2018 Encounters

Encounter #18 - Mar 18, 2018
J42 and J46

J42 and J46

Photo by Ken Balcomb

L87

L87

J42 ribs

J42 ribs

Photo by Ken Balcomb

J42

J42

Photo by Ken Balcomb

Photo by Ken Balcombn Balcomb

whale at 1.5 mile

whale at 1.5 mile

Photo by Ken Balcomb

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Photos taken under Federal Permits

NMFS PERMIT: 15569-01/ DFO SARA 388

Date: 18-Mar-18

Sequence: 1

Encounter Number: 18​

Vessel: Chimo

Observers: Ken Balcomb

Pods or ecotype: J Pod

Location: Haro Strait heading out​

 

Encounter Summary:

In preparation for the upcoming Spring/Summer, Orca Survey field season “Chimo” was readied in Port Angeles and scheduled to be transferred temporarily to San Juan Island. Today began with clearing skies and a forecast of no wind and slack tide in the Strait of Juan de Fuca just after noon, so Ken departed Boat Haven, Port Angeles, at 1321 and headed out into the slightly rippled waters of the Strait for the boat delivery. Even though the day was sunny, the chill factor at 33 knots made the air temperature feel like 41 degrees Fahrenheit while crossing the Strait and entering the glass calm waters of Haro Strait. Ten minutes after departure, J pod was reported to be spread out and taking long dives off Monarch Head in Boundary Pass, so the plan was modified to include an encounter with them before returning to Snug Harbor. Just off Turn Point, Stuart Island, at 1455, the first whales were seen heading south close to shore as a couple of whale watching boats were miles away in Boundary Pass. As luck would have it, the batteries were dead in the camera that had been left with the boat in Port Angeles, so the first documentation with the lead whales was with iPhone video. That simply would not do for the entire encounter, so “Chimo” was diverted to Snug Harbor to dash back home to get a usable camera and confer with Tom Cogan regarding a possible drone flight from CWR later in the day.

“Chimo” returned to the lead whales (the J16s, with J31 and J40) in Haro Strait just west of Speiden Channel at 1604 and stayed with them until 1732 off Kellett Bluff when L87 joined them and all of the whales headed offshore in the direction of Kelp Reef. More spread out whales were behind and offshore of them, and it looked like there would not be much chance of a successful drone flight so “Chimo” went ahead to CWR and loitered near the reef in case any whales came close enough to identify. At least the presence of the boat allowed the drone team (Tom Cogan, Chris Teren, and Andy ) to practice launch and locating and tracking an object at the surface of the water. After this practice, “Chimo” returned to Snug Harbor and Ken went back to CWR to confer with the drone team. Just before sunset, a few whales did come past CWR about one and one-half miles out and the drone launched again just to practice prep and launch timing (about 5 minutes).

The whale encounter did indicate an interesting foraging strategy on the part of the whales: they were very spread out and swimming into the flooding tide, frequently changing course in the tide rips. Occasionally, the activity of several whales together suggested they had found a fish. The slicks left behind by this activity were checked out and smallish scales were occasionally seen deep in the water. They were too deep to reach with the prey sample net, but one glob of what may have been fecal material did stick to the net. Unfortunately, it was too small and mucous-like to collect – it disintegrated when attempts were made to clean it off the net. We need the professional poop collectors out here to work in the trail of the whales while Orca Survey identifies who is leaving the sample, and Icarus (the Drone and team) is documenting who is swimming and sharing with whom. Oh well, at least we know that J pod is going back to the Pacific Ocean after a two-week foraging stint in the Strait of Georgia. We could calculate how many calories (and fish) it required to keep them alive for that length of time. None evidenced “peanut-head”, but they also were not “fat”. Winters have always been lean times in their foraging. Let us hope the Spring and Summer are better.

Encounter Summary: