J Pod on the West Side of San Juan Island

Laura | M/V Sea Hawk | 7/10/2020 | 12:00pm

The weather was sunny and gorgeous today as we left Roche Harbor on M/V Sea Hawk!  Captain Sarah steered our boat through Mosquito Pass and we headed quickly down the west side of San Juan Island as there were reports of J Pod in the area!  Passengers were thrilled to hear that they may have the opportunity to see this particular family of orcas, since there are only 22 members left in all!  J Pod members are Southern Resident killer whales and were listed as Endangered under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) in 2005 and are considered depleted under the MMPA (Marine Mammal Protection Act).  So, it is quite an exceptional trip to be able to see this ecotype of killer whale in the Salish Sea again, as this family left in 2019 in search of food.  Over 80% of their diet is Chinook salmon and lack of prey has caused much hardship for this family and constantly challenges their daily survival.  Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) is another threat of many, causing long-term immunosuppression and reproductive disfunction/sterility in several J Pod members.

Passengers were thrilled to have their first looks at a killer whale to be an impressively large male, J26 or more commonly known as no other than, Mike!  J26 was seen traveling with J42, a female named Echo.  Echo is short for Echolocation, a very appropriate name for an orca!  Echo and Mike are siblings, and have a third named Alki, J36.  Their mothers’ name is Slick, J16, and has more of a sickle-shaped dorsal fin compared to Echo.  This family was a little spread out today and Echo and Mike were notably seen together for most of the trip.  We had an awesome encounter and it was great seeing Mike next to his sister, just for size comparison alone!  He is roughly 12,000lbs and has 6-foot dorsal fin easily towered over his younger sister who born in 2007.  Mike will be pushing 30 years-old next year!  He is certainly full grown! 

As we looked around the horizon line, everyone could see the exhalations of distant family members as J Pod sprinkled across the seascape.  It was a beautiful sight to be able to see this family back home, even if it is for a short while.  As we made our way back to Sea Hawk’s home in Roche Harbor, we passed some adorable harbor seals and could see some pups basking in the sunshine!  It is peak pupping season so these cute babies can frequently be seen along the rocks tucked right next to mom or swimming in some protected kelp beds.  Passengers and crew had an awesome summer day out on the water filled with Salish Sea wildlife!  Thank you all for coming!