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Saturday, June 25, 2016

June 25th: The T123s, T36As, and T75Bs in Boundary Pass

After being around for a few days early in the month, the Southern Residents have again proven scarce. This is starting to feel a lot like the summer of 2013, when they were hardly around at all. On a few days, some residents have just poked their heads in, presumably to check things out, before leaving and heading west again less than 24 hours later. On June 18th, it was a sub-group of L-Pod that came in as far as Lime Kiln before heading west again.

Members of the L4 matriline came into mid Haro Strait, barely making it north of Lime Kiln before turning and porpoising back south again

It was nice to see them, however briefly, including numerous spectacular breaches by L82 Kasatka:

On June 23rd, the stars finally aligned for me to see orcas right from our houseboat in Friday Harbor! It's not often orcas come right inside of Brown Island, and despite having the houseboat in the family for the last 13 years, I've never managed to be here when the whales come through. That all changed as I lived out something I've dreamed of experiencing for years! I really only saw one surfacing from pretty far away, but it was still awesome, and I have a photo to document it:

As they left Friday Harbor and turned north up San Juan Channel, we hurried over to the Friday Harbor Labs property where we saw them again, getting a little better view this time of the T73As, a group of transients I had never seen until this year.

T73A with her sprouter son T73A1

Today, with no reports of whales anywhere nearby but sunny skies and calm seas, the Orca Behavior Institute crew decided to head out anyway since we haven't been on the boat in a long time. Maybe all we needed to do was get out on the water anyway! It wasn't long after we left before we heard about two different groups of transients heading south from up north. It was still a bit of a trip for us, but with whale sightings being more limited for us this year, it was worth the effort!

First we caught up with the T123s near Skipjack Island.

Male T123A

They were looping all over the place. First they seemed to be aiming for President's Channel, but then they followed along the north side of Waldron to Sandy Point. Just when it looked like they might aim south to San Juan Channel, they flipped north again, then went west, and finally east across Boundary Pass. For whatever reason, they decided not to intercept the other group of transients that had just made their way down Swanson Channel.

Crossing Boundary Pass is fun in calm waters, but you had better keep an eye out for those freighters!

With the T123s getting more and more unpredictable, we headed over to the other group heading east along Pender Bluffs, made up of the T36As and T75Bs - six whales including two one year olds. They were all slowly traveling in a tight group, and with their more predictable surfacings it was easier to get a good view and snap some photos.


T36A and one year old T36A3
The T36As


It was nice to get a look at little T75B2 - who is actually quite a bit bigger than when I first saw him/her as a two week old calf back in April 2015!

When we decided to peel off and head home, they were just at the bottom of Plumper Pass, seemingly undecided as to whether to head north or continue east. If the seas were anything but flat we wouldn't have been able to venture so far from home. I checked out on the map after getting back, and it turns out with all the looping around Boundary Pass we traveled about 45 miles on Serenity today! It was a great christening trip for the new name decals we just got on the boat this morning:

Back at the harbor after about four and a half hours on the water, I had to whip out the camera one more time to snap a few photos of these Canada geese goslings in the bay:

It was a great day that finally felt like summer, but despite seeing lots of orcas, it still doesn't feel right not having our Southern Residents around!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 5: The Residents Return!

After three weeks with no Southern Residents, I woke up on the morning of June 5th to the message form a friend that she had started hearing orca vocals on the hydrophones on the west side of San Juan Island at 5:45 AM. I popped out of bed and half an hour later was motoring out into Haro Strait, where the timing was perfect to meet up with a big group of J- and L-Pod whales traveling all together. It's always awesome to see so many dorsal fins, but especially so after a long absence!

I was amused by the fact that I got L90, L91, and L92 all in the same photo - with little L122 in there as a bonus. It was great to check in with all the babies and see that they had survived the winter all right!

From left to right: L90 Ballena, L92 Crewser, L122, and L91 Muncher

It couldn't have been a more beautiful morning, with those glassy calm blue waters and the Olympic Mountains in the background.

From left to right: J54, J28 Polaris, J47 Notch, J34 Doublestuf, and J22 Oreo

J17 Princess Angeline and her youngest, J53

As they reached Henry Island, the groups from each pod separated, with Js traveling ahead and Ls slowing down and hanging back. They had been a ways offshore, but as they neared the island the whales took the shoreline, so the lighting changed but remained just as stunning as all the blows were backlit.

Moving in towards shore along Henry Island

The Center for Whale Research boat almost obscured by the mist from whale blows
 It was also my first chance to meet L103 Lapis' firstborn, L123:

L123, the youngest member of L-Pod, born November 2015

Eventually, Js continued north to meet up with the other whales that had gone up ahead of them, and Ls turned back and would spend the rest of the day doing the westside shuffle.

While their return was coincidental, it couldn't have been better timed, as my husband Jason and I had a part that afternoon with friends and family to celebrate our marriage. Being able to spend a couple early morning hours with just the two of us and the whales made it truly a perfect day!