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Sunday, August 1, 2010

K-Pod, Half the Js, and L87

We had a couple of fantastic trips today aboard the Western Prince. This afternoon we headed out and as we made our way south down San Juan Channel stopped a couple of times to check out some harbor seal haul outs. Down in Cattle Pass, where we had seen a minke whale in the morning, we saw more seals as well as rhinoceros auklets, common murres, pigeon guillemots, pelagic cormorants, glaucous-winged gulls, mew gulls, and Heermann's gulls. What was that I said about this being a great time to bird in the San Juans?! Our biggest surprise, however, was a group of four Steller sea lions swimming together in the water! We normally expect these guys to be around from September through May and occasionally see a single animal throughout the summer, but I've never seen a group of them here in the middle of the summer! Their population is on the rise, so maybe their range is expanding and we'll get a breeding colony of sea lions established around the island sometime in the near future.

In terms of the orcas, we have had a strange combination of whales hanging out for the last day or so: K-Pod, half of J-Pod, and L87, a single L-Pod whale. When we got on scene with the orcas a mile or two off of Eagle Point the first whale we came across was the eighteen year-old male L87 Onyx. Onyx is an interesting whale who has basically become a member of K-Pod in recent years. I posted his intriguing story in a blog post last winter that you can read here.

The whales were very spread out and foraging, which meant Onyx was zig-zagging all over the place, presumably in pursuit of fish. As a result, we got to see him from all different angles. The side...

The front...

And the back!

Nearby Onyx were J27 Blackberry his younger brother J39 Mako, just like this morning. Where was the rest of Onyx's K-Pod family? As we made our way further inshore we did see K22 Sekiu, but then we came across a couple more J-Pod whales and their calves. J28 Polaris had her 10 month-old youngster J46 close by:

Polaris' sister J35 Talequah was also there with her young calf J47. Several times we saw Talequah give a tail slap, followed shortly thereafter by her calf doing the same behavior! Last weekend Talequah was teaching her calf the spyhop. This week's lesson: tail slaps!

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