Today Captain Gabe and I left the dock on the Seahawk with a boat full of excited passengers and reports of whales. I was particularly excited because I have been off the water and away from the wonders of the ocean for a few days. As we motored through mosquito pass under the hazy sky, we began to rack up the wildlife sightings with a great blue heron lazily flapping by and some playful river otters fearlessly running around on some rocks.
We didn't have long to wait after exiting Mosquito Pass into Haro Strait before we came upon blows on the horizon and black fins breaking the surface. Killer whales!! We came upon members of J-pod heading South along the West side of San Juan Island. Most of the time most of J-pod will travel together, but the whales we saw were a single matriline (A group made of a matriarch and all of her offspring) traveling on their own. Based on the group structure, we determined them to be the J16 matriline which is slightly unique this summer.
Teh J16 pod is named for its matriarcch, J16 or Slick. Slick is both a new mother AND a new grandmother this year! we saw all four of her offspring: her son J26 (Mike) who is a full grown, 30-foot male named for Dr. Michael Bigg, her daughters J36 (Alki) and J42 (Echo) and her newest addition, J50, a hence unnamed female. We also saw Alki's son J52. The two youngsters, despite being separated by a generation, were very playful and we saw each of them "popcorning" behind their respective mothers with the occasional half breach thrown in there.
Slick is not only unique in having both a new daughter and a new grandson within several months of each other, but she is also the oldest known Orca to have a new calf, at 42 years old. It was previously thought that Orcas reach a menopausal state beyond the age of 40, but Slick proved us wrong.
It was great to see this family emerging from the waves to breathe, spyhop and jump as we followed them south and west towards Victoria, BC. After a bit of a high seas adventure and lots of incredible sightings of the J16's we decided to say goodbye and watch them disappear into the mist. On our way back north we stopped by a Cormorant rookery at Kellet Bluffs where hundreds of Pelagic Cormorants nest during the summer, resupplying the ocean with nutrients via their guano!
If that wasn't enough, we also saw lots of harbor seals and a few bald eagles on our way back into Roche Harbor.
Another whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!
Naturalist Mike J