It was an absolutely stunning start to Memorial Day in Friday Harbor – the annual parade had just finished off with its signature canon firing and the sun was shining with nothing but clear skies on the horizon. We already had reports of a humpback whale traveling through Haro Strait, and with reports of calm seas and no wind we headed south.
Just as we rounded Cattle Point to make our way west along the south end of San Juan Island we noticed flocks of birds congregating on the surface of the water. Typically, the seabirds are better at finding fish than we are so they’re an excellent indicator of bait balls (schools of fish) just below the surface. This is always a good sign because schooling fish are the favorite food of all sorts of marine animals.
As if on cue, we were surrounded by harbor seals and harbor porpoises all chowing down on fish, enjoying the surplus in the area. We paused to watch them feed before continuing west towards the last reported location of a humpback.
We arrived on scene to find a solo humpback whale surfacing periodically, presumably also enjoying the schools of fish underwater. Historically, the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands were common summer feeding grounds for a large population on humpback whales, making the long journey northwards from their breeding grounds in Hawaii every year. Since the international ban on whaling, we’re slowly seeing their population recover, and with the continued protection of their critical habitat we’re hopeful for the future.
After surfacing from shallow dives a few times, this beautiful humpback finally performed its signature deep dive, which involves lifting their fluke straight out of the water to propel themselves downwards. After catching a glimpse of the underside of its fluke, it was determined that this whale had never been spotted before, and was new to the area! This is fantastic news for humpbacks of the San Juan Islands as it indicates population growth, and we were very excited to witness it first hand.
With our new humpback down for a deep dive, we headed back to Friday Harbor, but not before spotting some tufted puffins (another rare sighting for the area) and some rambunctious Steller sea lions. We pulled into the harbor with happy hearts and a full evening of barbeque weather ahead of us.
Naturalist Sarah C.
M/V Sea Lion