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Friday, March 13, 2020

March 9: J-Pod in San Juan Channel

Word came in Monday afternoon that J-Pod was in Boundary Pass, but instead of taking their typical route southwest towards Turn Point, they veered towards San Juan Channel. With the sun shining and the winds calm, it was just too tempting not to duck out of work early and get on the water! While we had heard they were very spread out, about half the pod grouped up right as we got on scene north of Yellow Island.

J38 Cookie

Historically, visits were few and far between this time of year, and we would expect the Southern Residents to be around more starting in April. In recent years, that has completely changed, and we now see them more in October-March than we do from April-July!

Interestingly, this mixed sub-group contained some members of every matriline. It's definitely something I've noticed in recent years, particularly with the losses of some of the older females like J2 Granny, J8 Spieden, J14 Samish, and J17 Princess Angeline: J-Pod is a lot less likely to travel in matrilineal groups, and more often travels in mixed groups.

In typical Southern Resident fashion, the whales were very surface active, which also delighted passengers aboard the inter-island ferry that came by:

As the whales neared Friday Harbor the large group we were with fanned out, but a smaller group of whales came together and were presumably in pursuit of salmon, but the way they were circling and lunging at the surface together made them almost look like transients!

As these whales continued on, we spotted a couple blows closer to San Juan Island and headed over there to find J16 Slick with her son J26 Mike. The lighting was perfect for those epic backlit blow shots, the ones I will never get tired of!

As Slick and Mike passed Point Caution, they were lined up perfectly for a shot in front of Friday Harbor, and the Olympic Mountains in the background were icing on the cake!

J16 Slick and J26 Mike in front of Friday Harbor

Interestingly, as the whales so often do when they come down San Juan Channel in the winter, they stalled out right at Friday Harbor. Suddenly they all turned to cross over towards the Shaw Island shoreline, where they again grouped up, this time heading north.

J26 Mike crossing San Juan Channel
It was at this point that we got a look at J-Pod's youngest member, J56 Tofino, along with her mom J31 Tsuchi. Tofino was in a very energetic mood, breaching over and over and over again! Such a great sight to see.

J31 Tsuchi and J56 Tofino

J56 Tofino catches some serious air in front of the Conservation Canines research vessel
We knew it was going to get dark soon, but it was just too beautiful of an evening to leave. It was truly one of those moments that you dream about: the evening light, the quiet waters, and all of J-Pod traveling together, the sound of their blows echoing across the channel.

It was an unforgettable night 💙💙💙

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