Southern resident killer whale with kelp string between the lobes of her flukes. This play behavior is called "kelping."
This morning, Captain Jim and I departed Roche Harbor with positive reports of some southern resident killer whales north of us, in Boundary Pass. So, we cruised north past Speiden, through John’s Pass, and eventually caught up with the whales a few miles northeast of Turn Point. I immediately recognized J42 Echo, and therefore knew that we had to have the rest of the J16s with us somewhere. Shortly thereafter, J16 Slick, the matriarch, and her youngest calf J50 Scarlet surfaced while apparently picking up speed toward Turn Point.
As they rounded the point, they swam past a group of very lucky kayakers. Further down Stuart Island, either Slick or Scarlet began kelping. This is a form of object play, and usually consists of dragging a piece of bull kelp along with some extremity, whether it be pectoral fin, dorsal fin, flukes, or even on the head. In this case, the kelp was strung just in the notch between the two lobes of the flukes (see above).
Soon, we headed just a bit more offshore to another animal. It was J26 Mike, Slicks only son. Guests were impressed by his size, with male dorsal fins getting 3-4 feet taller than those of the females, which we had been watching. He also was being his goofy self, swimming very slowly without completely going back under the surface, circling and twisting to one side, as well as quite a few lazy spyhops. I joked that he (my favorite whale) was checking to see if I was out today.
After getting last looks at Mike, we headed in the direction of Roche before stopping one more time and getting an awesome look at J37 Hy’shqa, whose other 6 family members should also have been somewhere in the vicinity, before heading back in to Roche Harbor.
M/V Sea Hawk