After July and August were dismal in terms of Southern Resident Killer Whale sightings around San Juan Island, it didn't take long into September for things to change. On September 3rd, all three pods returned and Southern Residents were seen in inland waters for the next twelve days straight. From September 16th they were gone for a few days, but returned before long and made their first foray into Puget Sound for the fall on September 21st. Since then, the only day without Residents was the 24th.
|L92 Crewser in Haro Strait - September 23rd|
For a few weeks, things in the whale world have started to feel a little more normal again. The Residents are making regular trips up to the Fraser River, sometimes staying up there for a day or two foraging, and are utilizing their regular traveling routes like Boundary Pass and Rosario Strait on a more frequent basis - they're not just staying off the south end of San Juan Island like they often did when they were here earlier this summer.
|Whale-watching in September often looks like this: lots of open space and no boats|
Checking back in with the Albion Chinook test catch fishery on the lower Fraser River, it's no surprise the whales have been here more: there's also been more fish.
|Daily catch numbers (red line) from the Albion test fishery through late September compared to the historical average from 1961-2012|
|Cumulative catch numbers (purple line) for 2013 compared to the historical average from 1961-2012|
September 23rd was the first time I've seen K13 Skagit all summer. The K13 matriline is one of the family groups I know the best because I've seen them so much over the years, and they've been here off and on this year, but this was amazingly the first time I've crossed paths with them.
|K13 Skagit - September 23, 2013 in Haro Strait|
On September 25th, we had what was perhaps our last summer-like day of the year. The skies were blue, the sunshine was warm, the waters were flat calm. I spent four hours in the afternoon on the west side of San Juan Island with foraging whales in sight (mostly distant blows) the entire time. Over the course of an hour, J2 Granny, J8 Speiden, L87 Onyx, and the J14 matriline made their way slowly north of Lime Kiln Lighthouse.
|J2 Granny heading north on September 25, 2013|
Even though the whales weren't super close, it was so peaceful to just sit (in a T-shirt! In September!) and listen to their blows while they did their thing without a boat in sight.
|L87 Onyx - September 25, 2013|
It will be interesting to see what the next few weeks bring. Will there continue to be a late season salmon surge, keeping the whales around later into the fall than some years? Will they start going down into Puget Sound more regularly? Or will they take off again to waters unknown? Only time will tell, but I'll be watching!