Encounter #41 - May 10, 2016

Photo by Ken Balcomb


Photo by Ken Balcomb

Drone control\
Drone control\

Photo by Ken Balcomb


Photo by Ken Balcomb


Photos taken under Federal Permits



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Ken Balcomb
Gail Richard

Transient T65A's and T65B's

T65A, T565A2, T65A3, T65A4, T65A5, T65B, T65B1

Haro Strait

48 33N/123 10W

48 37N/ 123 10W

Encounter Summary: 

It was a gorgeous day with flat calm water and virtually no wind, with both Mt Baker and Mt Rainier clearly visible from San Juan Island. The whale watch fleet was out covering most of the core region of the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and contiguous waters, but sightings were “scanty” – a fisherman’s report of ‘black and whites’ on Constance Bank at 0700, a brief glimpse of maybe T100C off Sooke at 1030 and subsequently not found with five boats searching, a humpback here and there. John and Holly and Lance were out in “Skana” (Vancouver Aquarium research boat) all day from early morning looking for any whales to measure with their drone approach for health studies – are they skinny or are they fat? It was a perfect day for me to try to get things done on shore.
At 1605, I received a phone call from South Dakota (actually from a SD cell phone held by a person sitting with her dog at Lime Kiln lighthouse), notifying me that eight “residents” were slowly travelling north while diving for extended periods of time. No boats! The call seemed authoritative, so I called Gail to meet me and sped to Snug Harbor to go out and see if we had SRKW’s coming in. Thirty minutes later we were off the lighthouse and the lady with her dog were still there watching! She pointed to the west, said she didn’t know how to determine distance well, and mentioned that they were staying down ‘a long time’. I asked how she knew they were residents, and she said she heard S1 calls – obviously a dedicated whale enthusiast. Another half hour later, having scoured a dozen square miles of Haro Strait, I was ready to give up the search when at 1700 I caught a glimpse of distant black and white slightly to the east of the US/Canada boundary in mid-Haro Strait. At 1708, I snapped a long shot of T65B and T65B1 near 48 degrees 33’ 18.906” N/123 10’ 16.050”W off Mitchell Bay. And, eight minutes later I snapped another distant shot of T65A2 further inshore off Mosquito Pass. These whales were very much in stealth mode and very spread out as they patrolled toward Open Bay, Henry Island. Eleven more minutes later, the whales had grouped up and were coming back out of Open Bay and travelling up the coast of Kellett Bluff where they encountered an unlucky seal for a brief snack. Foraging for these whales seems very relaxed and cryptic for the most part with occasional episodes of excitement – lots of food around. While they were grouped up I took some ID photos and a brief video.
At 1712, I texted John and Holly and Lance to let them know that they might have a measurement opportunity right off Snug Harbor for comparison of transient versus resident girth or fatness. They responded by 1755 just as the whales were approaching Battleship Island, where they passed very close to the shore of Henry Island, draping kelp across their backs. Off the west entrance to Roche Harbor I left the whales and “Skana” to return to Snug Harbor via Mosquito Pass. It is rather amazing how an uneventful day can just turn into an encounter day in a few moments. Back at the house at 1946 I received a call from the same lady as earlier (this time from a New Jersey number!) reporting six whales off the lighthouse and she said one of them looked like J26! It could have been fantasy or that might help explain the S1 call she reported in the earlier message – maybe both residents and transients were out there somewhere in the vastness of the Strait confluence and nobody found them. Either way, there can be reward for patiently sitting on a rock with your dog waiting for whales to appear. Nothing is lost if you only get to see the beauty and the mountains around you. Thank goodness for whale enthusiasts, but no picture no proof!

Notes-Comments:The scratches tell a story!