Today Captain Gabe and I took out the ol' Seahawk on yet another adventure in the San Juan Islands to help connect excited passengers to the incredible ecosystem of the Salish Sea!
We left the dock in Roshe Harbor with the sun in the sky (after a rainy spell) and a collective mind to find some Orcas. We had no reports as of leaving the harbor, but that soon changed.
We headed South through Mosquito Pass, very narrow and scenic channel leading from Roche Harbor to the Haro Strait. On our way through we saw a seal making itself very known by slapping its flippers on the water and occasionally jumping nearly out of the water! This may have been part of a mating display; it definitely caught our attention.
Shortly after we left this porpoising pinniped, we saw some more activity: lots of gulls and seabirds making quite a ruckus on the water. It was a huge baitball! Lots of herring schooling together will inevitably be attacked by predators like salmon, seals, porpoises and minke whales. Their defence strategy is to swim in a tight ball to try and confound the attackers using their shiny scales and fluid motion. while this may slow the process, underwater predators are usually relentless and will drive this baitball up toward the surface where diving birds can access the buffet. While these events are always incredibly diverse and exciting, it was not our main goal so we chugged on.
As we made our way down the West side of San Juan Island and the passengers learned a bit more about the Southern Residents we kept our eyes out for dorsal fins. Suddenly: WHOOSH! Twelve or thirteen dorsal fins slowly rose from the water all in a perfect line. It was J Pod, and they were resting! While keeping a respectful distance, we were able to pick out somw distinctive dorsal fins to notice the J2 matriline as well as the J19's.
Ironically, resting is one of the most exciting behaciors to see because it is the only time we get to see the wntire family together. Typical orca movement, including traveling and feeding, involves spreading way out in groups of ones, twos and threes. Sleeping, however, is a family affair. This synchronized resting formation is able to be maintained by yet another incredible adaptation of whales and dolphins to life in a marine environment. If they slept like we did, they would not be able to flex the muscles that keep their blowholes closed and watertight. To keep breathing, these animals rest one hemisphere of their brain at a time! While the left half rests, the right side is controlling the left eye (sleeping with one eye open!), maintaining breathing, swimming and subtle communication with the pod including maintaining that incredible formation of all of these huge predators performing this ballet of sleep. The outermost whales of the resting pod will have their outside eyes open to keep everyone safe. After a few hours, they may switch hemispheres and continue napping or wake up to feed or socialize and save the rest of their nap for later.
After enjoying watching this incredible synchronized sleeping event, punctuated by powerful WHOOSHes as they all exhaled at once, we decided to take off and let J Pod rest peacefully.
On our way back we kept our eyes out for more wildlife including a cormorant rookery on Henry Island, a pair of bald eagles and Pink Salmon jumping everywhere! Our grand finale was yet another sizeable baitball right outside Roche Harbor as we came in.
Full of jumping seals, fleeing hereing and resting orcas, we had yet another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!
Naturalist Mike J
San Juan Outfitters