Encounter #29 - April 9, 2016

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photos taken under Federal Permits



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Ken Balcomb


T36A's, T99's. and T137's

Admiralty Inlet



Encounter Summary: 

After a long rest for “Tonto” during which the GPS and Radar systems were repaired, Ken fired up the inboard diesel engine and departed John Wayne Marina for a test drive at 1030,… in the fog. The goal was to see if “Tonto” could be response capable in instrument conditions. An ELF GPS and iPad were used as backup in case of failure. The boat’s GPS was working fine until the Radar was turned on for overlay, and then three times out of four the display indicated “No GPS Signal”, and the one time that it worked the Radar and GPS were 30 degrees off from overlay. Bummer! About that time, still in Sequim Bay, the trunk radio reported T18 and the T19’s eastbound just south of Discovery Island, BC,… also in the fog. Several vessels had intermittent contact until the whales got to the vicinity of Beaumont Shoals, and then contact was lost due to poor visibility while numerous vessels searched the entire Haro Strait to reacquire the whales. Thinking this would be a good test, Ken pushed “Tonto” out of Sequim Bay and into the fog of the Strait of Juan de Fuca until about a mile north of Ediz Hook when two calls came in: the T49A’s and T123’s reported at Enterprise Reef in the clear, and two groups of whales heading south in Admiralty Inlet in dissipating fog. The latter were more interesting (they might be residents!) and they were closer, so “Tonto” made a hard right turn and headed toward Point Wilson.
Howard Garrett of ORCANETWORK using “Big Eyes” subsequently obtained a visual contact with the whales in Admiralty Inlet and guided Ken to a contact position in the Traffic Separation Zone just north of Point No Point (47.936N by 122.532W) at 1420 as the whales continued down into Puget Sound, still in two groups. They were T’s, probably much of the same group as seen three days ago in Encounter 26. Their behavior was a bit frustrating in that they seemed reluctant to allow “Tonto” to get on their sunny side, so most of the photos were strongly backlit, and with every approach to within ¼ mile they would dive and then swim directly toward the boat to very close range and then go back to being backlit. Hence, at first only strongly backlit ID photographs could be taken. Eventually, however, a few right side well lighted ID photographs were possible with the trailing group – Graeme Ellis would love this with his insistence that only left side photographs of Bigg’s whales were usable. Sometimes one has to take what one can get and be content. Definitely some T36A’s, T99’s, and T137’s were present. The ID wizard, Dave, agreed that there were these three groups of four individuals each – total 12 animals, but it sometimes looked like more. “Tonto” left the whales at 1520 just north of the Edmonds-Kingston ferry lanes and headed back to the San Juan Islands while sea conditions were favorable.
Meanwhile, the T18 and T19 group of four whales had been found again near Salmon Bank and they proceeded through Cattle Pass and up San Juan Channel at speed (reported 9-10 knots), passing Friday Harbor where they picked up a bit of an entourage. At 1530 “Tonto” zoomed past Point No Point at 16.5 knots, crossed the eastern entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in clear and calm seas (thank goodness), and three hours later zoomed past the west side of San Juan Island, and thence around Henry Island and through John’s Pass into Boundary Pass. A brief glimpse of T19B was obtained at 1920 (48.692N by 123.166W), and ten minutes later another brief glimpse was caught of two dorsal fins two miles away heading toward Navy Channel. As the sun was setting “Tonto” headed back to Snug Harbor and finished its test drive. Some calibration is still required, but the vessel performed well.

Notes-Comments:These are some of the same whales seen in Encounter 26 minus the T123's. It is very interesting that Transient whales abound now whereas forty years ago they were scarcely seen in this region. After "Tonto" left the whales Bart Rulan aboard Island Explorer 4 observed this group attacking a sea lion. There said to be many pinnipeds in Puget Sound following a herring run.