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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Summary of June Southern Resident Visits

Yikes, I think more than two months without a blog post is a new record, and not in a good way! It has been a very busy summer so far, and thankfully part of that has been due to some visits from the Southern Residents over the last six weeks. In the interest of sharing some photos and recapping some sightings, I'll make this a bit of a summary blog.

June 11 - 16: J-Pod and the Greater L4s

On June 11th the Southern Residents returned to the Salish Sea for the first time in nine weeks. All of J-Pod returned with the group I've called the "Greater L4s", made up of the L4s, L26s, L47s, and L72s. (The L12s actually came in too, but left the next day, while the others stayed.) This was obviously cause for great celebration, including playing hooky a morning from work to go say hi to them all and truly kick off the summer whale-watching season.

L55 in Haro Strait June 11
It was a picture perfect, glassy calm morning to be out on the water, and we got some fantastic hydrophone recordings before there were any other boats out. You can hear a clip here.

J38 Cookie also seemed "excited" to be back, though as much as we were hoping he was helping to make babies, he was actually fooling around with a couple of other young males, J39 Mako and L109 Takoda.

Regardless of what they were up to, it was just great to see some exuberant, roly-poly whales.

One of the best parts of seeing the whales after a long absence is to see how much they have grown, such as L122 Magic who already looks so much bigger at 3 years old!

L91 Muncher and L122

I think everyone was holding their breath that after such a long absence, the Southern Residents might only make a brief 24 hour visit, but luckily they stayed around for the next five days. On June 15, they were doing a good old fashioned "westside shuffle", and I got to see them early in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night!

The morning included a special moment at Land Bank where it was just me and the whales, and I was treated to this spyhop from J36 Alki.

Spyhop from J36 Alki

In the afternoon, the J16s and J19s came up as far as Lime Kiln before turning around, but not before J16 slick took a turn in the bull kelp right off the lighthouse, and did four or five spyhops making sure we got a nice look at her from every angle!

J16 Slick flings some kelp in the air with her tail
"Which side is right?....
....or my left?"
In the evening, after a big group of Js zipped north on a huge flood tide, they then turned and rocketed back south right off the shoreline of Lime Kiln, all in a big line.

A little behind them came the rest, in a slower and more playful fashion.

Breach from J37 Hy'shqa

Sadly, on the morning of the 16th, the whales were headed back west again, but two other things made their first visit of the summer even more bittersweet. One was that L92 Crewser was not with them, bringing the population down to just 75 whales. The other was that three year old female J50 Scarlet was looking emaciated. All calves, but especially female calves (due the male-bias sex ratio in calves in recent years and also the female's ability to produce more whales) are so, so critical to this endangered population. We are all crossing our fingers for this little whale, who has been a fighter from day one, with the scarring she showed right after birth potentially being from a difficult birthing process where other whales had to assist. As of today, July 15th, more than a month later, she is still with us, but is not yet looking better.

June 20 - 21: J-Pod and the Greater L4s

On June 20th, the same group of Js and Ls came back into inland waters, and they were in party mode as they passed Land Bank's Westside Preserve in one big group in the afternoon.

J27 Blackberry and his brother J39 Mako

Some of the L4s
They went all the way up to the Fraser, then when they came down the next day they split into two groups. J-Pod came down one of the "normal" ways, but the Ls came down San Juan Channel, and I saw them as they exited Cattle Pass. The few times I've seen Residents exit Cattle Pass, they always seem to go beserk, and this time was no exception as they were breaching and tail slapping all over the place as they moved out into the bigger, windier seas of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It was a quicker visit this time, as on the 22nd the whales were westbound out the strait again. The same Js and Ls made another visit to inland waters June 27-29, but were not very cooperative for shore-based whale watchers this time as they passed the west side of San Juan Island in the middle of the night each time. That would wrap up their visits for June, and then there would be another nearly two week absence before the Southern Residents returned in mid-July. Js came back in on June 12th, bringing K-Pod with them for their first visit to the Salish Sea since March! But this will all be further recapped in my next post, which I promise won't take two months to share!

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