Some faint calls were heard on the Lime Kiln hydrophones on February 12th, and when they didn't get louder some friends and I concluded the whales were probably heading south into Puget Sound. WRONG! Luckily someone gave me a head's up they were close to shore along San Juan Island and I got to Lime Kiln just as the first whales were passing by.
|First Southern Resident breach of 2015!|
It's been interesting to follow J27 Blackberry's satellite tag these last few weeks. (It's still transmitting and you can see the latest reports here.) We're learning that J-Pod is using almost exclusively inland waters even this time of year - their ocean ventures are to just outside the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and not really along the outer coast much at all.
|J27 Blackberry (and a cormorant drying its wings in the background)|
|From left to right J49 T'ilem I'nges, J37 Hy'shqa, and J14 Samish|
What was amazing was how much driftwood was floating around out there! The whales didn't seem to have any qualms about swimming right through it.
It's rare enough to see orcas from Lime Kiln this time of year, but I'd say it's even rarer to see them close to shore. This passby was short but sweet - it felt like summertime with the J17s coming by right off the rocks!
|J17 Princess Angeline|
The timing was perfect to jump out in Serenity again with a couple friends, and we met up with Js again a little further north in Haro Strait.
The whales looked like they had really spread out after passing Lime Kiln; we saw some more way offshore and decided to head out to investigate. As a side note, while motoring out there this freighter came by - look at how much water it's displacing off its bow!
Turns out the whales offshore were some of the J16s! That means I got to meet new little calf J50 was born in the end of December.
|J16 Slick with calf J50|
|J16 Slick with calf J50|
|J16 Slick with baby J50|
While watching this spunky little gal (sure seems like mom has her hands full keeping this little one in line), we got word from the Center for Whale Research that their boat was with another new calf!!! It was too tempting not to go and take a peak. J19 Shachi is the mom of J51, and Shachi's daughter J41 Eclipse was right there as well.
|Tiny orca! J51 swims after older sister J41 Eclipse|
|J19 Shachi, J51, and J41 Eclipse|
The whales had been quite spread out for a while, but now a group of them formed up and started traveling north at a more steady clip.
This group included the J14s, J19s, and J11s minus J27 - all the J-Pod big boys were traveling together somewhere else. We ended up getting a better look at the calf in this group:
|Mama J19 Shachi with newborn|
|From left to right little J51, J19 Shaci, and J49 T'ilem I'nges|
They were out in the middle of Haro Strait, and then started angling over towards Stuart Island. J39 Mako came a little closer to check us out on his way by:
There was a lot of driftwood up here, too. Looking ahead I thought for sure this was a logging whale, but it was just a log! Very good dorsal fin impression, though.
We cruised over to Spieden Island on our way home, where the J17s were hanging out. Spieden was sure looking pretty, and quite different from its summer yellow/brown grass phase that's more common:
|Spieden Island - looking green!|
The birth of J51 brings the Southern Resident population back up to 79 whales after dipping to 77 a few months ago. Will Ks and Ls have any other little surprises for us when they next return? After over two years without a successful birth, we are all both excited and worried about these two little ones. The bottom line is these whales need enough salmon, and we've gone through some very thin years of Chinook returns recently. I'm working with a campaign to remove the four Lower Snake River Dams, which are largely obsolete and are costing tax payers money, but would be the most effective dams to remove to increase salmon to the Columbia River Basin. Learn more about our efforts from the Southern Resident Killer Whale Chinook Salmon Initiative.