Feeding Frenzy

June 2012

The other day I was lucky enough to see some members of the Southern Resident Killer Whale community in what appeared to be a feeding frenzy. A report came in that the whales were swimming north towards the lighthouse. As I went out to find my usual seat on the rocky shoreline, clipboard, camera, and binoculars all in tow, I filled with anticipation…

Before I knew it the whales were surfacing just off shore… The calming “swoosh” of their blowholes filled my ears. It was members of J Pod! A few of the whales blew past the lighthouse, but some select whales stuck around and took up milling. After a few minutes of behavior observations, I noticed a silver streak breaking the surface of the water out of the corner of my eye. I pulled out my camera, sensing that whatever the streak was would reappear. Sure enough it did, but this time it was in the mouth of a harbor seal! The seal, cleverly tucked into the kelp beds, stuck its head out of the water to proudly show off its latest catch, a huge Chinook salmon!

At first I wasn’t positive that the salmon was a Chinook, until I got a glimpse of the big, black mouth that Chinook salmon are notorious for. I took picture after picture, and dive after dive, the seal would reappear in the same spot showing off less and less of its devoured meal each time. Just when all that was left of the Chinook was pink flesh and the seal’s pride was at its peak, a bald eagle swooped in for the steal… Luckily the seal was fast and dove down right as the eagle was readying its talons. The scene reminded me of something that would be featured in an episode of Planet Earth. I felt very lucky to be able to witness such a wild interaction between three animals that frequent Lime Kiln Lighthouse in the summer months. What a good reminder of how all organisms in the Salish Sea are connected, and that most all of them, in some way, depend on the salmon runs just as the Southern Resident Killer Whales do.

When I looked back to the whales, I was happy to see they were continuing their behavior pattern, which one could guess by the presence of Chinook was foraging! It always gives me a good feeling to know that the whales are finding food, especially since limited availability of prey is such a threat to their recovery.

I can’t wait to have more incredible encounters like this one my summer on San Juan Island continues!


1 Comment

  1. Scott Veirs

    August 3rd, 2012 at 08:52

    Amazing observations and photos, Bre! It’s great to finally have a photographic confirmation of big Chinook being present along with SRKWs at Lime Kiln. And it’s surprising to see such a big fish in a harbor seal’s jaws; I was assuming that Floyd and other local seals were mostly after bottomfish and sockeye. Did you get underwater (or surface) video footage during this event?

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