We were scheduled to leave at 11, so had time for a leisurely walk with our coffee cups to the bluff and little beach. Such a quiet peaceful moment.
As we started cooking breakfast, the campground woke up. It was Sunday so most folks were packing to leave. By the time we did dishes and gathered our binocs, camera, and layers, the campground was nearly empty.
Maya’s called asking if we could leave from Snug Harbor rather than Friday Harbor. This was perfect for us. A better chance of seeing whales and a a shorter drive from camp.
Snug Harbor is seriously cute! It’s now on my list of Thanksgiving possibles.
We warmed up in the coffee shop, bought a skirt from the gift shop, and chatted about the different accommodation layouts, before heading uphill to meet Maya’s staff at the picnic table flying the (slightly tattered) whale windsock.
Our boat, crew, and group
Our group of nine included three women who bonded during college and met up periodically, and two other couples. I loved hearing the college friends banter.
There were three staff on the boat (Jeff, Sara, and Alissa) and all were really friendly and knowledgeable. Sara, one of the two captains, is our daughter’s friend, so it was especially nice to spend some time with her.
Sara has followed the Orca population for years and is adept at identifying individuals. She also has an amazing knowledge of their family trees. Her photographs are outstanding.
Bill and I like to be outside on boats and these offered both comfy inside seats and ready access to the outside at both bow and stern. Also, the inside windows flipped up and totally out of the way, which was great.
I especially liked the line of mouflon edging down the steep bank to get at the salt on the rocks.
There were also seal, otter, eagles and a smallish blue heron surfing on a pile of kelp.
Pod 1: the T35s
Orca are the largest member of the dolphin family. Look at them and it’s obvious. Such cute rounded heads. I was surprised by how small they look in the wild. I’d only ever seen them in captivity and was captivated by their command of their world.
We were looking for a big male when we spotted the T35s. They were travelling south partway up the west side of Galliano Island. We watched them cover quite a distance. They seemed to be following the male we never saw out into the Strait of Georgia. Other boats let us know that there was a “white wall” out there. We didn’t venture out.
Pod 2: the T37s
A radio call from the whale watch network alerted Jeff to a new pod of whales and we headed north (off the map near the end of this post).
We spotted other tours (including the Vancouver to Seattle ferry, Prince of Whales) before we saw the second pod. I was impressed with how carefully all the tour boats respected the distance limits and the whales’ line of travel. They kept a close eye on private boats making sure that those boats were aware of whales in the vicinity. Everyone was respectful.
These whales, the T37s weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. We watched them hunt seals, including a lot of vertical tail wiggling. They spyhopped and cuddled. I didn’t realize that water beings without arms could hug and snuggle. They can and they did for 15 or 20 minutes, sliding over and under each other in a marvelous cuddle ballet.
The T37s were at the north end of Salt Spring Island. We could clearly see Crofton. After a good long visit with the T37s, Sara headed our boat home through the Sansum Narrows–beautiful.
About “our” whales
Both pods are transient Biggs Orca. They are doing much better than the Salish Sea residents. The Biggs Orca hunt sea mammals and live in small matriarchal pods (3-8). There about 400 of them off the Pacific Northwest coast and their population is growing. They don’t interbreed with our salmon-eating residents. The residents travel in much larger pods (20-30+) and there are far fewer of them (73, I think). These pods are also matriarchal. Residents have lost several calves and some adults in the last few years and their numbers are declining.
Back at the dock we debriefed our trip with an excited little girl. She’d gone out with Maya’s Legacy the day before and saw both Orca and Humpback. I enjoyed her energetic excitement and her victorious grin as she realized she’d seen more whale species than we had.
We finished this excellent day with dinner and the most fantastic sunset. Love this campground.