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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Wet and Wild Whale Watch

The weather forecast Sunday evening wasn't exactly ideal for a whale watch: 25 knot winds, rain showers, and a chance of lightning isn't what you expect when you book a sunset whale watch trip in July. It's always luck of the draw when it comes to going out on a wildlife tour, but the friends and family I had in town were all game to take our chances and see what we could see. It turned out to be a pretty epic trip aboard the Natsilane with San Juan Island Whale and Wildlife Tours.

J-Pod, K-Pod, and their few L-Pod friends had been doing the "westside shuffle" all day, going from False Bay to Salmon Bank and back again. As we headed south down San Juan Channel, the waters were calm, but I knew all that could change after we pulled through Cattle Pass. Indeed, in addition to the rain starting to come down harder, we started taking on a lot of spray as we made our way around the south end of San Juan Island in steady three-foot chop.

When we first got on scene with the whales a little ways off False Bay, it was hard spotting. The whales appeared to be spread out and foraging, so we would just see one whale here, one there, and they would only surface once before diving again. Soon, however, we found a little group of whales that was spending a little more time at the surface. Within the group was K26 Lobo, and even though it wasn't quite the golden evening lighting I had imagined it might be, it was still neat to see the sun breaking through the clouds and reflecting off his tall dorsal fin:

The waves didn't seem to be affecting the whales at all - of course they often deal with much more adverse sea conditions in the winter on the outer coast - but as we bobbed in the waves, it was still apparent just how built for the sea they are.

The second group of whales we got a good look at closer to shore included mom J22 Oreo and her son J34 Doublestuf. I love this picture because it shows a key ID feature on each whale: Oreo's black beauty spots on her left eyepatch and Doublestuf's notch on his rapidly growing dorsal fin. (Click to see a larger view.)

It was amazing we got to see the whales as well as we did in those sea conditions, but as we started to head back to the harbor, our amazing sightings weren't done. The cloud formations were among the most amazing I've ever seen.

The sun fully broke through the clouds just before we got back to Friday Harbor, and with the light drizzle it created rainbows everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen so many in such a short time span before! We saw a double rainbow, which is caused by a double reflection inside the rain drops, and we also saw two overlapping rainbows going off at arcs at different angles. Apparently this might have something to do with the light bouncing off the ocean before reflecting through the raindrops. Unfortunately both the secondary rainbows were too faint to show up in my pictures.

Photographers often have goals of certain shots they want to get one day, some challenge based on lighting or a certain combination of elements to help keep photographing the same subject interesting over the years. One I've always wanted to get is a rhinoceros auklet with its beak full of fish. I've gotten distant silhouetted shots of this before, but this was the type of shot I was really after. I never would have guessed it would come while at speed on a boat in choppy water, but there ya go!


Vera said...

What fun that was! -And you got some great photos.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Our National Whale & Dolphin Watch weekend starts on Friday, can guarantee we won't get any awesome sightings like those! Possibly a rainbow may appear if we ever get a break in the clouds...