“In Search of Orcas” Day #2

“In Search of Orcas Day #2”.  Phew Success…but we’ll get back to that.  After a looong day of travel and exploring on Friday, we slept late on Saturday and then grabbed the best yogurt/granola parfaits, mango smoothies, and coffee at a little coffee bar before driving to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal.  Our Jeep was second in line to board the 11:55 ferry….which, unfortunately, got cancelled at 11:50. Sigh.  Fortunately, they made room for all of those vehicles and passengers on the 2:00 ferry….bumping the 2:00 peeps to the 4:00.  I’m not sure if that happens frequently or not.  Bygones.  The trip from Anacortes to Friday Harbor was beautiful.  It was hard to not look at the islands homes and wonder who lives there…and what their days are like living on the coastlines of the San Juan Islands.

We pulled into the breathtaking Port of Friday Harbor (which may just be the cutest little harbor town I have ever had the pleasure of visiting!) at 3:30 and disembarked the ferry. Our home rental was a quick two-minute drive from the terminal and we unloaded our luggage quickly so that we get back down to catch our 5:30 whale watch.  We had, in fact, booked an extra whale watch earlier in the day….just in case.  Actually, I read on the San Juan Safari Facebook page that the resident orcas (as opposed to the transient orcas) hadn’t been seen in the area since May and they had just come back on Thursday.  So, we wanted to seize the moment.

After a quick orientation with the awesome crew, we boarded the Sea Lion and headed south in search of that group.  We learned that there are only 76 of that particular species of resident orcas left in the world.  This type of orca only eats salmon….and the salmon is being both over fished and dying of toxins and pollutions.  We also learned that for the first time in four years there were two successful calf births.  Unfortunately, they also shared that all too often the mothers are having babies but because they have toxins in their bodies…they also have toxins in their milk…so the babies die when nursing.  One mother was seen pushing her deceased calf around the waters for 17 days until the baby broke apart enough that she couldn’t push it any longer. Heartbreaking.

In this part of the Salish Sea there are the resident orcas (that I have just been talking about) and then the transient Bigg’s Orcas…named after Michael Biggs who first came up with a way to keep track of and identify the orcas.   With the resident orcas back in the area, whale watching vessels now have the option to chose which pods to try to find.  Our captain and crew decided to look for the “residents” …..as it is so special they have returned.

After about 45 minutes we saw blows in the distance.  Because these whales are so endangered the rules around viewing them are incredibly strict.  Boats are to keep 300 yards away.   That being the case, our interactions with these special creatures weren’t super close….but they were beyond special.  Of the 76 surviving whales, I’d say that we easily saw 30 of them.  At times we could see blows in every direction.  Some whales were incredibly active….splashing and most likely feeding.  Other whales were simply cruising and would come and go quickly.

Our time with these whales was amazing.  My photos absolutely don’t do our visit justice but it was a trip that Thatcher and I will never forget.

After returning to port, we walked through town and stopped for dinner at the San Juan Brewing Company.  We got back to our rental at 10:00, took a last look out over the harbor, and settled in for the night.

We have another busy day planned tomorrow and we can’t wait to see what it brings!


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