Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Whale of a Time

Today was a continuation of Mark’s birthday celebration.  We thought a lot about a gift for our friend, and finally realized a whale watching tour might be the thing.

We arrived at the Puget Sound Express a little after 9:00 this morning, after trying a couple of times to navigate through the construction zones in Port Townsend:

Ellie 003 We were still early, so we got to look around a little before boarding our boat.  I think Mark was hoping this wouldn’t be our only Orca spotting for the day:

Ellie 005The captain was checking things out and getting ready for his passengers:

Jim 001  And his passengers were waiting patiently to get on boardJim 005 Finally, we got the boarding ok and the four of us plus about 19 or 20 other hopeful whale watchers got settled for our journey across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca to the San Juan Islands, where the whales are known to hang out.

There are 3 pods, or families, totaling around 87 individual orcas that are residents of the waters around the San Juan Islands.   They feed on salmon – lots of it!  Occasionally, transients will come through this area.  Evidently, these are more aggressive than the residents and will  more often attack other animals, including other whale species in the area.  Orcas, or killer whales as they are commonly called, are not actually whales, they are the largest of the porpoise family.

Several different companies provide whale watching tours, so there are always quite a few boats around, and they communicate with each other so everyone gets a chance to see them.

Today, the water was especially choppy due to a large ebb tide, so we had a pretty rough ride out to the area where the orcas had been spotted.  It took about an hour and a half to catch up to them, but we did find them.  We found out that in choppy water, and with a requirement to stay 1/4 mile out from shore and 100 yards away from the whales, getting pictures of them was not going to be an easy task.  Oh, and they don’t stay out of the water very long at a time!  Jim was really wishing for that 400mm lens today, but I’m not convinced that would have helped the situation much. 

The whales stayed very close to the shore, swimming along in calm waters, evidently catching salmon:

Jim 020 The white  area just below the dorsal fin is different on each individual whale, so they can be identified.

Jim 031This male was following along not too far behind the boat, good thing he didn’t think we were salmon:

Jim 024

I’ve been known to get a little queasy under certain conditions, and unfortunately, the extreme “standing waves” we experienced while stopped to watch the whales got to me, and I spent a little time not feeling too good.  Once we got underway back to Port Townsend, I was ok.  Mark also had a few moments, but Jim and Dortha weathered the rough seas just fine.

Once we got back to dry land, of course the next thing on the agenda was a late lunch.  No, not Mexican this time!  We all had fish and chips at the Bayview Inn.  It was delicious.

What an amazing experience today!

1 comment:

squawmama said...

Looks like you had a lot of fun going out whale watching... and you saw quiet a few whales... Mark is indeed a lucky man having good friends like you & Jim... Have fun and don't forget to go to Fort Worden State Park... You will not regret it.

Travel Safe