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Monday, October 3, 2011

October Orcas (and other Autumn Animals)

With the L2s, L5s, and L54s on the westside yesterday, we decided to go to bundle up against the chilly autumn breeze and head to Lime Kiln to hang out for a while to try and see them. Unwilling to admit that summer is over, we settled in on our favorite rocks to read for a couple hours. The whales were several miles to the north and slowly heading our direction, so the prospect of seeing them made it a little easier to wait. In the meantime, just like on my previous trip to the westside, there was lots of other wildlife to look at. Here's a look at a few of the gull species that are common here in the fall:

Heermann's gull
California gull
Mew gull
The gulls were hanging out hoping to take advantage of some food scraps made available by the foraging harbor seals. It was fun to watch the gulls soaring about 15 feet above the water, and based on their actions it was possible to predict where the seals were going to pop up (presumably the gulls could see the seals underwater). The gulls either didn't see or didn't care about this seal pup that popped up inside the kelp beds off the lighthouse, and I almost missed it as well - it was one of those moments where you wonder who is watching whom?

The careful observe could find a few other bird species, too. A rhinoceros auklet dove in the bay to the north of the lighthouse. A loon flew by, and so did these scoters:

A black oystercatcher also made an uncharacteristically quiet appearance, feeding on snails on the rocks just below the lighthouse:

Eventually the very spread out, very slow moving orcas did show up, foraging as they made their way south. The L12s had just made their way in to the San Juans past Victoria, and Js and Ks were heading north out of Admiralty Inlet, so with all three groups of whales on a collision course I was a little surprised that the group of whales we saw wasn't traveling a little faster to go meet up with everyone else. But, they didn't seem to be in any hurry.

The whale that came closest to shore was L78 Gaia, a big male who looked especially big yesterday:

The last group of whales to come by was L54 Ino and her two youngest offspring, L108 Coho and unnamed calf L117. (For those keeping track, Ino's other son L100 Indigo was there, too, just a little ahead of this trio.) The three of them were actively foraging, doing all kinds of circling and lunging at the surface. It looked like they were successful, because the gulls started doing the same thing to the whales that they had been doing to the seals earlier: hovering up above where they were underwater, and swooping down the surface to pick up scraps of fish. It was fun to watch.

Mama L54 Ino on the left, with calf L117 surfacing in the slipstream of older sibling L108 Coho on the right.
It's common for resident whales to prey share, so presumably Ino was catching fish and sharing them with at least Coho. Some of the circling behavior could have been whales converging to tear up the fish. Since there was so much surface activity, I wonder if Coho was playing with a fish that was still alive, or perhaps the little calf was getting an early training session. How cool it would have been to see what was going on underwater to correspond with all the lunges, rolls, and dives we saw at the surface.

Eventually the whales did continue south, and it wasn't until then that I realized just how chilly I was! It was time to go home and crank the heater in the car on the drive back. Later in the evening, I listened to the whales on the hydrophones for about an hour, and it sounded like all three groups did indeed meet up. Based on the vocalizations alone, they were having quite a superpod party!


Kayla Wassell said...
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Michele Wassell said...

Hi Monica. Great pics... I just always love reading your blog updates.. Its a nice break in the day.. :):)