Sundays have proven to be great days for seeing whales so far this season! Yesterday the L12 sub-group of L-Pod magically showed up with J-Pod, and word first thing this morning was that all 40 or so whales were heading south in Haro Strait. After breakfast we headed out to Land Bank's Westside Preserve, and we weren't there long before we heard that the whales were swimming back north in our direction. They were moving slowly against the ebb tide, still out of view, but after finding a place to sit and wait I didn't even get a chance to pull out my book when a bald eagle caught my eye. There must have been a carcass of some sort a little ways down the shoreline, because there were no fewer than five eagles flying around, plus a pair of turkey vultures and a couple of ravens. Not the greatest picture, but here's one bird of all three species in the same shot (raven is in the bottom left):
This adult bald eagle looked up at an immature eagle as it came in for a landing:
I didn't see the animals actively feeding, so I'm not sure what caught their attention. They would sit in the same area for a while and then take off and fly around before circling back. The only bird I saw with food in its beak was a raven - maybe the meal was inaccessible to the larger birds of prey? With all the flying around, we got three incredibly close flybys from three different eagles. It's not often you get so close to a wild bald eagle - pretty freakin' cool!
By the time the bird activity started to settle down, the first blows were coming into view past the point to the south. A large group of J-Pod whales was in the lead, and they weren't in any hurry. There was a lot of milling going on, with whales looping back and going inshore and offshore as they eventually made their way north. The J16s and J22s were in this group, and by the number of whales I'm guessing the J14s were there as well, though probably a bit further offshore where I couldn't ID them. J8's group was also there, and J19 Shachi gave us the closest pass when she looped back south:
There was a bit of a gap then as this group of whales continued north, but I knew there were still more to come. A lot of the crowd that had gathered to watch the whales dispersed, despite being told there were more whales on the way. Often the best moments of a whale passby happen towards the end, after a lot of people have left - don't ask me why, but it's very often the case! Today was no exception.
I was thrilled to see the L12s come next - my first sighting of this group this year. L25 Ocean Sun thrilled us with a close pass:
Next was a trio of males, and they seemed interested in dawdling, too, and playing in the kelp. Here's L89 Solstice with kelp on his dorsal fin:
L41 Mega, the oldest living male and largest whale in the entire Southern Resident population, was also present. He's also so impressive to see at any distance, but up close especially.
|L41 Mega begins to surface with a piece of kelp wrapped around his six-foot-tall dorsal fin|
After the males meandered north, a group of eight whales quickly approached, surfacing all together in a line. I quickly realized it was the three adult females of the J17 matriline with their young offspring, but who were the other two whales? My photos revealed it was L94 Calypso and L113 Cousteau. I love it when whales from different family groups are mixed together, because I think it gives a glimpse into the social lives of these intriguing animals. The young whales in the J17 group are four year-old J44 Moby, four year-old J46 Star, and three year-old J47 Notch. L113 Cousteau was born in the same time span and is four years old as well. She was probably getting a chance to hang out with some members of her own age group, which she doesn't have any of in her sub-pod, or maybe mom was getting a chance to compare notes with other young mothers. It's fun to speculate!
|From left to right: J44 Moby, J17 Princess Angeline, J28 Polaris. I believe the whale about to surface is J35 Talequah.|
|The six whales of the J17 matriline travel with L94 Calypso (larger fin at back, center) and L113 Cousteau (furthest back, just to the left of Calypso)|
Two more males brought up the rear of the pack, also swimming quickly unlike all the earlier whales. One of them was J27 Blackberry, who like the other males before him had a piece of kelp around his dorsal fin despite swimming at near-porpoising speeds:
It's awesome to have the whales hanging around for days at a time - hopefully that means they're finding lots to eat here! Their pattern the last few days has been to head north to the Fraser River, then come down Boundary Pass and the west side of San Juan Island, turn around a little bit later, and head back north again. Not much hanging around on the west side as they sometimes do right after coming south, but when they are there, it's been pretty spectacular!