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Friday, November 29, 2013

Granny Comes For Thanksgiving

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.

J38 Cookie

K21 Cappuccino
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.

K25 surfaces

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!

J2 Granny
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.


Vera said...

What a super way to start Thanksgiving Day! Thanks for sharing that with us.

Unknown said...

Absolutely FANTASTIC!!!! Thank you for sharing these incredible photos, I can only wish to see them again soon, down here at Point No Point!

Unknown said...

Why were you so surprised that Granny showed up?

Monika said...

Kippi - We only see the whales regularly from May-September, so any "off season" sightings are a bit of a surprise! It wasn't that I didn't expect Granny to be there in particular, just that I wasn't expecting whales.

Deborah said...

Lovely! Thank you for sharing these orcas passing by, how exciting! Happy to find you via Orca Network FB post.

Lois said...

Thank you so much for sharing the exciting whale action. I'm forwarding this on to my friends and family.

jill said...

What a thrill! And the shots are fantastic. I managed one wonderful day watching J and L I think down near Seattle about a month ago. What a treat to live so close. I've kayaked off Lime Kiln several times and never seen the Southern Residents up there - just once from land there. Thanks for your great blog and informed updates.