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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Into the Rain and Fog Aboard the Western Prince

With some family in town visiting this weekend, we booked a morning whale-watching trip aboard the Western Prince. A month in advance, we figured that surely a Saturday in July promised to be a lovely time on the water. This summer has been a bit different from years past, however, and we woke up this morning to yet another gray day complete with rain and fog. Despite this, I had a positive feeling about today's trip, and when we got on the boat I was ready to go:

We left the dock without a whale report and headed out into the mist of San Juan Channel. Here's the view looking back towards Friday Harbor just after we rounded the bend of Brown Island:

We headed south, because last night there was a superpod off the south end of the island and especially since nothing had been reported on the hydrophones further north last night it seemed like a good place to start our search. As we pulled out through Cattle Pass into the straits we started to see lots of birds, including numerous flocks of about a dozen rhinoceros auklets each, a few pigeon guillemots, and lots of gulls. They were mostly glaucous-winged gulls, but I found a couple of Heermann's gulls perched on some floating driftwood:

Before long we got a report of whales near Discovery Island off the south end of Vancouver Island, so off we went across the glassy calm waters (the nicest thing about fog is it means no wind, so the waters are nice and flat!). The initial report was of the L12s, a small sub-group of L-Pod, but when we got on scene I knew right away that's not who we had. There were too many females and juveniles, and then J27 Blackberry surfaced and I recognized that it was J-Pod we were with.

J27 Blackberry (right) and his younger brother J39 Mako emerge from the fog - prints of this photo available here

Before long the weather cleared up a little bit and we traveled parallel alongside a nice group of whales. It was an interesting mix of J-Pod animals, including members of three different matrilines. Present were J27 Blackberry with his brother J39 Mako, J28 Polaris with her young calf J46 Star, and the family group known affectionately as "The Cookies": J22 Oreo, J34 Doublestuf, J38 Cookie, and their honorary member and relative J32 Rhapsody.

From left to right: J28 Polaris, J39 Mako, J27 Blackberry, and J32 Rhapsody - prints of this photo available here

It's been a while since I've seen the whales traveling in a tight group, and it's always a special sight to see so many dorsal fins on the surface at the same time. I always think it's interesting to figure out who is traveling with whom, too, because it gives us the smallest glimpse into killer whale social relations. Here's J28 Polaris, an 18 year-old female, surfacing with J39 Mako, an 8 year-old male:

Prints of this photo available here

Here's another nice group shot of multiple whales on the surface at the same time:

From left to right: calf J46 Star, mom J28 Polaris, young male J34 Doublestuf, J38 Cookie, and J39 Mako - prints of this photo available here

J-Pod was spread out into several tight groups, and we got a quick look at one of the other groups. In this group I saw J8 Spieden, L87 Onyx (who has been traveling with J-Pod for quite some time), J14 Samish, J30 Riptide, J40 Suttles, and J37 Hy'shqa. Since they were further away I'm not posting any photos of them here, but here's another shot of the big male J27 Blackberry with a sailboat:
J27 Blackberry and sailboat - prints of this photo available here

Because of the fog I got completely turned around. I had thought we were heading west, but the whales were actually accompanying us back east towards San Juan Island! Before it was time for us to leave, they started getting a little more active with lots of taislaps, some cartwheels, and a few breaches.

J39 Mako cartwheels next to his big brother J27 Blackberry - prints of this photo are available here
A big breach by a J-Pod whale - prints of this photo available here

For those of you that were on the trip (or if you're a blog reader who just likes the pictures!), if you would like to have some of these whale photos, you can view the whole gallery of these images here, where you are also able to purchase prints or digital downloads (without watermark) for your own personal use. Buy at least $15 worth by August 1st and you can get 20% off your total order using the coupon code WP716 - covering not only images from this trip, but from any of my photo galleries! Enjoy!


Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Looks like you're enjoying the typically British July sunshine there Monika...roll on el Nino...

Some atmospheric pics in teh mist too



Unknown said...

What great photos! Any day is a good day in the San Juans!

Vera said...

Outstanding photos and nice to see you looking so happy!

Monika said...

Dave - Yes we are....nothing but liquid sunshine this month so far.

Thanks for the kind comments S.P., Jessica, and Vera! :)