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Saturday, August 15, 2015

August 2nd: Almost a Superpod!

I can count on one hand the number of times the L12 sub-group from L-Pod (the L12s, L22s, L25s, and L28s - a total of 10 whales not including L87 Onyx who travels with J-Pod) have been in inland waters this summer, and until August 2nd, I hadn't seen them at all! Late afternoon on this day, however, I was in the right place at the right time as they quickly headed north with the flood tide past Lime Kiln along with all of J-Pod, most of K-Pod, and most of the other L-Pod whales. While the K16s and K21 were absent, as was the L54 sub-group which still hasn't made an appearance near San Juan this summer, I believe it was the closest we've come yet to a full fledged superpod. By my count 69 of the 81 Southern Residents were here!

The whales were in three tight groups, milling around each other. While they weren't really speeding north, the tide was so strong that they passed by very quickly. With the backlight, whales mixed up and passing fast, numerous boats, birds flying all around, and lots of people on the rocks, it was one of our more chaotic data collecting sessions of the summer for the Orca Behavior Institute.

A few fins that are more easily recognizable in silhouette were key to helping us figure out who was where. Despite many of the whales being all mixed up, brothers J34 Doublestuf and J38 Cookie were still hanging tight together:

J34 Doublestuf and J38 Cookie

As Onyx zipped past us, he seemed to be moving from the group with the L12s back to the group with the majority of J-Pod:

L87 Onyx
At the beginning of the summer, my research partner Michael asked me (half-jokingly) to get a picture of him with Onyx this year. (Onyx is one of his favorite whales, and the whale on the OBI logo.) I knew this would be one of my best chances, but Onyx was traveling quickly, and when he next surfaced, he was quite a ways further north. Still, both Michael and Onyx are in this photo, so it counts, right?!

Michael is easy to see, but can you find Onyx?

Next came most of the L12s, and it didn't take me long to spot little L121 - one of the four new calves this year, the only one I hadn't met yet. We now know that it's a male, meaning we have three boys and one girl born into the population this year.

Hello L121! Nice to meet you!

L89 Solstice and two other whales came closer to the rocks than the other whales:

L89 Solstice
They actually went in to the cove just north of the lighthouse!

It took just half an hour for all the whales to pass, and it felt even shorter than that! I suspected they wouldn't all continue north, however, and sure enough, they didn't even get out of sight before the L12s turned back and started slowly moving south against the strong tide. This was more "typical" L12 behavior: spread out, long dives, almost staying in the same spot. We watched them for the next hour and a half, and they were still there in front of the lighthouse when we had to leave.

L41 Mega and his adopted grandma L25 Ocean Sun were in the lead:

The big guy L41 Mega

Next came L94 Calypso with L121, though my shot of the little guy got photobombed by this gull:

Almost a nice shot of L121
Next was L77 Matia and L85 Mystery, an interesting combo:

L77 Matia surfacing in front of L85 Mystery

Following them were the other two youngsters in this family, L113 Cousteau and L119 Joy. L22 Spirit and L89 Solstice turned around too, but were still north and out of sight. While sometimes the L12s are accused of being "boring" whales, I loved the chance to just hang out with them for a while. They used to do this exact same thing (a slow, spread out, westside shuffle) for the better part of the summer, but in recent years they have been more scarce. So it was nice to see them all.

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