Today Captain Gabe, Brian and myself took out the Seahawk with a boat full of excited passengers and a clear blue sky looking for wildlife. We had no reports of whales when we left the dock so we began to head north to see what we could find when left to our own devices. Up near Spieden Island we encountered maybe 40 or 50 harbor seals both hauled out on an exposed reef as well as swimming around in the water. One inportant way to differentiate seals from sinilar animals like sea lions is to look at their ears. Sea lions (or "eared seals" have small external ears while seals have no external flaps there bit sinply a hole in the side of their head through which they hear. There is a slight trade-off here. While seals have worse hearing while above the water, they don't have to worry about theor ears getting cold! As anyone who lives in a cold climate knows, mammals lose a huge amount of heat through our ears. This is a great afaptation seals have made to life in the cold waters in which they live.
After checking out our Phocid friends for a while, we encountered lots of pelagic cormorants at Turn Point on Stuart island, the cliffs next to which are stained white from their use as a rookery. As we were scanning for cormorants in tiny crevices in the rock, we got a report of some Orcas heading up the west side of San Juan Island! We zipped south to have a look and after a little high seas adventure from the wake of a freighter, we began to see large black dorsal fins rising from the waves just south of Henry Island.
We saw a group of 4 Transient, or mammal-eating orcas moving very fast along the shoreline into Open Bay and then around the Southern end of Henry Island. After getting some great looks, we identified the group as the T137 group. Whereas Resident Killer whales are given a pod letter and a number to identify them (e.g J2, L87 etc.) Transients are given the letter T and then a number in order of when they were identified.
Their movements indicated they were on the hunt for seals or porpoises as they cruised the shoreline. This group did have a young whale with them, so may have been soing some teaching as well as hunting.
After cruising all the way to the north end of Mosquito Pass with this awesome pod, we went ahead and let them do their thing while we headed back into Roche Harbor. Another Whale of a day on the water!
Naturalist Mike J
San Juan Outfitters