Southern Resident Killer Whales in Haro Strait

Naturalist Olivia | M/V Sea Lion | July 11th, 2020 | 12:00pm

It was my personal first trip on M/V Sea Hawk of the season and it definitely did not disappoint! We left Roche Harbor with gray skies, but our happy faces were no reflection of the weather, as everyone was already in good spirits as we traveled southwest through Mosquito Pass. We left the dock with potential whale rumors, which is always humbling on our retired fishing boat. Despite knowing there were potential cetaceans swimming near San Juan Island, we were still graced with surprise whales on route to Hannah Heights.

Just south of Lime Kiln, we stumbled upon not one, but TWO Humpback Whales traveling and feeding together. Upon first glances, we assumed it was a mother and calf as Humpback Whales tend to feed solo in the Salish Sea, but were thrilled to realize it was in fact two adults. Averaging around 7 minute dives, we were able to get a few good glances as they popped up to the surface almost in unison for a breath of fresh air before fluking on their deep dives in search of krill and small schooling fish. Did you know their throats are roughly only the size of a grapefruit?

We did not stay with this giant duo too long, because further south near Eagle Point/ South Beach there were Southern Resident Killer Whales! This marks the 8th straight day J Pod has graced our waters in search of food. This is thrilling for all of us in the Pacific Whale Watch Association as well as environmentalists and whale enthusiasts alike. With their rapid decline in population, not peaking since the early 90’s, and their dramatic loss of food in the Salish Sea, they have been expanding their distribution as they grow desperate to feed.

This was the most consecutive days we have viewed J Pod in our waters in recent history, making every moment that more extraordinary. We were able to watch who we thought was J39 “Mako” milling, and eventually pointing in the direction of a few more hanging out down near Salmon Bank. His large dorsal fin was still a bit floppy when it pierced the water, proving he was around 17 years of age and has a while yet before he is sexually mature and bulked up.

As we turned and headed back north towards Roche Harbor, we happened upon another group of female Southern Resident Orca traveling fast towards the Canadian border. We slowed down and let them pass and continued on again. Traveling back, we were able to view more Southern Resident Orcas far in the distance along the shoreline of San Juan Island near Landbank and those two Humpbacks off on our port side, still swimming and munching peacefully in the subtle rainfall. Turning back towards Mosquito Pass we spotted Harbor Seals hauled out snoozing, and two Bald Eagles perched up scanning the horizon.

Seeing the Southern Resident Killer Whales will always pull more at our heartstrings than anything else. But there is still hope. Join one of our trips, email us, or follow our blogs in order to find out what you can do to aid in the salmon restoration, and it turn, help the critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.