Friday July 2nd, 2010

There was excitement among the guests and crew today as we left the dock, getting reports that there were orcas off the south end of San Juan Island, though we had no idea at that time what an amazing encounter we were in for! When we met up with members of our southern resident community they were porpoising across the channel towards Cattle Point. The guests were instantly wowed seeing the orcas come so far out of the water with each lunge. We naturalists are always looking for that perfect saddle patch angle since we know that’s what enables us to ID the individuals and therefore relate to them. The guests on the other hand are much more interested in seeing their faces, as that is how we humans are accustomed to identifying one another. So from right off the bat our guests were getting some awesome “facial views!” Once the whales got closer to shore along the south end, they started swimming at a slower rate, and we got to work identifying which families we were with. Our first group was new grandma J17 Princess Angeline, her daughters J28 Polaris and J35 Tahlequah, and their new babies J46 (~8 months old) and J47 (~6 months old). Along with being a first time grandma, Princess Angeline is also the proud mommy of her newest calf, J44 who’s a little over a year old!

We then started to see some foraging behavior between K16 Opus (who was trailing some kelp along her dorsal fin) and her son K35 Sonata. They gave us a nice view as they passed ahead of us. By this time J32 Rhapsody and J31 Tsuchi had come along side of us and angled themselves to pass right along the front of our bow. What an awesome sight it was, and for sure the highlight of the trip, up until that point at least! Once we thought it couldn’t get any better, K21 Cappuccino came towards us on our starboard side, surfaced twice quite close to us as he closed in the gap, then swam underneath us. Our engines were shut off, and the boat fell momentarily silent as our eyes searched the water along our port side, until we spotted his saddle patch glowing several feet below the surface. We were all prepared as he surfaced, and yet were still absolutely blown away by his sheer size, and the magic of being so close to such an incredible animal.

It was a warm and sunny day, though I think it would have still been a phenomenal trip even if it had been pouring down rain! What a great day to be on the water, and to share an afternoon with an endangered species in their habitat, on their terms!

Heather, Naturalist for San Juan Excursions

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