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Sunday, August 2, 2015

July 19th: J2s, K13s, and K14s in the morning

On the morning of July 19th we headed out early, playing a hunch and hoping to find the whales. We didn't have to go too far when we spotted J2 Granny way out in the lead, steaming north. After hanging with her for about 20 minutes, we dropped back to the next group that was about a mile behind, heading north as well but in a bit less of a hurry.

Where Granny goes the rest will their own pace

The early morning light from the water side in Haro Strait is challenge for IDs, but stunning for backlit blows. This guy, with his towering dorsal fin, is still easily recognizable though.

K26 Lobo

Off Henry Island, the whales arched their back and we could tell they were going down for a long dive. They had just become less directional in their surfacing, so we stopped the boat to see where they would come up next - still heading north, or were they stalling out and turning around as they often do here? Unfortunately our hydrophone had just run out of batteries, so we couldn't eavesdrop on them that way. A couple of minutes ticked by...and then we started hearing orca vocalizations. That's right, our hydrophone wasn't in the water. "Is that someone's ringtone?" Michael asked. No, it wasn't....we were hearing their calls amplified through the hull of our boat! I've heard about this happening to other people but had never experienced it myself until this day. It was unreal! The calls were quiet, but distinct enough where I could identify the individual discrete calls they were making. I really wonder how close they were to the boat. At some point they went under us, but never surfaced - except for little J49 T'ilem I'nges who came up for a breath while everyone else was still down.

J49 T'ilem I'nges

After he went down all the whales remained submerged for several more minutes. Who knows what they were doing down there, or what they were discussing, but when they came up again they were more than 300 yards offshore of us, whereas when they went down they had been hugging the shoreline.

Whatever the case, offshore of us now the lighting was much better for IDs. Maybe they headed out there to catch a boat wake? Because 3-4 of the whales proceeded to surf it, including J14 Samish!

J14 Samish surfs a boat wake

This larger group went down on several more long dives, while we watched K13 Skagit and K25 Scoter cruise quickly north, followed by K20 Spock and K38 Comet. Finally, the large group started spending more time at the surface again, all tightly knit. In this group was J2 Granny and the J14s, as well as the K14s and K27 Deadhead and K44 Ripple. I love seeing so many whales traveling so closely together!

Big tailslap from K26 Lobo

From left to right the three whales in the middle are K36 Yoda, J14 Samish, and J37 Hy'shqa

The reflections were amazing in the still blue water - check out this heavily cropped photo for a closer look:

Beautiful reflections of J37 Hy'shqa's dorsal fin and saddle patch

Again it was J49 T'ilem I'nges who surprised us by breaking off a bit from the group and doing a spyhop a bit closer to the boat! The result was my prize photograph of the morning: (Prints of this photograph can be purchased here.)

J49 T'ilem I'nges spyhop

He wasn't the only one who spyhopped, either:

It was hard to say goodbye, but after a couple hours with them we let the whales continue on their way north:

It was a beautiful encounter - one of my favorites of the summer so far!

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