Yesterday was "American Thanksgiving" as its known in these parts (as opposed to Canadian Thanksgiving across the border), and while we were enjoying a lazy morning at home before starting our cooking I saw an exciting status update from a friend on Facebook. All it said was "Orcas!!!" but that was enough to get me out the door two minutes later and on my way to the west side. My guess was it was probably transients and that we likely wouldn't see them, but since it was surprisingly a sunny day it seemed like a good day to get out anyway.
When we arrived at Lime Kiln, the waters were quiet, so we continued south to Land Bank. I saw a boat parked past the point to the south - an encouraging sign. Then a fellow islander pulled up and confirmed that whales were heading our way. J-Pod was the rumor he heard. As the blows and dorsal fins started coming into view, it became apparent there were more whales than that - in fact, it ended up being a superpod!!
|A surprising sight on Thanksgiving Day: orcas!|
Once it looked like the whales were committed to going north, we dashed up to Lime Kiln, where they often pass closer to shore. It was definitely the right decision! As the first group approached us, they started getting active, and this pair of whales did not one but two sets of synchronized breaches, giving me a chance to capture the second one in a picture. Needless to say, this stunning sight doesn't even compare to what the captive whales do at SeaWorld - these two were breaching just because they can, possibly just for the joy of it.
|Better than SeaWorld: two whales breach in synchrony, just because they can|
The first group of whales was maybe 150 yard offshore, but right before they passed the lighthouse, they turned and angled in even closer. Usually I zoom in all the way, but this time I decided to try and capture the feeling of having a big group of whales pass so close, so this wide-angle shot shows some of the whales and the rocks we were standing on at the bottom of the frame:
Even though I love how these shots turned out, I couldn't take it too long and had to zoom in to get some nice ID shots. It was a nice mix of J- and K-Pod whales in this first group.
The lighting was perfect to capture these surface behaviors right after they passed:
|K21 tail slap|
|A huge cartwheel by K16 Opus|
It was also great to see the K13s, a matriline I didn't see as much of this past summer as I usually do.
|K20 Spock with nephew K44 Ripple|
K25 Scoter is a member of the K13s who was tagged last winter, yielding interesting and important data about the winter movements of the Southern Residents. (Read about where K25 traveled last winter here.) Unfortunately, the tag didn't dislodge as it was supposed to, so he still has remnants from the darts in his fin, which were visible yesterday.
|A close-up of the barbs in K25's fin|
There was just a short gap before the next large group of whales came by. It was mostly K- and L-Pod whales, with a group of young males hanging out together and all the playful youngsters in the L4 matriline.
|More whales approaching!|
I've actually photographed several double breaches before, but this was the first time I captured a double spyhop. (Earlier this year I saw a TRIPLE spyhop, but I missed it!)
The only boats on the water with the whales were two research vessels - here's one of them in the background of these photos:
The whales just kept coming!
The final group included some familiar "faces" from J-Pod - whales it's always especially a joy to see.
|J16 Slick and J42 Echo|
|Tail slap from J26 Mike|
The last close whale was J2 Granny, still seemingly going strong after the loss a couple months ago of her companion J8 Spieden. This was our first Thanksgiving in our new house, and also for the first time we hosted my parents. I wasn't expecting Granny to show up too, but she was more than welcome!
The exuberant whales continued on their way north, and one of my last pictures was this incredible shot of a cartwheeling whale almost vertical in the air:
So, it pretty much turned out to be the best Thanksgiving ever with a surprise superpod - it looked like everyone but the L12s were present. Oh yeah, the food ended up being pretty good, too.