It’s always a special day when we get to observe humpback whales in the Salish Sea. Since whalers started targeting our humpback population in their breeding grounds around Hawaii, their numbers have plummeted. Despite the passing of the international ban on whaling in 1982, it took until 2003 for humpbacks to rediscover our waters and begin establishing a population here. Today we have an estimated four dozen adult humpbacks that return to our waters every summer, so spotting them is rare and substantial.

Even more rare is observing two humpbacks traveling together, especially considering the small population of humpbacks and the large area that they occupy over the course of the summer. The two individuals that we observed today were surfacing in sync, diving in sync, and fluking out in sync, which proved to be a breathtaking and magical experience.

When we arrived on scene, we had only traveled a quarter of the way down the west side of San Juan Island before we saw our first beautiful double fluke-out. The two whales were initially traveling due north, diving remarkably close to the shoreline. Immediately after their first deep dive they switched directions 180 degrees and started heading south at a good clip. These whales were on a mission! We observed them fluke out a few more times before heading up to Spieden Island to observe some harbor seals and soaring bald eagles!

We were so lucky today to get to observe a few members of the new founding population of humpbacks in the Salish Sea. In years to come we hope to see individuals traveling together more and more as their population grows larger!

Naturalist Sarah C.

M/V Seahawk

Humpback whale in the San Juan Islands