Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day in the Islands- And the Superpod Returns!!!

As another summer tourism season comes to a close this weekend, we call to an end a season of chilly weather, intermittent rain (a good thing here!) and blazes of glory in black and white. Yes, I am talking about those beloved and endangered black and whites known as the southern resident community of orca whales. On and off since my last post, we have had members of all three pods visiting the Haro Straits, often spending the entire day on the west side of San Juan Island and north. (Did you know the Center for Whale Research has an OrcaCam on the West Side?  Click here for details! You can also listen to the whales as they glide through our waters by clicking here and visiting Orcasound! )

When tides were strong we struggled to even find the whales in the rough seas- their blows barely topping the crests of some pretty large waves. Tides rushed them past the lighthouse towards the Fraser River- making photos pretty much impossible! If the seas were 5-7 feet I would not be surprised!

But there were also calm days when the seas laid down and the clouds mirrored themselves on the Straits. The whales' exhalations (blows) could be heard for a mile- but they were FAR offshore and directly in the sunlight, surrounded by at one count 49 boats, both pleasure and commercial. Lots of milling and foraging and slowly traveling south...with an amazing amount of social and tactile behavior. Lots of rolls and peck slaps, whales rubbing up against one another and breaches galore! This time the tides were slack and the whales took their time heading to the islands- three hours to be exact! Lots of pleasure craft in the vicinity- and behaviours were absolutely awful! Thanks to Soundwatch, the worst of the groups were chastised and educated. Rumor has it, several were even reported to NOAA! 

And then there was today---no one could find the southern residents. Most of the tour operators headed North to follow a group of Transients. I was sitting at my desk and happened to see a sailboat passing by far off the shore in the middle of the Haro Straits. the lighting was just beautiful and I took a moment to watch the sails as they passed- when suddenly a large splash approximately 3 miles offshore caught my attention. I ran upstairs to look through the scope and sure enough- there were fins..4 at first...but upon further inspection, they were everywhere! The residents were returning for another day of fishing in the waters around the islands!!! I called Jeanne Hyde to tell her- and she called Soundwatch to let them know. Within 10 minutes there were 6 privately owned boats ON TOP OF THE WHALES! While there is a huge amount of excitement to encounter a pod of whales in the wild on your way home from a great weekend in the Islands, it is horribly frustrating to watch the utter lack of consciousness of those having the encounter. These boats literally kept their engines running while intermingling with the returning group of orcas- lack of education is one thing but outright thoughtlessness can be destructive. The whales made it through and Soundwatch was soon on the scene- and all was well yet again in the Haro Straits!
*NOTE: The boat pictured above just happens to be in the photo- a photo posted because of the youngster's face! Having re-read the blog, I do not want to give anyone the impression this operator did anything wrong, he was just a background boat!
The southern resident orcas are magnificent creatures currently being protected by the United States as an Endangered Species. The weekend has had wondrous moments intermixed with fear and concern- but all in all, we're just glad to have them here.  In August of 2007 we went for close to three weeks without a sighting- so it's all good!!!!  If you're interested in more photos from the islands, please visit my gallery at Zazzle. Thanks to everyone who takes the time to read this blog and makes the whales a part of your life, in whatever part of the world you live!! Happy Labor Day and may your September be brilliant!
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Jeanne said...

Great almost made me cry though, thinking of the season coming to an end...I know, I know, there will be next year. It has been great but remember September whales can be about the best ever - but we'll keep that to ourselves.

Anonymous said...

the whale watch boat pictured above is from a very reputable company in Victoria. The driver of that boat is a Marine Biologist whom I have gone whale watching with countless times. Never has he put the whales in harms way. This company knows the rules & abides by them & the engines would be shutdown and the boat drifting in the vicinity of the SRKW. Not all companies do this, but I can verify this one would never do anything to harm the whales!

Sandy Buckley said...

I certainly did not mean to suggest that the WW boat pictured above did anything wrong. I believe I mentioned that the WW operators on this day were following transients- the 6 boats on top of the whales were, in fact, PRIVATE boaters. I placed this photo on the blog only because it had a cute face shot- note how far away the WW operator is in the shot.

Anonymous said...

thanks for noting your caption re: the WW operator in the shot. I whale watch with this company regularly and was concerned when I saw your blog comment because the boat was in the photo used. This company & driver are the best of the best & I know the whales would never be in harms way (as you can see by the distance from the whales in the shot). By the way...I do love your is a very cute face shot!!!

Sandy Buckley said...

Not a problem at all! Thanks for bringing it to my attention, I strive to portray what's really going I am glad you brought it up! Have a great day! Sandy