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Encounter #18 - Mar 20, 2016

Photos taken under Federal Permits




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Ken Balcomb

J Pod

All of J pod

Haro Strait

48 33.151N/123 11.85W

48 25.150N/123 13.123W

Encounter Summary: 

There was a report of many whale blows being heard at 0530 in President Channel on the northwest side of Orcas Island, but it was too dark and drizzly for any ID’s or determination of any accurate direction of travel. Nevertheless, Tom and Jane Cogan in “Morningstar” and Ken Balcomb in “Shachi” determined that it was worth scouting when we heard of the report at 1000, because J pod was due to come back down from Georgia Strait any day now (see Encounter 17 when they went north – they usually forage up there for about a week or two and then come back to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the outer coast; see also Between the Orcanetwork sightings, our Encounters, DFO and NOAA Research, and a year-round whale-watching effort, we are piecing together a fairly good picture of the year-round SRKW distribution just in time to designate meaningful Critical Habitat for this Endangered population of Iconic top marine predators.
Ken cast off in “Shachi” at 1048, by which time “Morningstar” had already found the whales in mid-Haro Strait between Henry Island and D’Arcy Island, thanks to sharp spotting by Melissa Pinnow our summer 2016 intern-to-be. The whales were very spread out over an area of at least twenty square miles and were slowly foraging individually and in small groups on the western side of Haro Strait. The very first whales “Shachi” encountered at 1102 were J2 and J26 surfacing together, but infrequently (6-7 minute dives, three to five breaths, and repeat). That slow behavior, constant drizzle, and very spread out whales forecast a very long day to obtain everyone’s ID photos. A couple of relaxed feeding bouts and perhaps some prey-sharing was suggested by gulls occasionally swirling over and picking at morsels, but fish scales if present were shimmering at depths beyond the reach of a 15’ swimming pool net.
The drizzle continued for over two hours, but gradually the individuals and small groups began to coalesce as they travelled slowly toward Seabird Point on Discovery Island. J2 had left J26 by this time and was with her usual companion, L87, in the lead and most westerly of the others. A few hardy whale-watchers braved the weather and came on scene just at the perfect time when the whales were coming together. Mark Malleson had arranged to bring Ken’s new (used) boat out to see if the whales liked it (named for Mike Bigg – “Mike 1” - they did not avoid it at all!), and at 1448 “Shachi” handed off the Encounter to Mark who was ready to follow them out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The whales did not continue out the Strait, however; they turned and followed “Shachi” back into Haro Strait and proceeded back north on the Canadian side of the border. Ken returned to Snug Harbor sat 1520 and watched them with “Big Eyes” until a little after 1800, by which time they were bucking an ebbing tide and not yet as far north as when they were first found. Apparently, during the night many of them (if not all) travelled up through the Gulf Islands and went north through Dodd Narrows around noon on 21 March. Dr. John Ford sent his envoy out to Encounter them as they passed by Nanaimo in the early afternoon. This system that Dr. Mike Bigg developed works!

Notes-Comments:It was fortunate that J pod came into the study area when it was at least possible to Encounter them. It has been exceptionally windy lately and unsuitable for Encounters. All of the new babies are present, except J55 who was already reported missing.

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