Magnificent Marine Mammal Moments!!

Being on a boat for over a month really gives you some eye opening experiences with amazing creatures. I’ve seen more marine mammals in the past 5 weeks than I have in my entire life! I’ve loved marine mammals most of my life and never thought I would get to experience all this in such a short time.  So I have picked out the top moments to share with you.


The second morning on the boat we were in Snug Harbor on the west side of San Juan Island, we had been getting texts throughout breakfast that the whales were at Lime Kiln, the Orca Sound. What we didn’t realize is that those are just south of Snug. We started getting everything ready to go and kept an eye out for some whales (it was really foggy that day) as we headed out. Just as we came out of the harbor someone shouted “WHALES!” and the frenzy began to put hydrophones in to start our data collection, which we weren’t really sure how to do, all while trying to watch the whales because we were all so excited. During the day we got to follow them for a couple hours, and we had them to ourselves, but lost them in the fog. This was my first Southern Resident experience, and we were lucky enough to have them literally at our front door in the morning, I don’t think I have ever been that excited, but it was only the first of many experiences to come!


Okay, so this day has to be the best marine mammal day I have ever experienced and the most diverse, species wise. We spent the night at anchor on Lopez Island so as we started heading North in hopes of catching up with whales, we came across a Minke whale!! This was my first Minke whale experience, so that in itself was awesome.  

Just as the Minke whale was escaping us a Harbor seal pup was swimming around the boat. Even though we had seen Harbor seals before, this one was a baby, and you could see it swimming underwater! It swam around our stern for a bit, then under the boat to the bow and back around to the stern where it approached our stairs and looked like it wanted to jump aboard and join us. You could see its little fins trying to hard but he was unable to make it up. I guess this was for the better, but it was just so cute.

Oh, and amongst all of this Val was able to get a shot of a puffin! Not a marine mammal, but awesome nonetheless since they are so rare around this area.

After all that excitement, we figured we had already had a great day, but that’s not all that was in store for us. We later came across Orcas! This was our 3rd day in a row with them, but the excitement had not worn off. We got great recordings, and saw some amazing behaviors! This was definitely the best orca day yet.

Baby Kissin' Mama

As we were recording, we saw a Stellar sea lion!! He was lucky those were Southern Resident killer whales around, and not Transients. We were moving away from him so we didn’t get much time with him.

On our way to our final destination we came across both Harbor Porpoises and Dall’s Porpoises at about the same time, and some were bow riding the boat nearest to us.


On our voyage back to Friday Harbor Labs for re-provisioning some Dall’s porpoises decided to bow ride OUR boat. This is very rare due to the fact that our top speed is 6 knots while motoring. Todd said that it hadn’t happened to him in a few years. They hung around for a good 20 minutes before they found another boat that was near us. Basically when animals bow ride boats, they are literally surfing underwater. This was the first time I got to see a Dall’s up close, and it kind of looks like a little killer whale. We felt so lucky that we were getting all these amazing and rare experiences already!


It seemed we had spent so much time with the whales already and had had so many awesome encounters, but as we were approaching them at East Point they were breaching all over the place. We thought we were going to be in for a good show, but when we finally reached them we got a different kind of show.  This was the first time we got to witness them resting in Boundary Pass. It was so cool how close they were to each other while rising for synchronized breaths. There had to be about 20 of them in tight group. They would sporadically do a few breaches or tail slaps here and there, but it was mostly a day watching them rest. This was actually kind of creepy to watch because very slowly their dorsal fins would make their way out of the water.


We had spent the day with the whales and recording in Boundary Pass. All of a sudden K21 started heading right for us off our port side from about 100 meters away. Todd killed the engine as he kept approaching. As we were drifting K21 approached one of our hydrophones, stopped right in front of one, produced an S10 call, or as I like to say he was really excited to say hi or maybe he just wanted to speak his peace, and went on his way. Since he was right next to one of our hydrophones we got a great recording of it! Have a listenS10


No whales on my birthday, they must have been busy or forgotten, but they sure made up for it when they came back the day after! We were heading for Discovery Island when we first saw them and when we actually got to them (and out of the way of a tanker) they gave me a great belated birthday show! We documented 19 spy hops in 2 minutes on Val’s camera, but there were definitely more. They were in a tight group as they usually are while resting, but they were active. Seeing so many spy hops all at once was spectacular. Not only did we got spy hops on top of sky hops, we had cartwheels, tail slaps and breaches as well!

On this same day we were able to witness the Dall’s porpoise and Southern Residents interact! We couldn’t tell if they were enjoying each other’s company or if the Dall’s were annoying the Orcas. I like to think they had a mutual relationship and were just having a play date. It was amazing seeing two different species interact and “get along” in this crazy world.


Living in Hawaii I get the pleasure of seeing Humpbacks every winter, but when we were in Canada for the acoustic conference and got word of “humpies” near race rocks, I was just as excited about being able to see them as I was the first time I ever saw one! (Maybe ever more excited) The day worked out perfect, we went into Victoria Harbor to clear Canadian customs, and raced back out to find them basically right there. I forgot how gigantic they were, and so graceful. There was one moment where it was about 100 meters from our boat, and you could see its fins underwater. We thought it would come up again and we would be able to see the whole thing underwater, but he came up at our stern to meet up with another whale. They went for a deep dive together and as they did that they showed us their flukes. It was breath taking.

Transients- We have come across transients a couple of times. A couple times on the boat and a once from land, which was actually my first Orca encounter ever. We have tried to catch them while they are hunting, but we always seem to be a little late and see them right after they have eaten. Our research focuses on Southern Residents so when we see transients it is purely for enjoyment.

Transients and Mt. Baker

There are just a few more defining moments that I have come across while with the whales. One being able to identify them in the moment, I have gone through the ID books so many times that it must be paying off! Another fun moment was catching my first (and only) breach on video, and the next day getting a still photo of a breach!

My breach photo!

Double Tail Slap!

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