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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Whales: Always a Surprise

We always say the peak whale-watching season in the San Juan Islands lasts through September. Once October hits, it seems we never really know what to expect. Sometimes the residents stay around still on almost a daily basis, and other times they become scarce almost as soon as the calendar changes. This year, in early October, we had J-Pod and part of K-Pod hanging around. On October 4th, I got to Lime Kiln just in time to see the second half of the group go north.

From left to right: J47 Notch, J22 Oreo, and J38 Cookie

J34 Doublestuf

As the whales continued north, I was surprised by not one, but two, small groups of Pacific white-sided dolphins, or Lags. We've had small numbers of these guys around for much of the summer, and occasionally large groups of up to a hundred or more. They tend to be more common a bit further north in the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait, but if they start hanging around here more often I don't think anyone will complain! These guys are awesome.

Pacific white-sided dolphins - photo taken from shore at Lime Kiln!

The next day, October 5th, I was hoping to catch the Js and Ks again as they made their way back south from the Fraser River. Unfortunately, I *just* missed them, and only got to see K21 Cappuccino head by as the last whale way offshore. Lucky for me, a few hours later, a neighbor gave me a head's up about a pair of humpback whales that might be visible from a park near my home on the other side of the island.

The humpbacks were doing very long dives, at least 10-12 minutes, and after seeing them once in the distance, I thought they had disappeared out of sight. While waiting, I saw a minke whale:

Then, the pair of humpbacks came up and started breaching and tail-lobbing! They were far away, but it's always an impressive sight to see an animal like that launch itself out of the water:

Add to the list the harbor porpoises I saw, and that's a 5 cetacean species weekend - not too shabby!

As you can see from the above photos, the weather has also turned. It's still pretty pleasantly warm, but we've definitely switched to mostly gray skies with some bouts of rain. While I'll still of course be keeping an eye out for whales, it's been more than a week since I've seen them, so it's time to start switching over to doing a bit more bird-watching as well. A couple of off-island trips before the end of the year will hopefully help me close in on my year list goal of 200 species - right now I'm sitting at 185! I've also got to make sure I stay ahead of Dave in our year list challenge as he's inched his way up to 173 species! :)

Oh yes, one more photo to share, this one from October 1st while watching orcas milling offshore - this little curious harbor seal, I'm assuming a pup from this year due to his small size, definitely stole the show. It spent the better part of an hour watching us on the rocks from all angles!

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