[6/25/2017- M/V Kestrel- 1:30PM]

The Southern resident killer whales have returned to the San Juan Islands! M/V Kestrel departed Friday Harbor in search of orcas, and just towards the west side of San Juan Island was the merging of many members of J-pod and K-pod! The resident killer whales have not been seen very frequently this summer thus far (in comparison to the transient killer whales), so to see them back again was a special surprise. We watched them pec-slapping, tail-slapping, spy-hopping, partial breaching, and slowly milling about and traveling in groups. Close to 10 whales at a time would come up in unison and breathe together, a bonding experience that is analogous to people holding hands. They made several changes in direction throughout the day, primarily following the tides (we had about a 12-foot tidal exchange today!) in order to conserve some energy. Happy to see these stunning animals returning to the area, even if only for the time being, we decided to quietly depart and search for some other awesome wildlife in the area. And of course, we were not disappointed!

Because M/V Kestrel is such an impressively fast, zodiac-styled boat, we were lucky to be able to see the residents, AND have plenty of time to search for some other whales! Speedily moving south towards Hein Bank in the Straight of Juan de Fuca, our boat covered a massive amount of ground in a short amount of time and was able to come upon a group of not one, not two, but FIVE humpback whales! Two (identified as Heather and Divot) were noticed traveling together in recent days, two were a mother and calf pair, and another was a lone individual hangin’ with the group as a 5th wheel. We had several moments where our stopped vessel was completely surrounded by whales! As the whales began to separate slightly and swim further into the straight, we began our return trip back to Friday Harbor, circumnavigating the entire island on our trip! Along the way home, we made stops for a beautiful, trilling bald eagle and its nest, harbor seals, and even a lone Stellar’s sea lion.

The weather was warm, the wildlife was abundant, and the trip was smooth today on M/V Kestrel. We couldn’t have asked for a much better day out on the water!

Kelsey, Naturalist, Seattle Orca Whale Watching