More October wildlife magic to report!
After getting geared up and into our Kayaks on the dock at Roche Harbor, we headed out our normal route to enjoy an afternoon on the calmly rippling waters of the Salish Sea.
Even before we left the harbor we were in a position and mindset to better enjoy wildlife like the abundant and goofy pelagic cormorants and the harbor seals that were living up to their name.
As we headed out into Spieden Channel we had great views of all the surrounding islands as well as straight down into the crystal-clear Fall waters where we could see abundant eelgrass beds and the ocasional small fish darting by the kayaks. Soon enough we were looking at the Totem pole at McCracken Point and just around the corner, after seeing another harbor seal, we were in the kelp!
Pacific bull kelp is incredibly abundant in the Salish Sea and makes up a great deal of key habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates, as well as the perfect hunting ground for seals. This incredible algae creates entire forests each year. A tiny spore begins the process as it anchors to a rocky substrate and begins to grow in the Spring. The industrious little spore sprouts a holdfast to the rocks as well as a hollow stalk with a float on top which will fill with carbon monoxide and float towards the surface. Unencumbered by gravity, this stalk can grow up to eight inches a day, and over a growing season may reach seventy feet or more! As the productive summer turns to autumn and eventually winter, these stalks will become more and more derelict, providing substrate upon which other algaes may settle, and will focus their energies on reproduction. As a forest, the kelp will produce millions of tiny spores that will lie dormant all winter and begin the process over in the spring.
After a short break on the kelp to contemplate it's lifecycle, we continued south along the shoreline of Henry Island in the Haro Strait, catching the back-eddy current of the incoming tide. As we cruised along we saw a few more seemingly friendly harbor seals as well as a few Harlequin ducks. As a flurry of seagulls passed us, we witnessed a bald eagle flying over the water towards Battleship Island! It cruised right along by it and continued until it was a dot on the horizon near Spieden Island.
Soon enough it was time to make our turn and we paddled out a bit into the Haro Strait so we could get a bit of a boost on our way home from the flooding tide. As we were chatting and getting pushed along we heard a faint "pshh" that caught my attention. We rafted up to watch whatever was about to unfold and after a few minutes the sleek back and dorsal fin of a Minke whale broke the surface!
Minke whales are one of the most common species of baleen whale found around the San Juan Islands. Their population thrives because while other whales like humpbacks, blues and fins were being commerically hunted, minkes were too fast and small to be profitable. Although difficult to spot, they are likely to be found anywhere that herring and other small fish are abundant. Just south of Battleship Island in the Haro Strait is just such a place! The confluence of the Haro and Spieden channel churn up nutrients to form a very productive buffet, as far as predators are concerned.
We watched and listened as the twenty foot whale surfaced, bringing it's rostrum, or face, out of the water and let out a powerful exhalation from its blowholes. As they submerged its characteristic hooked dorsal fin followed the sleek back first up then back down into the water.
Typically minkes will exchange air once at the surface and then dive for five to ten minutes to feed. However, we only had to wait one or two minutes between each surfacing! After watching this magical occurrence for ten minutes more or so as we slowly drifted North, our minke friend began swimming south. Once it was a safe distance away we began our paddle home.
On our way back to Roche Harbor we encountered another flock of harlequin ducks, this time full of colorful males, and a few more seals before we arrived safely back in the slips.
Another Whale of a Day in the San Juan Islands!
Naturalist/ Kayak Guide Mike J
San Juan Outfitters