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article imageVideo: Orcas surround kayakers near San Juan Islands

By Marcus Hondro     Sep 7, 2015 in Science
Two kayakers were surrounded by a pod of killer whales — orcas — who seemed to tease them as some swam alongside their kayak. It happened on Aug. 26 near Washington State's San Juan Islands.
Kayakers encounter orcas
Kayaker Michelle Feis said she and her guide were surrounded by as many as 30 orcas in total. The whales truly seemed to be aware of the pair and at least two are seen swimming right alongside the kayak while others are nearby and blowing air out their blowholes.
The video they uploaded onto Youtube is full of commentary, of a sort, as the two women become almost overwhelmed by the excitement of what is happening. Hard to blame them for along with encountering an orca pod in a manner few have, the scenery they were doing it in — in Puget Sound, not far from Canada's Vancouver Island — was breathtaking.
"Oh My God!" was an oft-repeated phrase. At one point on the video either Feis or her guide is heard saying that they "are in whale soup!" and one says she's "about to cry." In addition to posting the video, Feis wrote about the experience.
"We moved our kayak as close to the cliffs and in the kelp as possible to be out of their way and stopped paddling while we watched them play and move through Open Bay," she wrote on Youtube. "But they were everywhere and we ended up being in the route of a few as seen."
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a dream come true," she added. She also called it a "thrill of a lifetime" and even said it was possibly the best day of her life.
She made observations about the whales, such as noting their agility, and wrote that they are best seen in the wild, not in places like Sea World, which Feis called "archaic."
Southern resident orca pods
It's unclear if the pod that the two kayakers encountered is one of the three southern resident pods that live in the waters of B.C. and Washington State year-round, or a transient pod. At least two transient pods have been seen near Vancouver Island over the past few months.
While whales in the area are considered to be endangered and have seen their numbers dwindle due to lack of food and starvation, there's been four births of calves since January, an encouraging sign.
'L' pod had a birth in March while 'J" pod had a birth in both January and February; in June a transient pod had a birth in B.C. waters. Each of the local pods, 'J', 'K' and 'L' have a population of around 30 whales so it could have been either of those three that Feis and her guide encountered.
The southern resident orcas mostly survive on Chinook salmon, with Chum, Coho and other fish included. They do dine on harbour seals, often a preferred meal of transient pods.
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