On the morning of 11/28/13, I heard a report that lots of orcas had been seen off the West side of San Juan Island, usually an indicator for one or more Southern Resident orca pods. I looked out my window to see a few orcas milling offshore, acting more like a small group of Transient orcas, who instead of eating only salmon like the Residents, prey specifically on marine mammals. The orcas began moving North so I drove that direction as well and once I was at a higher vantage point, I could see many, many more orcas and it was obvious that I was looking at Residents. I headed to Lime Kiln State Park and got there just in time as J, K and L pod, minus two matrilines called the L12's and L22's, passed by shore, some just a few feet away. They were very active!
Best Thanksgiving EVER!!
It's Thanksgiving break and I am back home on San Juan Island for a week! Evergreen State College has been treating me very well but I am happy to be back. While this is not an orca encounter, it was too amazing not to share! I was invited out on the Peregrine of Maya's Westside Whale Charters and not long after leaving Snug Harbor, we reached Kelp Reef and I spotted a humpback out in the distance! We headed over to watch her as she made long but shallow dives around the reef. Then, she went on a very long dive and while she was under, I said "watch this, its gonna be just like Baja". I was right.
The whale suddenly surfaced within feet of the boat and dove under the bow, startling us all with her loud exhale! We all thought that was the end of that but after about a minute of looking to see where she would re-surface, I glanced to my left to see a gigantic head spy hopping within feet of the boat! She hadn't even made a sound! This whale continued to play with us for the next hour, staying just feet underneath the boat, spy hopping on both sides and even fluking just a few feet away. I later identified this whale as Windy, who to my knowledge has no alphanumeric number, but does have a history of playing with boats. She had been hanging around the area this summer but I had never managed to see her.
Windy was almost always extremely slow and methodical in her movements and I never felt her bump the boat, although her humungous head was sometimes only inches away. The only time I felt scared was when she got a little frisky and shot quickly out of the water in a spy hop next to us, started stirring up the water as she rolled and then lunged past the bow, her entire tail stalk and fluke displacing a lot of water, even rocking the boat around a little. When she re-surfaced next to us, I said "Honey, calm down!" and she went back to moving slowly and gently around the boat. Towards the end of our encounter, another whale watching boat came to see Windy and she visited with them as well. She spy hopped around their boat for about ten minutes, returned to us for a few minutes and then went on her way.
I will never forget this incredible encounter with Windy! Below is a short video I took with my iPhone. Enjoy, and don't forget to check this blog again soon! I may just encounter some orcas before I return to Evergreen!
Melisa Pinnow grew up on San Juan Island in Washington State. She recently graduated from Evergreen State College with a Bachelor of Science in marine biology and ornithology. She is a certified marine naturalist for San Juan Excursions and also works at the Center for Whale Research. It is her hope that sharing her orca encounters will inspire others to love and protect these magnificent creatures for generations to come.