Things to Do Week of May 6 to May 12

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Where are the Orcas?

They can be seen off the west coast of San Juan Island usually beginning this month or a bit earlier, and continuing until September or October. Do you want to know if the whales are passing by the island during your visit? The best place to find them is along the west side of San Juan Island. The road goes along close to the shore, past Deadman’s Bay, then ends at the Whale Watch Park. If you are driving along this scenic route and you see a cluster of boats or cars parked along the road, the reason for this activity is likely the presence of some Orca Whales. If you are a fan, then pull over into one of the public viewing areas or go to Whalewatch Park, which includes a lighthouse. Bring your binoculars.

The San Juan County Land Bank has purchased property along this westside corridor that is adjacent to Deadman’s Bay with funds from a buyers’ tax on island real estate sales. There are places to pull over and go sit on the rocks and wait for the Orcas to come by as they eat off of the kelp beds that are close to shore. Often you can hear their breathing as these huge mammals rise for air. They will likely be travelling in a pod, so look long out into the horizon to find other Orcas swimming along this feeding grounds back and forth between Victoria B.C. down to the southern end of San Juan Island. You may also spot Minke Whales, and bald eagles like to sit in nearby tall trees. Most whale spottings are of the J-Pod or the L-Pod, and San Juan Islanders consider these whales their own “resident” pods. Each pod member is identified by their dorsal fin, which are different from each other. They are given names and kept track of by the local whale museum and other researchers.

Sometime you will see some transient Orcas which are not among the members of the local pods. These males will go after seals and put on quite a show. Last month a whale watch boat was excited to see about seven transient whales go after a huge Stellar sea lion by crashing their bodies into it.

If you decide to go whale watching on a boat, be sure the boat cuts the motor when whales come near. You may not get to see Orcas on every trip as they do not make regularly scheduled performances. You will know you have seen one when you spot the black triangle of their dorsal fin rising above the surface and then sinking again. You may be lucky enough to see the Orcas spyhopping up out of the water and sending out a huge splash on the way down. Sometimes you can even spot the young whales swimming close to their mothers. Those of us who live on San Juan never tire of seeing these magnificent animals. Each Spring we look forward to welcoming them back home. A choral group from Seattle comes each year and sings to them and sometimes they respond by coming closer to shore as they do seem to like music. For my daughter’s wedding we had live music and were overwhelmed when they spyhopped several times in the nearby sea as they listened. For more information about whales, you can visit the whale museum in downtown Friday Harbor or online. You can even participate by adopting and Orca.

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