On December 1, with a report of whales right outside of the harbor, we quickly left the office and our post-season projects, jumped into the car, made our way down to the M/V Sea Lion, cut the lines, and were off! A group of J Pod whales were traveling north up San Juan Channel past the Wasp Islands and Jones Island State Park. The whales were generally very active, but tucked between the breachy adults and juveniles peeked a teeny tiny fin next to J28 Polaris. As we watched, the adult female pushed her baby up to the surface and guided the little whale through the swell. Polaris’s older daughter J46 Star swirled around her mother and the new baby.

On the day of our foray, there was some question as to whether the calf in J28′s slipstream was a new calf, or if she was babysitting her mother’s, J17′s, new calf J53. Given the evidence of a still attached umbilical cord and the deep orange coloration of the skin of the calf we observed next to J28 Polaris, we felt very strongly that this might be a new calf. We called the Center for Whale Research from the water to see if they could launch their research vessel, but with waning December light and building seas, they could not send their research vessel. After sharing our observations with the Center, all we could do was wait for a time they could get out on the water to observe the 22 year-old potential second-time mom for themselves. Yesterday J-Pod was present on the west side of San Juan Island and the CFWR was able to catch up with J28, taking photos of the little orange calf still tucked right against her side. This two-and-a-half week old calf is the eighth born this year to this critically endangered population of killer whales. Here's to increasing salmon stocks and a long happy life in the Salish Sea for this little one!

Sarah McCullagh

Naturalist, San Juan Safaris & San Juan Outfitters