Today Captain Gabe and I took out the Seahawk with a fantastic group onboard to go check out some of the unique wildlife in the Salish Sea. While we had a beautiful day in the harbor with the sun shining and the whale reports were good, it was just a bit windy out in the Haro Strait.
Our prevailing winds in this area usually come out of the SouthWest. For the San Juan Islands, this means a calm day on the water because the Olympic Mointains shield us from the worst of the winds coming off of the open Pacific Ocean. Today was a bit different with a low pressure system bringing strong winds out of the SouthEast, off of the Cascade Mountains and right up the Haro Strait. These strong, consistent winds can cause swells of five feet or more in which a small boat would get into trouble. Luckily the ol' Hawk is a sturdy gal. According to our whale reports, we had two choices: either we head to calm waters with little chance of seeing whales, or we face the high seas in search of Orcas.
Our group was small enough today that we could powwow and go over the pros and cons of each decision. Knowing that our safety was not at risk, (only our comfort) we all decided to go for it!
We made our way out of Mosquito Pass from Roche Harbor stopping to check out a Bald Eagle and some Harbor Seals. It was very evident when we came into Haro Strait because the wind picked up and the water began to churn as if someone turned on the jets in the Jacuzzi. As we got a bit further out, the bow of the boat turned into a definite "splash zone". Lucky for us, we were all able to stay warm and dry inside the cabin and on the stern while we searched for dorsal fins.
The adventurous spirit on board paid off! Near Henry Island we saw first one, then another and another dorsal fin as a pod of Orcas swam directly into the four-to-five-foot waves!
Unlike their normal swimming patterns when the water is flat calm, these whales were energetically coasting up the waves to the crest, breaking the water with their faces as they exhaled before diving into the face of the next incoming wave. Combined with the adrenaline of riding these same waves, this was a very exciting Killer whale sighting.
As these Orcas were showing an exceptional amount of their bodies during their navigation of the waves, we were able to get great looks at their saddle patches, the white spot just under and behind the dorsal fin. Comparing that to our Identification guide on board we confirmed that we were watching the K14 matriline of K Pod eagerly heading South to join the rest of the pod. The indicator of this family was the large, distinctive male K26 (Lobo) who is one of the offspring of K14 (Lea). K14 is also the proud mother of K36 (Yoda) and K42 (Kelp).
As we watched the matriline battle the waves for a bit more, we decided we had had enough water from the bow splashing our feet and decided to find some relatively calmer water and other wildlife. We made our way into Spieden channel where we could still see gulls and eagles soaring on the strong winds high in the sky.
Seagulls and other birds like gannets, skuas and albatross, have a wing shape designed for a flight pattern described as "dynamic soaring". They take advantage of strong winds over the ocean and can circle, dive, dip, change direction and head back into the sky without flapping even once. Their wings cut theough the air like a hot knofe through butter and are the envy of many a sailor. While many boats may not have enjoyed the strong winds today, the gulls treated it as their personal playground.
After visiting with some harbor seals and eagles in calmer water, we decided to bring our high-seas adventure to a close and make our way back into Roche Harbor.
Another Whale of a Day in the San Juan Islands!
Naturalist Mike J
San Juan Outfitters