UAV Encounter #8 - May 26, 2022
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Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 21238/ DFO SARA 388
Operators:Mia Lybkær Kronborg Nielsen
Other Staff:Dave Ellifrit
Other Observers:Rachel John
Pods: J Pod
Start Latitude:48 31.86
Start Longitude:123 10.15
End Latitude:48 42.80
End Longitude:123 14.29
After receiving reports of J pod being back on the westside of San Juan Island, the team met at Snug Harbor and left in the boat at 0907. We saw our first whales about a half mile north of Lime Kiln State Park and the encounter began at 0919. The J19s and J22s were traveling slowly north in a tight group near the San Juan Island shoreline. The whales were rolling around some and seemed to be being low-key social. J38 spyhopped a couple of times. J41 and J58 briefly split off from the others before rejoining them again. We followed this group up to Bellevue Point before dropping back to get another group of whales who had just passed Lime Kiln.
The next whales were all of the J14s and J17s in a loosely spread, slow moving but active group. We followed this group back to Bellevue Point before deciding to head offshore to a single male we had seen out there. This was J39 and he was foraging by himself more than a mile offshore of the County Park. After getting a few proof of presence shots on J39, we headed back inshore to the lead group as they were passing Smugglers Cove. The J19s and J22s picked up a little speed as they headed north in Mitchell Bay. but slowed down again once they made it to Kellett Bluff. The J19s and J22s continued to roll around and socialize. There were several lazy taillobs and pec slaps. After a medium sized yacht passed by heading south, the J19s turned west in a tight group and pointed toward the approaching boat wake. J51 began tail lobbing excitedly. Thinking the whales might surf the wake or start breaching, we pointed our boat that direction. While we were focused on the J19s, we were momentarily confused by a strange sound coming from somewhere. We turned around in time to see J38’s head sinking back underneath the surface. He had spyhopped and blown a raspberry at us behind our backs which gave us a good chuckle. J22 and J38 had spread out a little to the east of the J19s but the six whales soon came back together off north Kellett Bluff. We left the J19s and J22s off north Kellett a little before 1200 to head back to more whales who were just starting to round the bluff. The two whales in the lead were J35 and J47 and they both gave us a nice right side shot before we moved on to the whales behind them. This group was the J14s and most of the J17s again with the addition of the J31s and J36. This group was loosely spread and very socially active with lots of splashing and horsing around. J37 was pushing her new calf around and we were able to document that J59 is a female! There were a lot of taillobs, pec slaps, and several random spyhops. There was also an occasional burst of speed and several tightly packed whales would do a few lunges with much rolling and heavy contact between individuals. We saw one whale get smacked in the face by another’s fluke. At one point, we saw J40 raise her head above the water and open her mouth wide while interacting with other whales.
We left this group around 1315 as they were nearing Turn Point to head offshore to a few spread out individuals that we hoped were the few J pod members that we had not seen yet. We found J26 mid-Haro Strait off Tom Point on Gooch Island. J16 was also in the same general area. We then headed back in shore, finding J42 on the way. J27, who was the last whale we needed to find, showed up inshore as he approached the larger group we had been with earlier. The J16s offshore began grouping up and angled toward the rest of J pod. J27 traveled slowly beside his younger brother J39 as they merged with the other whales north of Turn Point. J16, J26, and J42 also merged with the others and the bulk of J pod, minus the J19s and J22s, traveled north in a loose group toward Swanson Channel. We ended the encounter at 1410 as J pod neared the Canadian border.