We had reports of whales in either direction, so this was a good problem to have. We decided on north, and the weather was great for a cruise around the north end of San Juan Island into Haro Strait.

We thought we still had a few miles to travel before we got to the whales when one of our passengers and our captain simultaneously spotted some blows in shore. Yet another example of how important it is to keep your eyes scanning the water at all times, just like on Wednesday! As we pulled in a little closer we could see there were about a dozen whales traveling in a tight group, but who were they?

Our passengers often wonder how we are able to ID the whales so quickly, so I thought I would explain the process I went through today. The first clue was that there were no adult males in this group. Some people call adult males "indicator males", since they are often easier to identify and can give you a clue about which family groups to look for. Today, the absence of males was just as much of a hint, as we were seeing mostly females and lots of youngsters, but I still hadn't seen any whales I recognized for sure.

Many of the whales have solid gray saddle patches which can make them more difficult to tell apart from one another, but then I spotted a whale with a distinct open saddle patch. I confirmed by snapping a picture and zooming in my camera, and this is what I saw....

Sure enough, it was L83 Moonlight followed by her three year-old calf L110 Midnight! Once I've identified a whale that's easier to pick out of a crowd, like L83 Moonlight is, I know who else to start looking for. The whales pretty much always travel in their immediate family groups, so a female and all of her offspring will usually be right together. Also, from experience, I know which family groups are often together, so that helped me piece together the rest of today's puzzle. By looking at my photos after the trip I was able to confirm what I suspected on the boat: we had the 12 whales that make up the L47s, L55s, and L86s (the latter two are often referred to as the L4s, though I prefer to refer to the matrilines by the living females).

Here are a few more photos showing some of the other whales in this group. Below is L55 Nugget and her youngest, three year-old L109 Takoda:

From left to right in the photo below are three adult females: L27 Ophelia, L86 Surprise, and L82 Kasatka.

I always love when we see the whales swimming and surfacing in a tight group as they were today. Someone remarked that they looked like they were so close they could be touching, and when they are as close as in the photo below, they probably are! It's just another example of the tight family bonds among these whales. The right most dorsal fin belongs to L86 Surprise and you can see the little head of her one year-old calf L112 popping up in front. The other two fins in the back are L47 Marina (left) and her daughter L91 Muncher (right).

While adult males with their impressive six-foot dorsal fins are a sight to see, it's also special to see a productive family group like the one we saw today. So many young whales and their moms indicate what will hopefully be a positive future for this population of orcas!


Unknown said...

Curious to know...Was there any sign of Pooka, being next to her mom, Surprise(L86), or was it just the littlest one(L112)? Or have you seen Pooka at all this season? Thanks! Your photos are beautiful.

Monika said...

Yep, Pooka L106 was definitely there! I didn't post pictures of every whale, but all the family members in those groups were accounted for. Glad you enjoyed the photos!