The Salish Sea is home to four different species of baleen whale, from the second-largest whale in the world, the fin whale, measuring in at 70 feet, to the second-smallest baleen whale, the minke whale. Minke whales are about 20 feet long and fairly speedy for a baleen whale, reaching speeds of up to 25 knots.
Today we were fortunate enough to observe multiple minke whales just south of San Juand Island feeding on schools of small fish. All baleen whales, minkes included, feed by gulping large quantities of fish, krill, and seawater with the help of their expandable ventral pleats, then pushing the entire contents of their mouths forward with their tongue. This motion forces all the seawater out through their baleen plates, but traps larger objects, like fish and krill, inside to be swallowed whole. They get all of their freshwater needs from their prey alone.
We watched several minke whales lunge feeding at the surface, disturbing large groups of seabirds also trying to take advantage of the surplus of schooling fish. Minkes are often difficult to observe because of their sheer speed and small stature, making their surfacings fast and spread apart. Today, however, they were focused on feeding in one location, making for a rare and exciting opportunity to get awesome looks at feeding in action.
We returned to the dock with bright sunny skies, a lovely summer day ahead of us, and an amazing experience behind us.