Captain Pete and I set off this afternoon with no orca reports in the area. While keeping our eyes on the water for the black dorsal fins of a killer whale, we head toward a report of a humpback whale at Hein Bank.

Along the way, we stopped for a minke whale that had been spotted at Salmon Bank. In true minke fashion, this guy(/gal?) was erratic and unpredictable in his movements. With whales like that, I tend to suggest that guests don’t get to fixated on a particular spot in the water and just continue scanning all around because there is no way of knowing when or where it will surface again. Just as we were leaving to continue along the way to this reported humpback, the minke head lunged! HEAD LUNGED! A MINKE WHALE! And two more times! What?!

I screamed both times it happened because I had NEVER seen an active minke before. I wanted guests to know how rare this was–although I keep reading that minkes are known to be active and curious (but my experience with that would lead me to believe that’s an urban legend).

With adrenaline from that minke encounter still pumping through our veins, we started back underway toward the location of the aforementioned humpback whale. This individual was also displaying humpback behavior that is pretty typical of the area. That is, 3-5 breaths at the surface, followed by a “fluke up” dive lasting from 3-8 minutes. After 30 or so minutes watching this giant, it was time to start making our way back home. With one last good look at a fluke up, expecting the whale to be submerged for at least a few minutes, we began motoring north toward Friday Harbor.

Not 12 seconds later, the humpback surfaced again, except this time on its back with its pectoral fins in the air! Again, I screamed (I don’t mean to, I just love whales and have a hard time controlling my emotions when they do something cool). The pecs on a humpback are roughly 15 feet long, and they’re known to wave them back and forth in what to me, resembles the movements of an inflatable air dancer, like the ones you’ll see outside a car dealership. Google this. And then google a humpback whale pec slapping. You won’t regret it.

We don’t tend to see a lot of surface activity like this one out of humpbacks here, probably because they’re so focused on feeding before they make they way back to Hawaii for the winter. Of course, the behavior stopped just as I was able to focus my camera, so I have no photo evidence to share with you.

I’m sure today’s guests would attest to it if you asked them though! A great day aboard M/V Sea Lion.


Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris