Today we took the Kittiwake out for a classic San Juan Islands tour. Since no whales had been reported in the area yet, we decided to do our own little search pattern to find whatever these waters had in store for us, as well as to help out the other captains in the area also looking for whales.
Our journey took us first to Cattle Pass, where we quickly spotted a large group of harbor seals hauled out on a rocky island. There were dozens of them! We swung around to get a better view, and as we turned the corner we were surprised to find two young Steller’s sea lions sharing the same island with this herd of seals. Most sea lions have already made their way north to Alaska for breeding season, so it was a bit of a surprise to see these two hauled out amongst our more common, year-round inhabitants.
We continued south to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which houses a series of underwater plateaus. These plateaus are a favorite feeding ground for baleen whales due to the amount of schooling fish that also prefer these underwater formations. We noticed a ton of seabirds swooping in on one spot, most likely targeting a ball of baitfish below the surface that had been forced up by a larger predator – perhaps a whale? We paused in the area to take a look around, and lo and behold, a minke whale surfaced off our stern! Some of our passengers with very keen eyes got the first, quick looks at this animal as we positioned the Kittiwake for better viewing. We got a few more surfacings from this 25 foot animal as it fed in the waters around us. Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales in the world, but they still have to eat a couple hundred pounds of food a day to maintain their blubbery bods.
Feeling a little impressed with ourselves for finding this elusive minke whale, we headed back to Cattle Pass to end our search pattern. We paused by Long Island off the Lopez Island coast to check out a bald eagle nest, complete with juvenile bald eagles. One of the parents was even spotted at the far end of the island, probably surveying their territory for fish to munch on. What a fantastic way to end this stunning day!
Naturalist Sarah C.
San Juan Safaris