[caption id="attachment_1339" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Mike J26 and sibling near Gooch Island"]

Resident Orcas near Gooch Island[/caption]

The San Juan Islands are the most well known for being the home of the Southern Resident Killer Whales. The famous J, K, and L pods make up the Southern Residents, and are so famous that some of them ended up in some film sequences for movies such as Free Willy, pretty cool, huh? In spite of their ecotype name though, these ‘residents’ only like to come to this area during the summer months, when the salmon run towards the Fraser River and others that empty into the Salish Sea. Salmon is super important for these orcas, most of their diet – in the 90% range – is salmon, and its mostly only one species of salmon: Chinook. The salmon won’t start running here for a while yet, but J pod has seemed to have arrived early. We, the humans, believe that this may be because two calves were born in the winter months and they have traveled here to be in calmer, more protected waters while these young ones grew big and strong hopefully. These two newer calves, J53 and J54 look healthy and happy so far and it’s great to see the gang back together so soon!

Southern Resident Killer Whale

Mike J26 swims near Gooch Island


Though it is unusual to see these J’s out and about the islands in April, we were super lucky today! Captain Mike and I first encountered the orcas near Gooch Island in Canada! They were fishing in this area and also playing! They were super spread out in their general family groups (A few family groups make up a pod in the Southern Resident Orcas). A few of the young ones were practicing their breaching, where they jump out of the water, and their cartwheels, where they fling their fluke from one side to the other while keeping their head below water. We got the best views of the J16’s. Each family is named after its matriarch, J16, also known as Slick has four children, J26 Mike, J36 Alki, J42 Echo, and new calf J50 Scarlet. They moved around a lot and also gave good number of tail and pectoral slaps. At one point it seemed that Mike J26 wanted his a long time so he separated himself and just lay with his belly up in the air and both pectoral fins up. As they made their way further up north, they stopped a few times so the babies could nurse and went back to traveling. It was pretty amazing to see the family dynamics so clearly in this group. There’s still a lot to learn but appreciation and respect the guests gave today is definitely a great starting point. Hope everyone is having a San Juanderful time out there.


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Outfitters