UAV Encounter #15 - Sept 14, 2023
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Other Staff:Dave Ellifrit
Other Observers:Federica Spina, Chris Fischer
Start Latitude:48 27.61
Start Longitude:123 02.86
End Latitude:48 29.01
End Longitude:123 06.42
The team had heard reports that J pod was off the west side early in the morning, and decided to meet at Snug at 900 to get out for aerial observation. After leaving the dock at 920, it wasn't long before the team found whales just north of Eagle Point at 945.
The team launched the drone over a small, tight group of whales heading up island. This group was the J35s and J31s, taking very long down times but staying close enough to the surface to observe with the drone. After staying in travel mode for about 15 minutes, the whales found a large school of fish at the surface at 10:05, which seemed to cause a behavior switch. The whales spread out and began milling, apparently searching for targets as they neared Pile Point.
Within half an hour, the team observed their first capture of the day, and J47 and J57 chased a fish very close to shore off Pile Point. J47 made the final capture, and shared half the fish with his younger brother. The same pair made another capture just ten minutes later.
J56 also had luck finding fish to chase. After capturing one, she spent several minutes trying to break it in half. As her mom J31 approached, the younger whale was finally able to saw the fish in half and share part of it with her mom.
Other whales started to move into the area, including J38, J39, J51, and J44. As these whales started searching for their own targets, J31 and J56 chased a fish to the surface and played with it for a few minutes. J31 finally broke it in half and ate it, but we didn't see J56 come back for the other half, apparently distracted by other fish to chase.
The whales started finding more large schools at the surface. J31 broke one up, but didn't seem able to pick a single target to chase down. J38, J53, and J45 briefly corralled another school, causing the fish to flee to deeper water, with the two males in pursuit.
J38 moved further inshore to meet up with his mother J22. There, the two of them managed to capture and share a salmon. Offshore, J56 had made another kill and was spending a lot of time playing with the remains of the fish, only stopping to chase another school of fish at the surface. Even further offshore, J39 continued to chase fish, but we didn't see him capture any. Meanwhile, J38 continued to chase fish at the surface, with at least one more successful capture.
Around 12:30, the whales' behavior started to shift. While the adult males continued to chase fish on their own, younger whales and females began to group up and be a bit more social. Four young whales, J53, J57, J58, and J59 socialized while J35 and J47 swam nearby. J53 and J58 were apparently still hungry, as they briefly broke off from this group to chase another fish at the surface, eventually having to dive after it when it made an escape to deeper water.
The team moved down island towards Eagle Point, where J39 had moved off to forage on his own. While they saw him initiate one fish chase, he didn't seem to be having too much luck catching anything.
Further up island, another small social group had formed, composed of the J41s, J42, and J53. J42 and J53 mostly socialized with each other, while the J41s swam in near constant contact. J19 arrived from up island and joined up with her daughter and grandkids, but stayed peripheral to the more energetic socializing the kids were engaged in.
The team started working their way away from the whales, photographing a few more individuals before ending the encounter at 1355 and heading back to the dock.
Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 27038/ DFO SARA 388