I love September. I always say it's my favorite month in the San Juan Islands and the first week has more than reminded me why. I've had so many amazing wildlife encounters already and have been so busy looking for whales and enjoying our late summer weather that I've gotten behind on things to blog about! I've gotta start with the most spectacular, which occurred last Friday when I went out with Western Prince. All three Southern Resident pods returned on September 3rd, and given how scarce they've been this summer and the fact that the season is winding down, I was eager to see them.
We headed north up to Boundary Pass. It was a foggy morning and we passed through some patches of fog on our way up there, but when we neared the whales things cleared up beautifully.
Just like they have been, the pink salmon were jumping like crazy. In this picture you can see why they're nicknamed "humpies" or humpback salmon:
We met up with the whales in the middle of the Pass, and the 80+ of them were so spread out that you could see dorsal fins in any direction you looked. The first whale we came across was L72 Racer, who passed between us and the Odyssey (notice the two other whales in the background):
With the low, wispy clouds covering part of the islands in the background, it was an amazing time and place to be watching whales:
Racer was traveling with K22 Sekiu, and their two nine year-old boys L105 Fluke and K37 Rainshadow were really enjoying playing around together.
|From left to right: K22 Sekiu, L72 Racer, K37 Rainshadow|
As they traveled on ahead, we turned to view off the north side of the boat where a large group of whales was moving up the shoreline of Saturna Island. It would be pretty special to have a home on the south side of Saturna, where the whales often pass by!
I just missed the breach from a calf, but I caught the amazed expressions on the faces of these two women who were sitting on the Saturna shoreline (click to see a larger view):
Here's another shot that shows what they were treated to - this is L53 Lulu passing by in front of them:
The whales closest to us were a group of playful youngsters; we had a trio of them on each side of the boat. It's amazingly hard to ID the juveniles when there aren't any adults around to give a clue as to who might be there! The whales grow so fast that their dorsal fin shape may not look like their ID photo, and with all their playing they're getting new nicks and scratches all the time. On one side of the boat we had J46 Star and J44 Moby with one other whale, and on the other side of the boat was L109 Takoda, K44 Ripple, and one other whale.
They were having a grand old time, and so were we, watching them!
Here's a couple shots of J44 Moby:
And L105 Takoda off the other side (I was standing on the bow of the boat so I could easily switch from viewing off one side to the other):
As we rounded East Point with the whales, they turned to the north to head for the Fraser River. There seemed to be a little rearranging of the different groups, and we found ourselves with J27 Blackberry for a bit. I love getting photos of orcas with different bird species - I have shots of whales with common murres, rhino auklets, and black oystercatchers, for instance - but this was the first time I photographed a whale with red-necked phalaropes!
|J27 Blackberry with a trio of red-necked phalaropes|
As often happens during superpods, a group of adult males was hanging out together. Near Blackberry were K21 Cappuccino and L95 Nigel.
The whales seemed excited or eager to head towards the Fraser, because all of a sudden whole groups of them started swimming at high speed, or porpoising. Even though we were farther away at this point, it was an impressive sight to see groups of whales launching themselves out of the water like that. The L4s were traveling with the J17s.
|From left to right: J17 Princess Angeline, J28 Polaris, J46 Star|
We were with the whales for a memorable hour and a half, but the time passed so fast that it was hard to believe it was time to leave already. We left them continuing north up the Strait of Georgia.
|From left to right: L27 Ophelia, L53 Lulu, L86 Surprise|
As beautiful as it was when we arrived in Boundary Pass, the skies may have been even more stunning on the way home!
I can only hope that the rest of September has more of this kinda day in store!