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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

August 18th: One of the Best Evenings of the Summer

With my mom and nine year-old niece in town for a few days, I was hopeful the whales and weather would come together to get them out on the boat to see some orcas. The stars aligned on their second night here, when we had to go about 10 minutes from our dock to see our first whale - and that first whale was J2 Granny. We followed her for about 20 minutes; first she was bolting north, and then she stopped to forage. We saw her in fast pursuit of a salmon just underneath the surface....that old girl cna MOVE! Unfortunately the pictures of that didn't do it justice, so here's a picture of her at the surface instead:

J2 Granny

We could tell there were more whales to the south (that turned out to be an understatement - there were A LOT more whales to the south), so we drifted back that way. K25 Scoter passed us, and then the real fun began. Line after line of whales came by, and they all headed into Open Bay and were rolling around and socializing like crazy.

It was my first time trying to collect data from the boat without another OBI person there. Turns out it's pretty hard to drive the boat, take photos, record behavioral data, and operate the hydrophone all by yourself (another understatement!). It was a bit frantic, but I'm really glad I made the effort, in part because the vocalizations were out of this world. Here's just one minute of the more than 30 minutes I recorded that night.

We parked near Kellett Bluffs with several other boats watching the party in towards Open Bay, when all of a sudden a group surfaced right in and among the boats, swimming right by everyone who was watching at one point or another. One of the whales we got a close look at was K26 Lobo, who looked VERY tall so close to our boat. To give you a little perspective, my "zoom" was only at 22mm here:

K26 Lobo
The other whale who swam right at us was J42 Echo. I saw her surface facing us, maybe 50 or 75 yards away. Then where did she go? I happened to look down at just the right time. She cruised by us underwater, rolling on her side and looking up at us as she passed our boat. It's so brief and such a rare thing, but I LOVE it when they do that! She surfaced again right off our stern. (Don't worry - engine was off as soon as the first surprise whale popped up.)

We see a lot in the way of bad boat behavior out here in the summers, where ignorant or careless boaters drive at speed right over the top of the whales. In large part because of those incidents, and because these are endangered whales, there are laws in place forbidding people from intentionally motoring within 200 yards of a killer whale in Washington State. There are times though, like these, where the whales take matters into their own hands. I have to say I love it when this happens. There were maybe half a dozen boats here, all shut down for about 15 minutes, as the whales slowly meandered their way through. Everyone got a close look - all the people at the whales, and the whales at the people.

North of Henry Island, the whales split into numerous tight groups that spread out all over northern Haro. We hung out with the J16s (minus J26 Mike, who was off gallivanting somewhere else.)

J42 Echo, after showing a little curiosity and checking us out, remained in a playful mood. I think she surfaced many more times upside down or sideways than right-side up as her family traveled along. She did inverted tail slaps, pec slaps, a cartwheel, and a spyhop over the course of a few minutes.

J42 Echo Spyhop

J42 Echo tail slap next to little sister J50
Pec slap from J42 Echo next to mom J16 Slick

J42 Echo surfaces right-side up for once next to mom J16 Slick

It was so glassy calm out with such beautiful light, it was hard to leave! Especially while hanging out with two of J-Pod's newest members. This was why I wanted to get a boat - for evenings like these!

J16 Slick and her youngest, 9 month-old J50 - hard to believe she's that old already!

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