First week in the San Juans!

Ok so it’s only been a week but a lot has happened so far! First we ventured to the most popular whale watching park on San Juan Island known as Lime Kiln State Park. Over 100,000 people gather at this park in the summer months to observe the Southern Resident killer whales that come right up next to the shore line! Supposedly they like to play in the kelp and corral salmon against the rocky shore. The lighthouse serves as a research station recording killer whale calls from a hydrophone in the water a couple meters from shore. I was  discussing my initial curiosities and questions about the whales in the lighthouse when I spotted a tall dorsal fin followed by a spurt of air from the water! Supposedly my eyes widened and jaw dropped. Immediately we ran outside with our cameras to see if what I thought I saw through the small section of the window in the lighthouse was true. At first I was worried that I was just seeing things and people wouldn’t believe me from that day on if I ever saw anything exciting, but about 4 minutes later we saw 3 transient killer whales heading north around San Juan Island! Supposedly this is a 1 in 1000 chance!  These type of whales feed primarily on marine mammals and are rarely seen this far south especially this time of the year! Am I a whale whisperer? Only time will tell…

Transients heading north from Lime Kiln State Park

Continuing on in the week, no more whales were seen but we learned heaps of background information relevant to our research. After only 4 days of lectures I can confidently say I have acquired knowledge behind pretty much all aspects of the Salish Sea and Washington state. Here are some the main topics we covered:

Physics of Sound

Lecture presented by Val Veirs; PhD in Physics from Illinois Institute of Technology

Bathymetry, Oceanographic and Geologic Background of the Salish Sea and Washington State

Lecture was presented by Scott Veirs; PhD in Oceanography from University of Washington

Ecological Perspectives on the Southern Resident killer whales

Lecture by Robin Kodner; PhD in Biology from Harvard University

After being here for only a week it is apparent that the San Juan Islands are a tight knit community full of passionate people dedicating their lives to these killer whales. They don’t only refer to individuals within pods as J1 or K8 but have chosen names such as Capuccino, Blackberry, and Doublestuf that allow any individual to feel more connected to the whales. What I am most fascinated by is the Indian art that floods the island. This art seems to illustrate the underlying history of the mystery behind these whales. At our instructor Val Veirs’ house there was one peice of Indian art that particularly caught my eye.

It was a huge wood carving of a killer whale overlain with a beautiful painting. I’ve been intrigued by native designs and woodwork especially of salmon and killer whales since I was little, so naturally I was curious to know the story behind it.This Tlingit story focuses on the boy in the dorsal fin of the painting and how he endures an adventure that eventually leads him to seek revenge on his two brothers in law. The boy does this by creating the killer whale from a wood carving and bringing the whale to life by throwing it in the water. Once the killer whale kills his two brothers in law in revenge, the whale asks if there is anything else he can do for the boy. The boy asks for one more favor. He asks the whale to never harm a human being ever again. This establishment represents the peaceful relationship between humans and these killer whales. People in the past have referred to these whales as “Devils of the Sea” but there has actually never been an instance where a killer whale in the wild has ever harmed a human being. The artist responsible for this artwork is named Odin Lonning. You can check out his beautiful artwork at

Overall this trip has been quite the adventure so far but there are many more to come! In the next few blogs I will mention my classmates more often so you get to know them as well! The picture below is of us four girls about to go sea kayaking. In order from left to right is Ally, Mandy, me then Emalie. Updates will be available in the next few weeks!

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