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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Superpod in Boundary Pass

The Southern Residents have continued to make brief visits to inland waters over the last month, and last night I got word that the whales were heading east through the Strait of Juan de Fuca again. I went to the west side early this morning, but I wasn't early enough to catch the whales - apparently they passed the Lime Kiln area between 4 and 6 AM. Here was the sunrise as seen from Bailer Hill Road:

When I heard Jim Maya of Maya's Westside Charters still had a space on his morning trip, I jumped at the chance to go out. It turned out to be a pretty epic trip with a superpod up in Boundary Pass between the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands. To see a slideshow of all the following whale photos or to order prints, check out this link to an album on my Zenfolio site.You can also see larger versions of all the photos there.

The first whales we saw were right off Monarch Head near Saturna Island, BC. The cliffs in this area make for a stunning backdrop when viewing whales! The first two whales we saw were L72 Racer and her son L105 Fluke. Here's Racer:

At first, the whales all seemed to be pretty spread out and doing some foraging. Before long, a few other whales came up to join Racer and Fluke. It was four whales from J-Pod - here are J2 Granny and J8 Spieden. At estimated ages of 101 and 79, they're thought to be the oldest two whales in the Southern Resident Community:

With them were J19 Shachi and J41 Eclipse:

Captain Jim, a great naturalist in addition to a great captain, is also a photographer. That means he knows how to set up the great shots when it comes to lighting, background elements, etc. It was a bit of a hazy view of Mt. Baker today, but we got several chances to photograph the whales with the mountain in the background:

Speaking of lighting, it was just perfect when we were surprised by a breach. Luckily I was ready, because there was only one - but what a breach it was!!! One of my best breach shots ever:

This one really must be seen bigger - click again on the new screen to see the enlargement

Looks like just one whale, right? Not so! The extra black under the belly of the whale on these two shots made me take a closer look. The third shot in the series revealed what I was seeing - a second whale was doing a high spyhop behind the breaching whale! You can just see its head here behind the upper pectoral fin of the breaching whale:

Click here to see a larger version - click again on the new screen to see it larger still
Whew! If that were the end of the trip I would have been content, but there was a lot more to come. Soon after this the whales seemed to group up in the bay north of Monarch Head, and large groups of whales went back and forth several times as they seemingly were trying to decide which way to go. For the first time in quite a while, they finally decided to continue on north up towards East Point and then the Fraser River, rather than heading back south and right back out to the open ocean.

As they all went north, we stayed in more or less the same spot as wave after wave of whales came by. It was so cool to see so many dorsal fins!

K22 Sekiu and younger brother K37 Rainshadow, demonstrating nicely how family members often surface in synchrony
Two year-old K44 Saturna, named after Saturna Island, which is seen here in the background

The lighting was such that you could see rainbows in some of the blows - an effect I like to call "rainblows":

K26 with a bit of a "rainblow"
We followed them further north up Boundary Pass, where most of J-Pod had grouped up. Baby J49 was in this group, seen here on the far left. At between 5 and 6 weeks old he/she is still very pink:

Lots of whales, everywhere you looked!

The two large males seen here are J27 Blackberry (left) and L87 Onyx, who is still traveling with J-Pod
From left to right: J34 Doublestuf, his mom J22 Oreo, and Oreo's niece J32 Rhapsody
As the whales approached East Point, there were lots of shore-based whale watchers in for a treat. Just like Lime Kiln on San Juan Island, the whales often pass very close to shore here. Check it out!

At this point it was time for us to let the whales continue north towards the Fraser River and make our way back to Snug Harbor. Along the way back we made a stop at East Point where we saw four Steller sea lions in the water:

It was a pretty darn epic morning on the water!


Vera said...

I am thrilled that you had such an amazing experience today. It was about time. Outstanding photos!!

Jessica said...

Beautiful photos! What a sight to see. Wish I could be on that shoreline watching the whales swim by.

Anonymous said...

Wow...great pics...we were following some of the same Orcas but my pics are puny compared to yours. Thanks

Patricia K. Lichen said...

Lovely! (Nice bellybutton shots, too!)