After being gone about three weeks, members of J-Pod finally returned to inland waters on July 3rd. They zoomed north, and have alternated between spending some time at the mouth of the Fraser River and doing laps on around the San Juans. Until July 7th, it was just the J2s and J19s (plus L87) here, a total of 10 whales. I caught up with them a couple times, including on the evening of July 6th as they made their way north past Lime Kiln towards Turn Point. Off Stuart Island, they stopped and had a good old-fashioned "cuddle puddle", as after traveling for a while they all grouped up, rested at the surface, and rolled around together for about 10 minutes.
The only whale not included in the mix was L87 Onyx, who for whatever reason stayed well offshore of the socializing whales. He did participate in some playful behavior, however, by throwing a couple of inverted tail slaps.
As they continued north again, little J51 Nova kept up the friskiness, doing several tail slaps and cartwheels.
|Cartwheel from J51 Nova|
|From left to right: J40 Suttles, J2 Granny, and J51 Nova|
Even though the rain started coming down, we couldn't quite leave them as they approached scenic Turn Point.
|J37 Hy'shqa off the cliff at "Lover's Leap" on Stuart Island|
As my research partner Michael commented, the drizzly, overcast evening seemed like "the kind of weather killer whales should be seen in".
|Js pass the Turn Point Light Station on Stuart Island, July 6th, 2016|
On July 8th, the J2s and J19s started heading up Haro Strait past Lime Kiln in the late afternoon, but stalled out before they had all passed. Looking west, I spotted the reason for their delay as whale watch boats came into view past Discovery Island. The J16s, J17s, and J22s (the rest of J-Pod except the J11s) were on their way in! Granny's group went out to meet them, and they all reunited in the middle of the straits before making their way over to San Juan Island. It looked like they were aiming for False Bay, and as it got later in the day, many of the people who had been anxiously awaiting the whales on the rocks left the park. As so often happens, after many people cleared out, that's when the whales showed up. And they didn't disappoint. As the J17s led the way north, we were treated to a close pass on the rocks at Lime Kiln - my first such pass of the year. I can't believe it took until July to see the whales this close from shore, but I'll take it!
|J47 Notch surfaces right off the rocks in front of Lime Kiln Lighthouse|
The J2s and J19s followed the J17s north, while the J16s and J22s spread out and foraged to the south of Lime Kiln. With daylight fading and most of the boats clearing out, we headed out for a brief evening encounter with the northbound whales. The first whales we caught up with were J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova, still cruising north:
|J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova on the evening of July 8th|
While we only had a short time with the whales before it got dark, it was well worth the trip out for the stunning hydrophone recording we got of the Js vocalizing in the tranquil seas. Listen to a clip of what we heard on the Orca Behavior Institute's Sound Cloud here.
Sometime overnight, the J22s and J16s must have made their way north to join up with the others, because on the morning of July 9th, they along with the rest of Js (still minus the J11s) went south past Lime Kiln in the late morning. The whales were all very spread out and pretty far offshore, but it was still a chance to check in with all of the J-Pod youngsters.
|J51 Nova, who is proving to always be full of spunk|
|J17 Princess Angeline and her youngest, J53, with a freighter in the background|
I predicted the whales would come back north on the flood tide in the mid- to late-afternoon. Usually when I voice something like this out loud they like to prove me completely wrong, but today that's exactly what they did! At around 3:30, they began passing Lime Kiln heading north again, and it was pretty quickly apparent it was going to be a special passby.
J19 Shachi was in the lead, followed by J2 Granny, who came in close to shore:
Following Granny were members of the J16s, particularly J16 Slick with J50 Scarlet and J42 Echo.
|J16 Slick in the foreground with her daughter J42 Echo behind her|
Next were two young mom with their firstborn calves traveling together: J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova with J36 Alki and J52 Sonic. Alki broke off for a bit, leaving Eclipse to babysit the two youngsters.
|J41 Eclipse with J51 Nova and J52 Sonic|
After this group passed, all the other whales (the J14s, J22s, and J17s) meandered there way towards the shoreline of the park together in one big, slow moving, playful group. As a few whales ducked into Deadman Bay, I had to climb down lower onto the rocks to experience what I knew was going to be a special moment.
|A family enjoying just how close the whales come to the rocks at Lime Kiln Point State Park|
|J28 Polaris and her calf J54 approaching the kelp|
It was my first time seeing whales in the kelp this year. Again, I can't believe it took until July for this to happen - but again, I'll most definitely take it!
|J28 Polaris kelping|
|J28 Polaris kelping|
Here's my artsy shot of the day, a black and white close up of J35 Tahlequah.
It was nice to get a close up look at J34 Doublestuf, who I hadn't seen in a while. As usual, he wasn't far from mom!
|J34 Doublestuf and J22 Oreo|
Doublestuf's younger brother J38 Cookie was further offshore, but is getting so big! Look at how straight that fin is now.
Several of the whales were in a playful mood. I could see them swimming upside down underwater. While the camera didn't capture that so well, it did capture their rolling at the surface, tail slapping, and surface lunges.
It was awesome to get another close pass from J47 Notch, who was traveling with his uncle (who is just one year older than him), J44 Moby.
|Seven year-old J44 Moby (left) and six year-old J47 Notch (right)|
I was at the south end of the park, and as the whales approached the lighthouse several of them did a series of breaches, including J40 Suttles.
|Nice big breach by J40 Suttles|
I could get used to this seeing whales every day thing again! Fingers crossed there's enough fish for these guys to stick around, and for the rest of the Southern Residents to come in soon too!