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Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 20th: A Whale of a Day With All Three Pods

On the evening of August 19th, after a day with no whales in the area, we heard about a large group of residents heading in from out west. With hopes of perhaps our first real superpod of the season, we headed out to the west side on the morning of August 20th with word of whales heading up towards Lime Kiln. The first marine mammal sighting of the day, however, wasn't an orca but this harbor seal pup in the kelp:

With the potential for all the whales to be in the area and no idea at all who's out there, it always takes a bit to figure out just who we're looking at. The whales being all mixed up makes it a little bit harder, too! The first whales we saw were some members of the K13s with some members of the L47s.

K25 Scoter and L47 Marina

If you were surprised like I was to not have J2 Granny in the lead group as usual, turns out that's just because she was so far in the lead she passed Lime Kiln before sun-up. I heard later that Granny's group of J-Pod was way up in Swanson Channel already with the L4s at this time.

The mixed group of Ks and Ls hung out for a long while in front of Lime Kiln, apparently actively foraging. They were spread out, but we saw lots of surface activity, including some impressive lunges as they presumably pursued a salmon.

Awesome surface lunge by K13 Skagit
Even though they weren't as close to shore as a couple days ago, the morning light was again awesome for seeing photographing all their surface behavior.

Tail slap by K25 Scoter
As a few more whales came north to join the group, they all converged and were zipping around in tight groups. They don't really cooperatively hunt for salmon as far as we know, but it sure looked like the feeding was good in that spot for everyone!

An odd combo: K20 Spock and baby L122

A couple of foraging whales zoomed past this boat (who had cut their engines - the whales approached them), wowing the people on the board. I particularly love the look of disbelief from the woman on the left as she experiences a moment she'll never forget! The girls on top look pretty thrilled, too.

K27 Deadhead and another whale thrill these onlookers
The photos didn't really capture the excitement of the foraging whales, but we had our hydrophone in the water, and the vocalizations sure did. Check out a clip of what we heard here

After a time this group of whales continued north, and next to pass us were K38 Comet and K34 Cali to complete the K13 family group.

K38 Comet heading north to catch up with the rest of his family

Next came some more L-Pod whales, including a couple I haven't seen much of at all this year, like L72 Racer and L105 Fluke!

L105 Fluke - who has grown so much since last year that I had to do a double take when I saw him!
After a few more Ls went by, we thought that was probably it, as no other whales were in sight to the south. Perhaps all the whales that were coming in the night before hadn't stayed? We headed home to have a late breakfast, and then heard from a friend that other whales were heading towards the south end of San Juan Island from offshore! We headed back out to the west side, but the only whales that made it north past Lime Kiln were the J16s - all the other Js, Ks, and Ls stayed near False Bay or further south.

J16 Slick and J50 Scarlet make a mid-afternoon pass by Lime Kiln

In the evening, the seas remained flat calm as they had all day, so after an early dinner we decided to head out on the boat to see if we could meet up with the whales off False Bay. Surprisingly, we ended up finding whales right near Open Bay! The J16s were on their way back south. But even more surprisingly, they weren't alone! I had seen all the members of the J16s when we spotted another male offshore. I took a photo to figure out who it was, and you should have heard my excitement when I realized it was L84 Nyssa, a member of the greater L54 sub-group of L-Pod who don't generally spend much time here at all.

You wouldn't think this average photo would cause so much excitement, but....L84 NYSSA!!!

After he passed we swung around to the outside of him to get a better shot of his other side lit up by the evening light.

L84 Nyssa about one and a half miles offshore of San Juan County Park
I figured it was unlikely he would be there without the others in his sub-group, and sure enough we found two more of them. (The other two were apparently well to the south with the other whales - it's a mystery how these guys made it up to the J16s seemingly undetected, though they were so far offshore maybe it's not surprising.) I love getting to spend time with these guys, the members of the Southern Resident Community that I know the least well.

L108 Coho with the Lime Kiln Lighthouse in the distance
We dropped the hydrophone a couple times, and while they were mostly just echolocating we did get a few vocals from L108. He stopped a couple times to actively forage, and we saw more surface lunges much like we saw from the other group first thing this morning.

I always love abstract whale shots with cool lighting/reflections, so check out this heavily cropped photo of L108 and the water in the amazing evening light:

The tip of the dorsal fin of L108 Coho as he submerges
We saw our first whales of the day around 8 AM and our last whales of the day around 8 PM! By the time it got dark out we were exhausted, but not complaining in the least! We wondered if we would be in for another whale-filled day today, August 21st, but what a difference a day makes. Yesterday there were whales on the west side all day and flat calm seas. Today, no whales nearby, and heavy winds with rough seas! A good time to stay at home and go through all the photos, data, and recordings we collected yesterday!

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