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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Whale Season

Since getting back from our epic west coast road trip that took us from Baja, Mexico all the way up the California and Oregon coasts, I've had some great whale sightings back home in the Salish Sea. In fact, our first full day back on the island (April 17th) included a boat trip out to see both transient and resident orcas. First, we met up with the T11s over near Kelp Reef.


Just a few miles behind the Ts were a very spread out J-Pod. Some of the Js were even on the same side of the strait as the Ts, but we headed back across and met up with the J16s and J19s near Mitchell Bay.

J16 Slick and J50 Scarlett

J19 Shachi

Tail wave from J41 Eclipse

On several occasions over the last few weeks, just the J16 matriline has been around in inland waters without the rest of J-Pod.  I met up with them for the first time on the evening of May 3rd, where they were also in an uncommon location for resident orcas: in San Juan Channel.

The J16s

The J16s

J26 Mike

I saw them again on May 8, when they were blasting down Haro Strait.

J36 Alki and J52 Sonic

On the afternoon of May 11th, we had a special double header encounter. It started with a pair of humpback whales - a whale seen often locally known as Big Mama, and her newest calf.

Big Mama fluking in Open Bay
These two humpbacks have been around a lot lately, and the calf especially is known for being very active at the surface with all his breaches, tail slaps, and cartwheels. He was relatively subdued on the night we saw him, just rolling at the surface a couple of times, but after one long dive we got a particularly good look at mom and baby.

Humpback calf (left) surfaces next to a diving Big Mama
As the humpbacks cruised north, I heard report of some transient orcas further to the south. It sounded like they were quite far away, but with flat calm waters we decided to go for it. Surprisingly, we met up with them pretty quickly, as they were also swimming north at a good clip. It was the T123s, a group of three whales I've only seen a handful of times before. We followed them as they quickly traveled around Henry Island and through Spieden Channel.

The T123s: from left to right young adult male T123A, mom T123, and four year-old T123C.

Mama and son - throughout the encounter T123A, would swing wide and then come back to his mom's side

The T123s are one of the few transient killer whale family groups that have also been given common names. T123 is known as Sidney, and her two living offspring are 16 year-old T123A Stanley and T123C Lucky.

Stanley and Sidney in Spieden Channel

As the sun sunk towards the horizon, the lighting got especially beautiful while the whales swam through Spieden Channel.

T123A Stanley

Mostly the trio seemed to be in quick travel mode, with just one short stop to either check something out or perhaps make a kill. Little T123C Lucky got excited during these few minutes, and created this splash by doing a tail slap right by his mom and big brother.

As they entered San Juan Channel, T123A again split off from his mom and younger sibling and went wide, giving us one nice last look before we headed back to home port.

T123A Stanley
The whales sightings just keep increasing, and while I haven't seen them there's been some large congregations of transients, and part of K-Pod also made their first appearance of the summer season a couple days ago. Who knows what I'll see next?!


Vera said...

Great post! I was wondering how you identify humpback whales.....or do you?

Kate said...

Gorgeous pictures....
Did you happen to see this