After eight days with no Southern Residents, J-Pod showed up on the west side of San Juan Island on Monday morning. Everybody was there, but by the end of the day, there was an extra whale in there! Somewhere over the course of the afternoon, J37 Hy'shqa gave birth to her first calf, designated J49. At just 11.5 years old, she's the youngest documented mother among the Southern Residents. She makes her mom, J14 Samish, a first-time grandmother, and J2 Granny a great--great-grandmother. The Center for Whale Research got an amazing photo of the little one showing its dorsal fin still flopped over (which makes birth easier - it stands up shortly after birth).
I was anxious to meet the newest member of the Southern Residents, and on Tuesday around lunch time I headed out to the west side of San Juan Island. It wasn't to be just yet; the J11s and J22s were off the south end, and the rest of J-Pod was way up north. The good news: they were heading slowly south.
Around 6:30, I headed back out to Lime Kiln, and as I drove to the west side, the thunder and lightning began. It was still pleasantly warm out despite the wind, so I settled in to wait at the lighthouse with word that the whole pod had reunited several miles to the north. While I waited, there was spectacular cloud watching to do - check out these crepuscular rays!
Just as the whales started coming into view far to the north, a huge cloud burst overhead, drenching me in huge, warm rain drops. The whales, perhaps energized by the electrical storm, were doing lots of breaching and spyhopping against the spectacular backdrop of lightning striking Haro Strait behind them. It was an epic moment.
As J-Pod approached, the rain stopped, and I began scanning for the newborn with my binoculars. I knew J49 would be hard to see among the waves, and perhaps between the other whales.
The clouds started to glow as the sun continued to set, making for unique lighting. It was still rather dark for photos, so the whales were actually a bit closer than they appear in pictures since I wasn't zooming in very far - they were probably almost all between 100 and 200 yards offshore.
Then, through binoculars I spotted one of the tiniest whales I've ever seen break the surface in a split-second breath of air. J49 was up and down so quick, I just constantly clicked the camera after mom surfaced, hoping to catch baby popping up beside her. Here's the tiny dorsal fin of J49 flanked on the left by mom Hy'shqa and on the right by young auntie J40 Suttles.
Unfortunately the one picture I got that shows a bit more of the baby was really blurry! But hopefully mom and calf will remain healthy and there will be more photo ops in the near future. Meanwhile, with aunt Suttles and uncle J45 Se-yi-chn seemingly enamored with the infant, the rest of the pod wasn't too far away, either. Here's J27 Blackberry:
And J34 Doublestuf:
The whales were moving slowly enough it was possible to run down the shoreline and see them pass again from the south end of the park. As they continued swimming slowly down Haro Strait, the sunset really took off, with the clouds absolutely glowing pink.
It was a stunning end to a spectacular evening!