Reflecting on August: Part I

As the end of my summer approached closer each day, the day-to-day “To Do” list grew longer and I wasn’t able to write about all of the excitement that happened out at Lime Kiln Lighthouse during my last month on San Juan Island. I would like to take the following blog posts to share my final summer stories about the orcas and other wildlife that frequent the lighthouse and reminisce on my spectacular summer in the San Juan Islands…

August 6th, 2012

Any amount of days without whales at Lime Kiln Lighthouse can feel like an eternity, which only reminds me of how lucky I was this summer to have so many days with whales. The last few days of July and first few days of August still stick out as one of the longest “dry spells” that I experienced during my time on the west side watching for whales. The Southern Residents were out and about everywhere except the Salish Sea for a total of 8 days! I was beginning to think they might not return until September, but as always, once I was ready to set my mind on something about these mysterious animals, they proved me wrong. Word of the whales return came in the morning and I found myself, as I did many a Monday mornings, rushing out to the west side. I met up with the Southern Residents, mainly members of J Pod, at San Juan County Land Bank where they were slowly traveling north. The whales were spread from inshore to offshore, but the few that were close in to shore were quite interesting to watch. They were splashing and tail lobbing and I couldn’t help but smile. Not only had the whales returned to the west side, but it seemed they were fully enjoying themselves.

This memory still brings a smile to my face; it is one of my favorites from the summer. The fact that these animals have the ability to put such a smile on my face and a laugh in my belly is one thing, but I noticed that the feeling was infectious because the rest of the on-looking crowd had the same expressions as I did.

After watching to whales for a little while, they seemed to be going south, then north, then south, then north again, but their pace was fairly relaxed and I wasn’t completely convinced they were after salmon…I even caught a glimpse of one or two whales “logging”. Logging is when an orca appears to be simply floating, not moving forwards or backwards, on the surface of the water. This behavior seemed to continue, but I couldn’t tell if it was the same whale every time or a different whale. Regardless, I still thought it seemed like an interesting mixture of behaviors that was occurring that morning. As usual I followed the whales north to the lighthouse where I got to experience one of my favorite activities; walking north along the rocks in pace with a group of whales, there really just isn’t anything like it.

Later in the day the whales had continued their journey north and I had returned to the lighthouse, but the excitement was far from over! Word had spread that a new calf had been born sometime earlier in the day to J37 Hy’Sqa! For pictures and more details on the newest member in J Pod, J 49 and more photos like the one below, see the Center for Whale Research web page.

J49 and J37
Photo by Stewart Macintyre

Not only was I excited to learn about the new addition to the J Pod family, I was also somewhat shocked to hear the belief was that the calf had been born during the parade of the west side earlier in the day, and I may have just been watching the entire time…

I have been told a theory exists that upon their return to the Salish Sea, members of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Community “parade” along the west side of San Juan Island. I distinctly remember thinking that morning, “Wow what an amazing thing this is that these animals do, I am incredibly lucky to be able to experience this.” Looking back on it now, I recognize not only how lucky I was, but also how lucky we all are that the whales allow us to have the opportunity to view them in their natural habitat in such an enchanting manner…these orcas never cease to surprise me.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Veirs

    October 4th, 2012 at 10:43

    It would be interesting to develop testable hypotheses regarding the “west side shuffle” behavior. I wonder if recent SRKW location data and birth dating have achieved the precision to test your implicit hypothesis that “parading” back and forth along the east side of Haro Strait is behavior associated with calving.

    One thing your post makes clear is how long-term land-based observations can give us a perspective on SRKW behavior (particularly in the early mornings and evenings when vessels are less present) that is rarely achievable from boats.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.