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Thursday, April 4, 2019

March 26 and April 1 with J-Pod

We recently got our new boat (acquired last fall) launched, which means new photographic opportunities have opened up again as we get back out on the water! On our first test drive we went birding in Griffin Bay, and I snapped this shot of two mew gulls and reflections unlike any I had ever seen before:

So far to date in 2019 the Southern Residents have been in the Salish Sea about twice as many days as 2018, and we are happy to have them! On March 23, I had my first encounter with them in 2019. While it was a lot more hearing them over the hydrophones, we did see a couple whales in the morning from Land Bank. It was great to see J17 Princess Angeline, a whale who had been ailing (and had "peanut head") dated back to the end of last year, and while it wasn't the greatest look, it appeared she was doing a bit better.

J17 Princess Angeline

On March 26, less than a week after we got our new boat in the water, J-Pod was coming down San Juan Channel, and opportunity that was just too good to pass up! Ever since we got the boat last fall, we had been debating which whales might be the ones to "christen" the boat. Given the time of year and the way sightings have been with Southern Residents, we suspected it would likely be Ts, but it definitely felt right for it to be J-Pod.

J35 Tahlequah - It felt perfect to have her be the whale to "christen" the boat by breaching and spyhopping nearby
Spyhop, also from J35 Tahlequah

We always say every whale encounter was different, and this one was no exception - we saw two different whales peeing into the air while laying upside down at the surface! This is a behavior I've never seen before, and to see it twice in the span of about half an hour....please tell me this isn't their new "fad"!

If you are so inclined, you may need to click to see a larger view, but the upside down whale is urinating!
J-Pod only got about as far south as Yellow Island before turning back north again, so as they made their way back toward Boundary Pass and the Strait of Georgia, we headed back to our home port. If this spring was anything like last year's, I thought it might be weeks or months before seeing them again, but amazingly, on April 1 J-Pod was again picked up aiming for San Juan Channel! We hopped out on a boat with friends in the late afternoon and caught up with them just north of Friday Harbor.

The first group we saw was J36 Alki, J42 Echo, J19 Shachi, J27 Blackberry, and J31 Tsuchi following right along the San Juan shoreline. The lighting was just right for backlit blows (at times to the point where we could see the blows but not the whales!):

J27 Blackberry
From left to right J27 Blackberry, J36 Alki, and J19 Shachi
They passed right in front of Friday Harbor, which is always a cool perspective to see!

J27 Blackberry in front of Friday Harbor
As this group continued south, we stopped to watch J41 Eclipse and J51 Nova, who seemed in a playful mood, as we saw Nova do several breaches as they approached. As they got closer we saw Nova pick up a piece of bull kelp, and he spyhopped several times with it draped around his head or over his pec fins.

A peek-a-boo spyhop from J51 Nova - you can just make out a piece of bull kelp floating to the right of his head
On one of the spyhops he surfaced with his mouth open. I don't know what it is about whale teeth, but it is always SO exciting to see them!

J51 Nova, mouth open
It was definitely turning into a spyhop kinda night, and shortly after this one, J42 Echo popped up again, and also spyhopped with her mouth open, teeth showing.

Another mouth-open spyhop, this one from J42 Echo
The rest of J-Pod was starting to come into view over on the Shaw Island side of the channel, and the whales we were watching went over to join them. It turned into a large (~15 whales), slowly moving, playful group that was a joy to watch.

Spyhops for all on this night!
Not only was the lighting perfect, but the whales passed right under Mt. Baker. And, as if on cue, J35 Tahlequah did a huge cartwheel. It sure does the heart good to see her so social and active after her tragic ordeal last summer, in which she carried her deceased neonate for 17 days.

Amazingly, instead of continuing down San Juan Channel, the whales veered for Upright Channel, a place I had never seen Southern Residents go before! As they angled into the channel, they passed close to a Washington State Ferry heading for Friday Harbor.

The ferry didn't seem to interrupt the party at all, as all the surface activity continued.

Half breach from one of the big boys
Next we saw L87 Onyx, in what looked like a sexual pursuit of another whale. At first I thought it was J37 Hy'shqa he was after, but it turned out to be J45 Se-Yi'-Chn. Boys will be boys, and orcas will be orcas!

L87 Onyx upside down at the surface
Suddenly, Onyx veered off and came over to circle the boat, giving us a special up close look, complete with a "rainblow".

L87 Onyx creates a "rainblow"
We hung in the same area for quite a while, as several other pairs and trios of whales came by, spread across all of Upright Channel.

J26 Mike passed right off the point of Canoe Island
The leaders got up to about Upright Head, and it appeared to be decision time. Would they continue east towards Rosario, veer over to Harney Channel, or come back the way they had come? They eventually decided to head back west through Upright Channel, but amazingly they hugged the Shaw Island shoreline so close they went inside of Canoe Island and right into Indian Cove, a channel not only narrow, but according to the chart on board only 13 feet deep on high tide! It was time to head in, but we had to stay long enough to see if they were actually going to go all the way through there....they did!

The beautiful evening ended as it had begun, with picturesque backlit blows:


Nanaglo45 said...

Love, love, love this... Your photos, your blog, and your book. Thank you!

James said...

J Pod is peeing in the air? That's hilarious and bizarre!

Anonymous said...

Your report is wonderful, Monika! I could picture all of the activity as if I were there with you (and not in my home in Hawaii!) I believe the boys must have been having a peeing contest! Boys will be boys, afterall! :) Aloha, Stephanie McLaughlin