This afternoon's trip on the Seahawk began like many others. It was a warm day on the dock, our passengers were excited, and Captain Jim and I had no reports of killer whales. We left the dock anyway, and headed North out of Roche Harbor towards Stuart Island.
While answering questions about everything from whales to jellyfish to sharks and octopus, Jim and I were also scanning for Whales. Before long, we spotted dorsal fins heading towards Turn Point, the furthest NorthWest point in the continental United States (on Stuart Island). Occasionally whales are difficult to spot if they are being sneaky, blending in with waves or staying under for a long time (up to twenty minutes!). Today, this was not the case. We quickly identified this group as the K13 matriline of K Pod. K13, Skagit, was in the lead and the rest of her family including her children K20 (Spock), K25 (Scoter), K27 (Deadhead), K34 (Cali) and her grabdchildren K38 (Comet) and K44 (Ripple), were close behind when something incredible happened.
K38 (Comet) began the trend with a single breach. This young whale propelled his entire body out of the water using his tail muscle, or Caudal Peduncle. It definitely takes some effort to launch a three-ton orca into the air. Before we recovered from the excitement, he jumped again. And again, and again! These were the first three we witnessed. As they came around Turn Point and into Boundary Pass, most of the other members of the group took their shot at breaching at least once. The most impressive was seeing K25, Scoter, pull his full grown, six-ton body clear out of the water with a fully visible Mt. Baker as the backdrop. Between the first breach and Scoter's exhibition there must have been about twenty-five to thirty breaches executed by all the pod members, we even were fortunate enough to see one double breach!!
We all lost count after number thirty-five or so, but as we left them on their merry way the party was still going on (we later found out that as soon as we left they became very calm and mellow). Watching breach after breach is the most active I have seen any whales. Ever.
While the whales were making their exit, we decided to pull up a floating piece of bull kelp and check it out. Bull kelp grows about eight inches per day from spores settled on relatively shallow, rocky bottoms on many coastlines of the world. As it grows, its hollow stalk and bulbous float fill with carbon monoxide to help it float to the surface, where extended fronds will photosynthesize light. These fronds are not only edible, but contain a huge amount of valuable nutrients! We all had adventurous palettes on board, so we had our bites of kelp for the day before tossing it back into the briny deep (which reminds me, the stalks are great for pickling!).
As the K13s jumped their way up into Canadian waters towards the Strait of Georgia, we decided to head to the Cactus islands in search of other wildlife. Our efforts were not in vain: a harbor seal must have thought it was in K Pod (or was performing a mating display, whatever), because it began splashing and jumping like nobody's business! As we watched this seal would splash with its hind flippers and then its front flippers, and then jump just as far as it could out of the water. Very impressive indeed!
The only evident female seal we saw, however, was relaxing on Sentinel rock with her baby, perhaps two weeks old. She appeared to be occupied with much more important business, like maintaining "banana pose" with her head and hind flippers curved into the air.
We encountered several bald eagles flying low over the water on our journey, and our grand finale came in the form of an all-white, possibly albino, deer on Spieden island.
A tour as chok-full of wildlife as this one was can be exhausting for anyone, but the crew and passengers on board had an awesome time on this oncresoble, one of a kind day.
A spectacular Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!
Naturalist Mike J
San Juan Outfitters