Late in the morning on June 3rd all kinds of rumors were flying around about whales on the west side: J-Pod, transients, L-Pod! It sounded like whales were everywhere. I just had to get out there and see what was going on so I went out to go investigate. I met up with three fellow whale watchers at Land Bank, and we weren't sitting there too long before the first whales started rounding the point to the south of us.
In the lead, not surprisingly, what J2 Granny. With her was J19 Shachi, J41 Eclipse, and J26 Mike. The four of them passed us and started angling in towards shore. I could see more whales coming from the south, but felt like I needed to get to Lime Kiln. The "whale chase" was on! I jetted over to Lime Kiln and got there about the same time as the whales. They were a bit closer to shore, but stalled out, and sure enough, soon turned and headed back south.
Frustratingly, I could see blows to the south, right along the shoreline at Land Bank where I had just been! I waited a little longer, but all the whales eventually turned around and headed south, out of sight. Feeling like I should get back to put in a little more time at work, I decided to leave and take one last look from Hannah Heights before heading back to town. When I got to Hannah Heights, however, I saw several boats very close to shore and heading back north! I didn't even wait to see a whale before reversing my course and high-tailing it back to Land Bank again.
I got there just in time to watch the whales slowly approach in two large, tight groups.
There were clearly more whales than the 15 or so members of J-Pod that had been hanging around for the previous three days, but who else had shown up? My first clue was when J27 surfaced, and I think I exclaimed outloud, "Blackberry!!"
|J27 was trailing some kelp off his dorsal fin for my first look at him in 2014!|
Usually I'd expect a newly reunited group of whales to be all intermixed with one another, but interestingly enough it seemed like the original J-Pod group was still traveling all together:
|My personal favorite shot of the day: from front to back J2 Granny, J37 Hy'Shqa, J49 Ti'lem I'nges, J36 Alki, and J16 Slick|
It's always so neat to see the whales in a tight group surfacing in sychrony!
As the next group of whales approached, it became apparent that not only was the rest of J-Pod (the J11s and J17s) present, but the L12s were as well!
As the whales headed along the shoreline, I got a great photo op of another photographer. These shots really give the feeling of what it's like to watch these whales from the west side - if you haven't been out here before you may not have a sense of how close to shore they really come!
It almost seemed like the whales were a resting line, they were surfacing so slowly, but there were a few of them that were clearly anything but asleep!
Since the whales were traveling so slowly, I knew my whale chase was far from over. It was time to run up the hill and race to Lime Kiln for the second time in a span of a couple hours! When getting to the park, I ran down to the lighthouse, arriving completely out of breath. A few other whale watch friends turned around to greet me, clearly wondering what all the fuss was about. They could see some whale watch boats offshore, but could not yet see any whales. I told them the reason they couldn't see the whales is because they were so close to shore you weren't going to spot them until they came around the corner, right on the rocks!
|One of the best feelings in the world: watching whales approach along the rocks|
I love, love, love seeing so many dorsal fins at once!
We were treating to tail lobs of all types as the whales approached:
Really, words can't describe it, so I'll let the pictures try to:
|L41 Mega and J27 Blackberry|
|A couple young ones take twin peeks about the surface|
|11 whales in one photo!|
The whales got just about to the lighthouse where I was sitting when they stalled out again. A few animals headed into the cove just north of the lighthouse. As the whole group slowly turned back south once more, this is what I saw around the corner of the rocks heading back out of the cove and right for us again:
It was another beautiful pass....
|J37 Hy'Shqa and J49 Ti'lem I'nges|
|L89 Solstice - from the other side this time!|
|J26 Mike (front) and J16 Slick|
As the whales meandered back south, I thought, "Okay, this was amazing, I really can leave now." But when I passed Land Bank heading back towards town, I had to stop one more time. The whales were further off shore but the sight of so many fins is always a breathtaking one. With the way last summer went, you really get the feeling you never know when you'll see these guys again, so I walked down to sit on the rocks and really savor the moment (and also rest from having run between Land Bank and Lime Kiln four times!)
|The Center for Whale Research boat gets mobbed by whales|
It was a quiet, but beautiful, ending to a stunning whale encounter.
|Nothin' but water and whales. Lots of whales.|
The visit turned out to be a brief one. The next day, the 4th of June, the L12s, J11s, and J17s were seen heading back west out the straight. How fascinating this new pod splitting and mixing is - 10 years ago it would be unheard of for J-Pod to separate this way! Thankfully, the rest of J-Pod would stick around, though!