Encounter #67 - Dec 5, 2020
Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 21238/ DFO SARA 388
ObservBegin: 12:10 PM
ObservEnd: 03:45 PM
Staff: Dave Ellifrit
Other Observers: Katie Jones
Pods: J, K
LocationDescr: Minke Lake and San Juan Channel
Start Latitude: 48 41.49
Start Longitude: 123 05.01
End Latitude: 48 33.90
End Longitude: 123 01.57
EncSummary:Mark called Dave in the morning to relay a report of a large group of whales heading down the Strait of Georgia toward Tumbo Island. Lots of phone calls followed as more people called to make sure I knew about the report of likely southern residents and the researchers tried to make a plan. Since the whales were still in Canada and might still come down the Canadian side of Boundary Pass, we decided to wait a bit before going out. The SR3 Drone Team had gone out earlier to wait for the whales to cross the border and finally got them near Skipjack Island. Once we got the word, Dave and Katie met at Snug Harbor and left in the boat at 1140.
We got on scene at 1210 as the whales headed south around Sandy Point on Waldron Island. It was J pod along with the K13s and K14s and they were in small groups and singles loosely spread at first but the groups began spreading out as they turned toward San Juan Channel. The whales were active and there were several tail lobs, pec slaps and a few breaches. We caught glimpses of most of the whales present during the first pass south of Sandy Point and then went to work going from group to group trying to make sure we got a photo of everybody present. One of the first groups we got on was an all-male group involving J38, J47, J49, K26, K34, and K42. This group was being social and tactile while doing a lot of rolling around. We then moved to the northeast and found all four of the J19s traveling together. After making sure we got good shots of J58 and the others, we looked for another group to go to. We saw a group of females to the southeast of us in the direction of Jones Island and far in the lead of the other whales. J16 and J26 passed us while we heading to the females in the lead group. The group of females included J22, J31, J37, K14, and K36 and they were briefly in a tight group before they spread out again. Several minutes later, two or three individuals began porposing toward Jones Island. They soon stopped in the same area and the whales began some intense milling. The behavior looked very much like what we have seen in the past when the whales were harassing a harbor porpoise but we never saw one. We later searched our photos for evidence of what they may have had but we couldn’t find anything and are still unsure. Perhaps they found some salmon.
We then headed back west to get some photos of J35 and J57 as they traveled slowly southeast toward our previous group of milling females. Another group consisting of J36, J40, J42, J46, and J56 were to the north of the J35s. J40 joined J35 and J57. By about 1350, several groups turned around and pointed back west but there was a lot of milling going on. We continued our search for whales we had not seen yet and came across a threesome rolling around and laying at the surface. We knew one of the three was K38 but we were only seeing melons, fin tips, and other body parts of the other two. It took a couple of minutes but the other two turned out to be J44 and J45-two of the whales we were looking for. To the northwest of them was the all-male group we had had earlier in the encounter again. The group was still mostly together having lost K34 but gained J39 and K44. K44 was one of the last whales we were still looking for. This group was milling their way southeast back down San Juan Channel. Not too far from them, another large group had come together but this one was all females and young whales. Both of the new calves were in this group that also included J35, J41, J51, J36, J40, J42, J46, and J53. All the whales were now pointed slowly southeast down San Juan Channel loosely spread in groups and singles.
We were pretty sure we had a photo of everybody but we decided we should make sure we had a proper photo of K27. By 1530, the sun was already sinking beneath the hillsides of north San Juan Island and making it pretty dark for the whales in the shadows. We headed toward a loose trailing group and had a last look at a few whales as they filed by. One female logged at the surface and blew a long, slow raspberry at us before she arched and dove. It was K27! We got some dark shots on her before ending the encounter at 1545 about a quarter mile west of Pt. Caution. While we were wrapping up the encounter, a single humpback whale passed us traveling slowly east following the Js and Ks.