What an absolutely gorgeous day on the Kestrel today. No winds, clear, sunny skies, and a forecasted high of 80 degrees. And what better way to take advantage of a picture-perfect Washington day than to take a high-speed vessel out into the glassy calm water and spot for some whales?
Today’s trip started like much of our trips do, with an ear to the radio and a pair of binoculars to the water. What we didn’t expect, however, was to spot our first animal only a few minutes from the harbor! One of our guests with particularly keen eyesight spotted a tall blow as we were motoring south down San Juan Channel, which we quickly identified as a humpback whale regular in our waters, an 11 year old female named Split Fin! Although she gave us quick surfacings and long dives, we tracked her until she had travelled well past Cattle Point, watching the bright sun gleam off of her dark gray back and brilliant white fluke.
We then turned for Lopez Island, catching amazing views of harbor seals and oystercatchers on our way. We even stopped to watch a few Steller’s sea lions not-so-gracefully maneuver down a rock face to take a quick dip in the water! Off the coast of Lopez we spotted a bald eagle next with a fledgeling occupant, with mom and dad perched not far away.
Deciding to try our luck in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we motored west and were soon surrounded by half a dozen sizable flocks of birds. Massive groupings of species like auklets, murres, gulls, and cormorants can only mean one thing – bait balls! Birds tend to flock to high-density schools of bait fish at the water’s surface, proving a remarkable indicator for areas of high productivity in our waters.
As we zig-zagged through the birds, we came upon yet another species of marine mammal – the Dall’s porpoise. Being the fastest cetacean in the world, these black and white torpedoes can reach speeds of up to 35 knots, the same speed that Kestrel goes! We observed a few pods of these adorable whales resting in close proximity of each other, surfacing slowly and showing off their frosted-tip dorsal fins.
On our journey back to Friday Harbor, we managed to catch one final and new marine mammal. Harbor porpoises, the smaller and shyer cousins of the Dall’s, peeked their small dorsal fins up on either side of our boat as we made our way back to Cattle Pass. Feeling profoundly blessed to have the opportunity to observe so many different species of marine animals today, we docked back in the early afternoon with a full half a day of sunlight ahead of us!
Naturalist Sarah C.