Today's whale watching trip out of Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, was THE most amazing trip in the San Juan Islands that I can remember! Our trip started with limited knowledge of where our resident killer whales were located and it seemed that they might have been out of range for our trip. However, it wasn't long before our luck turned and soon we were getting great looks of J-pod in every direction - and some of them were even breaching!!! This, however, was not the most amazing part. After catching up with a small group of orcas, the group stopped moving and began to socialize at the surface. They were splashing, rolling, rubbing, and squeaking at the surface for almost 30 minutes straight while we silently drifted with them. Then, the group began to split apart, and a young female (as yet unidentified) started swimming out direction. Without binoculars, we noticed a peculiar splashing near her, and at first the captain and I thought it was a salmon that she had been toying with. As she got closer, though, we realized she was escorting a tiny newborn cetacean! I use this term because it is broad - neither the captain nor I could say definitively what we saw but our best guess is that it must have been an infant harbor porpoise. Even more amazing was that this female orca was not harassing this porpoise (as resident orcas have previously been documented doing) but was laboriously trying to keep this tiny little calf at the surface. It was very much trying to breathe on its own, but seemed unable to stay at the surface for long, and was then getting gentle nudges from the female orca back to the surface. This went on for 5 minutes or so before we lost track of the unlikely pair. To me, there seems to be no scientific explanation to explain why an orca would so altuistically relate to a calf of another species and the whole episode was mesmerizing and thought provoking. It is of little doubt that orcas are highly intelligent creatures, but this behavior goes beyond intelligence...to compassion??? Just trust me, you had to be there!!!
-Debbie, naturalist on the Sea Hawk
P.S. As my guests send me pictures of this event and/or I get feedback from the local scientific community I will post updates, so stay tuned!!!