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Friday, August 19, 2016

August 17th: The Morning We've Been Hoping For

It's a good thing I caught up on my other recent whale encounters on a blog post a few days ago, because my "off" streak definitely ended on the morning of August 17th, with an encounter that most definitely deserves its own dedicated post.

We dream of mornings like these. They're the reason we set our alarms from 6 AM on summer Saturdays, the reason we drive out to the west side extra early before going to work, the reason we spend hours sitting on the's because we hope for encounters like this. Calm waters, hardly any people, gorgeous lighting, and whales right off the kelp, so close you can see them swimming underwater.

It started like several other such mornings this summer, with Jason and I arriving at the west side before anybody else, sitting on the rocks eating cereal and straining our ears for that hoped-for sound of a whale breathing. Soon, the sun rose over the island behind us, and a few other dedicated friends gathered along the shoreline. As I chatted with one, Jason continued scanning with binoculars, until he exclaimed, "Whales. We have whales!" as the first dorsal fins came into view off the coast to the south of us.

They - Js and Ks - were swimming north against a strong ebb tide. It was slow progress for them, and they stopped to mill a little ways south of us, which had us all holding our breath against the possibility of the dreaded "T-word" (turnaround). But then, in characteristic fashion, J2 Granny led the way north.

J2 Granny

Behind her, one after another, came members of the K14s: K14 Lea, K26 Lobo, and K42 Kelp. Last year, the K14s were nearly always with Granny's group, but as seems to often be the case, each year brings different association patterns and it's not a group we've seen together too much yet this year.

With a few whales going north, we were hopeful the rest would follow, but it still wasn't guaranteed - we often see Granny and a few others pass Lime Kiln but then come back south before everyone makes it up to us. We anxiously watched the action south of us off Land Bank, where it looked like many whales were quite close to shore. It can be hard in these moments to sit still, when you know if you were somewhere else the whales would be right in front of you and have no guarantee they'll keep swimming to where you are. But, more often than not, patience pays off, as it did on this day.

Two "waves" of whales approaching
The whales were, as we say, "right off the rocks". If you wonder what this phrase means, here's the asnwer:

J26 Mike and J42 Echo
J40 Suttles

The first group to pass including members of the J14s and J16s. The morning light was so perfect, making for awesome reflections and the ability to see the whales underwater.

Awesome reflections

Underwater whales are the best! Prints of this photo available here. <3 br="">
J37 Hy'shqa. Prints of this photo available here.
So many photos, it's hard to narrow down which ones to share....

J37 Hy'shqa
J40 Suttles. Prints of this photo available here.
Prints of this photo available here

While some people have a hard time figuring out what part of the whale they're looking at in photos like these, I tend to love the abstract whale shots the best:

How many whales are in this photo? At least three!

Of course this shot, featuring the two loves of my life, is a contender for favorite of the day, too:

My husband Jason with J16 Slick and her son J26 Mike

On second thought, on days like this, there are too many favorites to pick just one:

Prints of this photo available here.

Closely following the J14s and J16s was another group made up of the J11s and J19s. Interestingly, the J17s and J22s were not present - just another chapter in the constantly changing association patterns! It was a special moment to check in with my favorite whale J41 Eclipse and her one year-old son J51 Nova. (Maybe this one is my favorite? ;) )

J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova. Prints of this photo available here.

J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova. Prints of this photo available here.

J19 Shachi

I feel like I haven't seen this big guy in forever - I was pretty excited to see him emerging from the depths!

J27 Blackberry

Following behind this group, but further offshore, were the K16s and K21. Then bringing up the rear was L87 and his new buddy, J45 Se-Yi-Chn (I've seen them together several times recently, which I love, because Onyx had been on his own a lot lately and J45 can feel like one of the big boys now (in my head anyway, haha).

The close passes like this only last a couple of minutes, but the images stay etched in your memory forever and leave you smiling for days! It's nourishing for the soul, that's for sure.

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