On Saturday, September 20th, with some friends and family in town, we decided to head out on a morning whale watch trip with Western Prince. With all three pods hanging out on the banks the previous evening, I was worried they might all head out west and leave, but was thrilled instead to hear the news that whales were spread from Eagle Point to Hannah Heights as we left the harbor.
It was a beautiful day to be on the water, and fun to see some of my favorite spots from the water after spending so much more time on shore these days. Here's Cattle Point with harbor seals and cormorants on Goose Island in the foreground and the Olympic Mountains in the background:
As we pulled out into Haro Strait, the whales were suuuuuper spread out - one here, one there - and seemingly all foraging. With about three whales in front of and in shore of us, we stopped the boat to just watch and see what they would do. After a long dive, all of a sudden J34 Doublestuf popped up off our bow cruising towards the island.
|J34 Doublestuf with San Juan Island in the background|
He cruised in towards shore, and we floated along watching a couple other whales, presumably the rest of his family, the J22s. After a while, I was starting to wonder where he had gotten to, because it had been several minutes since he had been up. That's when I noticed a fluke print (a calm looking area on the surface of the water created by the kick of the flukes creating an upwelling) about 50 yards off our bow. A second later, a huge black and white shape came into view heading straight for us!
I have to preface this with a major disclaimer that moments like this do not happen often. I've been watching whales up here for over a decade, and I can count on one hand the number of moments I've had like this from a boat. Whale watch captains do their best to follow the distance regulations to give the whales their space, but the fact of the matter is the whales don't know or follow any such rules, and when they choose to break them, we get to enjoy a rare close encounter.
Doublestuf proceeded to swim all along the starboard side of the boat, just beneath the surface, turned on his side so his dorsal fin didn't even break through the surface. I was shooting the camera without looking through the viewfinder, taking in this rare encounter firsthand, and I could tell he was actively turning his head - look at us, or perhaps looking for a salmon trying to take refuge under the boat? It was all over so fast, but moments like this are pure magic, and I'm grateful I captured as much of it as I did on film. I should probably mention these shots were taken with my lens zoomed all the way out - to 18mm!!
|J34 Doublestuf: RIGHT. THERE.|
|You can tell here he's turning his head to look under the boat|
|Another perspective, showing just how close to the boat he was!|
As he got further away again, we all suddenly had a much better appreciation for just how big he is - sometimes it's hard to tell without something to scale them by!
|J34 continues to forage|
After a while it was time to leave the orcas, but our wildlife watching was far from done! Just a bit south of the whales we saw a nice group of Dall's porpoise. As has been the case in recent years, these guys have been scarce during the summer months, only to return in full force in September. I wonder where they go?
Then we went by Whale Rocks, where the Steller sea lion action is always fantastic this time of year. I just don't get tired of watching these guys!
|Stellers and the Cattle Point Lighthouse|
|Thinking about entering the water.... (he did)|
|Steller and Mt. Baker!|
|It's always a multi-sensory experience watching Stellers. You see them, smell them, and hear them as they dispute whose rock is whose.|
|Sea lions make easy work navigating the complicated currents of Cattle Pass, though this guy came up coughing. Wouldn't want to meet those teeth much closer, that's for sure!|
Needless to say, we had a fantastic trip, and it was phenomenal introduction the local wildlife for our guests!