San Juan Islands, Part 2
| November 16, 2016 |
I left out my family’s stop at Lime Kiln Lighthouse in Part I of my San Juan Island series because it honestly deserves its own highlight post. The magic we experienced at this oceanfront was beyond words, and even beyond photos. I didn’t have my zoom lens with me, so pardon the lack of pristine capturing of these moments.
Between our oyster ingesting and Reuben Tate Memorial Park fiasco, my family and I stopped at Lime Kiln Lighthouse with the sole intention of visiting inanimate objects (i.e. lighthouse). We had some unexpected visitors passing through during our coastal visit. If you click “Read More,” you might just see some whales…
Upon arriving at Lime Kiln Lighthouse, we were greeted by a sign stating “The Whales are Here!!” But… what did this mean?! I asked a passerby who immediately pointed down a path and said that A POD OF ORCA WHALES WERE SWIMMING BY THE LIGHTHOUSE. I looked at my brothers, they looked at me, and we began instantly sprinting to the lighthouse, leaving my parents in the dust (they caught up). When we arrived at the lighthouse, we were disappointed to find the orcas were far off in the distance and no longer visible. We were too late.
But I had faith there would be more. I just knew it. And so we stayed and we waited.
At the lighthouse, there were some orca experts listening to the underwater sounds for approaching whales, and educated us on the local species. The more I learned about orcas while at the lighthouse, the more I began to love and appreciate these aquatic creatures. Unbeknownst to me, orcas are actually part of the oceanic dolphin family and, therefore, are not technically “whales.” Which just makes sense why I was falling in love with this species (I have a strong affinity for dolphins). We learned orcas stay with their mother throughout their lives. Actually, orcas are the only known species where both males and females stay with their mother throughout their lives! Each pod (basically an extended nuclear family) has its own dialect to the complicated orca communication. In the J-pod (one of the frequent visitors in Washington), Old Granny is the oldest recorded orca whale. Apparently, she’s about 103! Females tend to live longer than males because, well, #girlpower. Oh, and orcas’ brains are about 4x the size of human brains. And they decide when to breathe consciously.
Do you love them yet? I can’t imagine you can say “no.”
With our hearts and minds exploding with increasing appreciation for these large dolphins, about ten minutes after arriving at the lighthouse, the magic really began. Someone pointed toward the left and exclaimed the presence of more J-pod orca family members approaching the lighthouse. Could it be? Were they really coming to visit? The experts confirmed it! The orcas were here–AGAIN!
We met Sonic (J-52) and Mike (J-26) without a doubt, and they were incredibly playful. Their dorsal fins seemed to dance upon the surface of the water, making periodic appearances in the sea of kayakers and boaters. Sonic was fast-moving, and surfaced quite often. Mike was more dramatic, with a longer bottom time, but grandeur appearance from above. We saw Mike jump out of the water with surprising enthusiasm, as if he was trampolining out of the ocean. With his vertical emergence from the water, I was in complete shock. I couldn’t actually do anything, but gasp in true awe. His splash as he re-entered the water was impactful. I suddenly felt connected to these beautiful creatures. I could barely capture their actions because I was entranced by their oceanic dance.
I will admit I was envious of the kayakers being so close to these “killer whales” that don’t actually kill humans. In fact, there aren’t ANY recorded human attacks by orcas (except for those in captivity)! They seemed so innocent, playful, and simply beautiful. I’m not sure what other members of the J-pod made an appearance before Mike and Sonic, but it was oh-so-fun to feel connected to part of the family.
With dramatic ease, the dorsal fins sliced the surface of the water. The misunderstood creatures smiled their way across the salish sea, as the observers appreciated their gifted presence. The orcas didn’t mind the human presence, and paid no mind to the boats and kayaks dotting the ocean’s surface. They danced with each other, socializing and playing.
Now that you know the spoiler alert that we didn’t go on a whale watching tour, you’ll understand how magical this truly felt. We didn’t even have to LOOK for the whales–they came to us! It felt so magical to share such a moment with these creatures. Thank you, J-pod!
Read more about the J Pod HERE!
Listen to recordings of orcas here
For a complete list of all recent orca births/deaths, visit here