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Friday, July 7, 2017

June 29th: Sunset Js -- July 1st and 3rd: Ts

On June 29th, J-Pod and the K14s were back in Haro Strait after spending a few days at the Fraser River. They flipped back south before going north in the mid-afternoon, but they did go north past Lime Kiln just before sunset.

Early morning and sunset whales - there's nothing better.

Light was fading quickly but we've seen so little of these guys this spring that we couldn't help but hop on our boat for another short encounter before dark. We met up with the J19s and J11s at Open Bay, and J51 Nova was in an exuberant mood!

J51 Nova
These whales had been the lead group, moving quickly north on the flood tide, with most of the rest of J-Pod in a large, slower moving group behind them. We were a bit surprised that they all stalled out on their journey north, as we didn't see the large group. From what we heard from others, it sounds like they were milling around County Park until after dark, when they did all finally go north.

J27 Blackberry in Haro Strait at dusk
Right before we had to go in, we got a beautiful look at J31 Tsuchi.

J31 Tsuchi
They made one more trip up north but then snuck out during the following evening, and again no Southern Residents have been seen since. We had resident whales in inland waters for just 24 days through April, May, and June of this year. The average from 1990-2016 over the same time period is 60 days. The crashing spring Chinook runs on the Fraser River seem the likely culprit for this drastic change.

While it doesn't make up for the scarcity of our resident orcas, the transient killer whale sightings continue to be off the hook. Unfortunately for us most have them have been too far away for us to see, but we did get a couple of looks at the T49As over the 4th of July weekend. They've been looping around the San Juan Islands a lot, and even made two visits INTO Friday Harbor and one into Roche Harbor (on a holiday weekend no less, those crazy whales!). On July 1st we saw them from the Friday Harbor Labs as they headed north up San Juan Channel.

Spyhop from male T49A1

We got a nice look at them as they passed, but then they stopped and made a kill just north of us, giving us a longer view from shore. At one point a lot of of blood was visible on the surface of the water, leaving no doubt as to what was causing them to linger!

The T49As surface amid a blood slick from their latest marine mammal kill

Eventually they did continue north, and so did we, catching them again from Reuben Tarte, where two of them made an incredibly close pass to an unsuspecting fishing boat! This whale never even surfaced, but lingered for a second alongside this boat, long enough for the people on board to move over and look straight down at it! In this photo you can see the white of the whale's chin and eyepatch right below the hull of the boat:

The T49As continue on their way
Two days later, on July 3rd, the T49As were in San Juan Channel again, this time heading north with the T65As and T75Bs. We saw them from a distance from Cattle Pass as they entered the channel and then as they milled in Griffin Bay, but we got our best look from the shores of the Friday Harbor Labs. We got there before the whales came into view so we had no idea which side of the channel they were on, or even for sure if they were still headed our way, so this was a very welcome sight:

Yes! Right place, right time
Again they gave some unsuspecting fishermen an incredible experience!

It was a short, but nice, pass.

Males T49A1 and T65A2, traveling together
We tried seeing them again from Reuben Tarte, but by that point in time they had crossed to the far side of the channel and were hard to see. So our last good look was this head lift by T49A1:

That catches you up on my whale encounters for the last week - now I'm ready to have more! :) Well, there was one more unusual superpod spotted on July 4th - at the parade in Friday Harbor. More than 130 Orca Protectors from 16 local organizations came together to march under the banner "Protect What You Love". We carried dorsal fins for every member of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales, plus ghost fins for the 7 whales we lost last year, and many salmon and other sea creatures. It was an impressive sight, taking up much of Spring Street as orca vocalizations played over an amplifier! This picture doesn't quite give the scene justice, but you'll have to imagine more of this stretched out in both directions. Our entry won the judge's choice award among all parade entries and was declared the unofficial overall favorite.

A superpod of Orca Protectors at the 4th of July Parade
As amazing as the transient encounters have been, this was a great reminder to everyone that this *should* be a peak time for visits from J-, K-, and L-Pods. We will not let their absence go unremarked upon, even if there are other whales around to enjoy.

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