Humpback Whale

[Monday, 6/18/18 - M/V Seahawk - 12:00 - Naturalist Erick]

 

This Monday We headed out into the bright shiny waters of San Juan Channel. Captain Pete and I took a group of passengers south through San Juan Channel. On our way we passed Harbor Porpoises that were swimming, Bald Eagles that were soaring, and Pigeon Guillemots that were diving. We headed south past Friday Harbor and Turn Island to go see a Humpback Whale that was travelling and feeding down here. Humpback Whales are a success story in this area of the world as they are becoming in many of the waters around the U.S. and Canada. The Salish Sea was a heavily whaled area for a long time and Humpback Whales were one of the main targets for the whaling industry. Like in most parts of the world their populations were decimated and the charismatic baleen whale became absent from the inland sea for almost a century. The first one, Big Mama, returned in the early 2000s and ever since then we have seen a dramatic increase in Humpbacks traveling through and staying to feed in the area. Their populations in the north Pacific Ocean are increasing and they probably are returning to the old edges of their ranges which is super exciting for us especially when they come through the smaller channels in between the island. This younger whale, named Jupiter, kept traveling north through San Juan Channel. We watched him gracefully swim through the dynamic currents swirling in the channel. Every so often he would do a deeper dive and fluke up showing his massive tail cascading with water as he slipped beneath the surface for awhile. We paralleled him as he scooted along the Shaw Island shoreline and right as we were about to leave to return to Roche Harbor he fully breached! It was amazing to see the 30 some tons propel themselves out of the water and splash back in. At that moment you got an amazing comprehension of the massive size of the animal. It was definitely as long as the 40 foot boat we were on and in the moment he was in the air you could see the pleats along his lower jaw which expand to stuff more plankton filled sea water when he is feeding. We also got a glimpse of the eponymously long pectoral fins which have sensitive modified hair follicles on their leading edge. These are called tubercles and also cover the face of the whale allowing it great sensitivity of currents and plankton density around its body. Well, after that show it definitely was time to leave. We headed back towards Roche Harbor and had time to make one more quick stop to look at some Harbor Seals lounging outside the harbor.

 

Whale folks, that’s it for today.

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Outfitters