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Saturday, September 24, 2016

September 18-22: Whales Every Day!

This is why we love September - beautiful lighting, fewer tourists, dramatic weather, and ALL the Southern Residents hanging out! The last few days have not disappointed, with a lot of all of the above.

It started on September 18th when we caught some J and K Pod whales heading north past Lime Kiln. Some might consider this shot of J41 Eclipse a "miss" but I like these bizarre off-angle shots sometimes. She and J51 Nova were zipping north and hard to catch with the camera.

J41 Eclipse

Many of the whales were quite far offshore, but we got a nice pass from L87 Onyx and his newest traveling partner - J45 Se-Yi'-Chn. It's been an interesting new combo, but one I think is probably good for both whales! L87 had taken to traveling mostly by himself, and J45 has just lost his mom J14 Samish, so it's nice to see them buddying up.

L87 Onyx approaching

J45 Se-Yi'-Chn
The trailing group on this day was the K13s:

K13 Skagit and her daughter K20 Spock

On September 19th, we just watched distant whales off the south end of San Juan Island. They were too far away to take photos, but it was still cool to see a huge resting group, even from that distance! More whales had come in on this day, though, bringing the entire population of Southern Residents into inland waters. That meant things were perfectly aligned for a magical superpod morning on the 20th of September! The southern group of Js, Ks, and Ls must have gone north before first light, as not long after daybreak all the SRKWs were southbound in Haro Strait. We caught up with the slow moving trailing group on the west side, and spent two tranquil hours watching and recording them with our hydrophone.

There's nothing I don't love about this photo! Jason tuning in to our live hydrophone feed, with a whale surfacing offshore and a great blue heron flying by!

K21 Cappuccino kept going back and forth foraging just about the entire time we were there, as did that great blue heron. That gave me a couple chances at getting both in the same photo!

Speaking of K21, it had been a while since I had spent some time with him. It was nice to get a good look at him again as at one point he surfaced right off the kelp.

K21 Cappuccino
L92 Crewser came by several times, too:

L92 Crewser
While Cappuccino and Crewser spent the morning foraging, L85 Mystery seemed to have other things on his mind. He was in hot pursuit of J35 Tahlequah, and spent the rest of his time rolling around and playing with a mix of the J17s and L4s.

L85 Mystery in the middle socializing with whales outside of his family group
L85 Mystery with J35 Tahlequah and J47 Notch - I thought Notch was getting big until I saw him next to Mystery! ;)
All in all it was a very tranquil morning!

On September 21st, we again got to Lime Kiln in the middle of J and K Pods heading north. Again, they were mostly pretty far offshore, and again, they were going fast!

It was such a beautiful day out and with whales spread all over Haro Strait we decided to hop in the boat. The first whales we caught up with at Open Bay were some of the J17s.

J17 Princess Angeline and J53 Kiki

Following behind these two whales were the J28s - all of them! She's still looking thing, but our fighter J28 Polaris is still with us.

J28 Polaris - I breathe a sigh of relief every time I see her!

We saw a lot of blows to the south of us, so drifted back to see what was going on. We caught up with a group of about 15 whales including the K13s and a few other members of all three pods. They were swimming in a tight group, and kept changing directions, seemingly without vocalizing at all. They were so close to one another they may have all actually been in physical contact. It was amazing to watch as they swam in a circle....we could only guess at what they were doing!

First facing one way...
....then the other...

...then turning around again!

They seemed really undecided on whether to go north and south, going on long dives and surfacing first in one location facing one way and then somewhere totally different facing the other.

Which way should we go?
  Finally it seemed they decided to go north:

And finally we heard a few vocals from them, too! Check out a short clip here.

As the Js and Ks continued north, a couple whales held back...and it turns out it was the L22s! We jokingly say they always hang out at Eagle Point, because it's rare for them to ever come up north of Lime Kiln, but here they were!

L22 Spirit

Tail slap from L89 Solstice

Late in the day on September 22nd, the Js and Ks we saw go north on the 21st were making their way back down. First came the K12s and K13s in the late afternoon passing the west side in harsh sun glare.

By the time the others made it down a couple hours later, the sun was already low in the sky (at 6:30?! Days are definitely noticeably shorrter!). The wind and wave action had picked up, too, making for a really dramatic backdrop for a whale passby. On top of that, the whales were fairly close to shore and super active! The turbulent waters also seemed to be attracting lots of birds, which were flying around everywhere during the pass. It was a bit chaotic but fun to watch! I ended up with many shots like this one, with gulls flying across as I tried to photograph whales. Can you see the four distant whales in this photo?

The whole pass ended up feeling really magical; the big waves made all the whale surface activity extra splashy, and all the splashes were backlit by the setting sun!

It was hard to know where to point the camera, especially since the first whales were in a pretty large group! I definitely missed more shots than a got, but here are a few more moments I did manage to capture:

J17 Princess Angeline

J27 Blackberry

J35 Tahlequah

It was one of those very memorable passbys, and I try extra hard to soak up moments like these at the end of the season, when you just don't know how many more times you'll see these guys before the long winter months that lie ahead!

1 comment:

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Superb set of pics Monika. Really must try to visit some day and see the action with my own eyes.

Hope there's plenty of salmon for them this coming winter