July 30, 2010

Today was one of those days where you have to pinch yourself, you feel so lucky and amazed to be living in such a wonderful corner of the world! We heard reports of orcas both way north of us, and south near salmon bank, so south it was. Though the sun was shining brightly over Friday Harbor, we knew the south side of the island was thick with fog, which might make spotting the orcas a bit tricky. On route we slowed down near an exposed rock that’s always home to a dozen or so harbor seals so our guests could get a peek at them, and try to spot a pup or two. We discussed the fascinating lives of our native, but endangered killer whales, touching on tough issues like the decline in their main food source (Chinook salmon) and the high levels of toxins found in our ecosystem and therefore the whales. Caroline struck up an interesting conversation about the historic killer whale captures, after learning that two of our guests actually witnessed the Penn Cove captures 40 or so years ago. Lolita, one of the oldest captive orcas, and only surviving Southern Resident orca of these captures, was taken from that very spot on August 8th, 1970. This year for her 40th anniversary, witnesses of this tragic event including our two guests will gather to share their stories, and come together in support for her retirement in a sea pen in her native waters. Today, we all got to hear a little bit about that history. Time flew by, and before we knew it we were approaching the whales, and most of the fog had burned off! J27 Blackberry was one of the first sighted and we watched him slowly cruising through the water, occasionally skimming the surface with his tall dorsal as he did semi circles, likely foraging for salmon. Our attention was soon stolen by a VERY outgoing little calf, who was breaching, tail lobbing, spy hopping, and rolling around almost nonstop. When we see adults breaching, we consider the motivation to be one of many possibilities – communication, signaling to the rest of the pod, cleansing their sensitive skin of parasites, or of course, excitement or play of some sort. Watching this calf, it was obvious to us all that this little one was just plain having fun! Though we were not able to positively ID this calf, or the other juvenile it was with, it appeared they were accompanied by 14 year old J32 Rhapsody. That’s about the age a female will have her first calf, so perhaps she was getting a bit of practice by babysitting those two youngsters! We were so caught up in all the youngster’s antics, that we were taken by surprise as Blackberry dove in front of our bow, headed right towards us. Our engines were shut off, and we fell silent as we searched the water for his glowing white skin. Sure enough, he surfaced right next to us! It’s such a very rare and lucky treat to get an up close encounter like that, and nothing can prepare you for it. He certainly took our breath away, as we got to see just how large this male is. What an amazing day this turned out to be!

Heather Hill, Naturalist

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