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Friday, July 10, 2015

July 2nd: Western Explorer Trip With Friends!

My Orca Behavior Institute partner Michael and I both had lots of friends and family coming into town for the 4th of July holiday weekend, so I booked a whale watch charter on the Western Explorer, the zodiac I used to work on. Since some visitors didn't make it in time for the trip, I invited some other whale friends along, and we ended up going out with an awesome group of people!

All geared up for the Western Explorer

It also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to get a photo of "Team OBI". While we've gotten some generous financial support at the Orca Behavior Institute, we've also had several friends volunteer their time and skills to help us out. You can read a bit more about some of our team members on the newest page on our website. 

Team OBI - Back row from left to right: Brittany, Keith, Cindy, Sara, and Julie. Front row: Yours truly and OBI co-founder Michael.
While we all enjoy educating the public about the whales and other local wildlife, we also enjoy the chance to "fake naturalize" among ourselves, when we get to make up all the fake answers we're sometimes tempted to give to tourist questions. For now I'll leave those questions and answers to your imagination ;)

On our way out to the whales we went by the smoldering Goose Island, a Nature Conservancy Preserve that was accidentally set on fire by illegal fireworks. After two attempts to put it out, the local fire fighters decided to let it burn itself out, as the fire had gotten into the ground and with the dry conditions and local winds was proving almost impossible to fully extinguish. (It was also a forewarning of what was to come: on July 5th we woke up to bizarre hazy brown skies caused by an abundance of local wildfires that rendered the outside world a living sepia photograph.) Amazingly, while many nests were destroyed, several gull chicks survived and other nests were still occupied. Same with the black oystercatchers and pelagic cormorants, showing their resilience in a still-burning landscape. While the double-crested cormorant nests didn't burn, they did appear to abandon all breeding efforts for this season.

Smoldering Goose Island

Out in the straits, we stopped to check out a pair of minke whales before heading towards the orcas. I don't get to see these guys as much as I used to, so it was fun to get a close look at them again. I sent my sightings to the Northeast Pacific Minke Whale Project - you can do the same with any of your minke whale sightings! They don't get out on the water as much as they would like, so citizen science reports really help their studies. They think the whale in the first photo is a young animal, perhaps even a young of the year.

Up near False Bay, just as the evening lighting was getting golden, we came across the orcas.

The first group of whales we saw was the J2s.

J37 Hy'shqa
J2 Granny
Next up were the J2s' favorite travel companions of the summer: the K14s.

K26 Lobo
One thing that's great about having the camera out to photograph whales is the other photo ops you get along the way - like this common murre.

The whales foraged close to shore for a while as we watched them from offshore.

K26 Lobo and Mt. Baker

Before it was time to leave, the whales pulled offshore and started milling around closer to us.

Another shot of a common murre - this one being startled by an orca

There's absolutely nothing better than sunset whales:

All in all it was a great evening out with friends, and a beautiful ride back to the harbor.

Washington State Ferry heading into Friday Harbor

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