Salmon Bank, San Juan Islands, WA 7 Aug 2021


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
[Cross-posted on]

My dad and I made an unsuccessful run to Salmon Bank in search of minke whales. From South Beach on San Juan Island, we paddled out two and a half miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the bank, where we loitered for an hour, listening for whale breaths. Hearing none and seeing no fins or flukes, we returned to the beach.

00 Route map.jpg

00 Route map. South Beach is the nearest launch point to the banks in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The trip served, in part, as an opportunity for dad to practice rigging his new Long Haul, a US-made clone of the German Klepper folding kayak. Dad set a new personal speed record for assembly, going from bag to boat in under an hour.

This trip was also dad's first time rigging the Long Haul for one-person paddling as opposed to two-person. In one-person mode, the boat was a bit of barge, but that is true of most folding kayaks. In the calm conditions we faced, its performance was perfectly adequate.

Notwithstanding the lack of whales, there was plenty of other wildlife. Salmon bank attracted flocks of foraging seabirds, including: California, Heerman's, and glaucous-winged gulls; rhinoceros auklets, common murres, and pigeon guillemots; common and Pacific loons; and pelagic cormorants.

At one point, a squadron of eight rhinoceros auklets flew past in formation, led by a lone common murre. With its distinct plumage, the murre looked like a drum major leading a parade.

Every few minutes, a bait ball of fish would breach, driven to the surface by the action of the flood current upwelling against the bank. The seabirds would fling themselves onto the fish in a frenzy, the various species diving or plunging according to their preferred foraging techniques. After only a few minutes, the fish would find their way back to the depths, and the birds would disperse to await the next bait ball.

01 Assembling Long Haul kayak.jpg

01 Assembling Long Haul folding kayak. The boat weighs an awesome ninety pounds, thanks to its multi-ply skin and thick frame.

02 California gulls San Juan Island.jpg

02 California gulls, South Beach, San Juan Island. This was by far the most numerous gull species today.

03 Dad paddling to Salmon Bank.jpg

03 Dad paddling to Salmon Bank. Just as slack current arrived, the wind also died, turning the sea to glass.

04 Pacific loons Salmon Bank.jpg

04 Pacific loons, Salmon Bank. This is our most approachable species of loon and also the most vocal.

05 Rhinoceros auklet Salmon Bank.jpg

05 Rhinoceros auklet, Salmon Bank. Breeding season is nearly over, yet this individual still has its horn.

06 Heermans gull Salmon Bank.jpg

06 Heerman's gull, Salmon Bank. The Heerman's gull is a common summertime species in the Pacific Northwest.

07 Salmon Bank buoy.jpg

07 Salmon Bank buoy. The three chimes on the buoy each toll a different note, creating a sort of symphony conducted by the waves.

08 Alex delivering lunch by kayak.jpg

08 Alex delivering lunch by kayak. In the cardboard boxes are fresh sandwiches from the local deli.

09 Dad eating lunch in kayak.jpg

09 Dad eating lunch in kayak. We buttoned up our dry suits to protect ourselves from the drizzle and breeze, but there was never any threat of capsize.

Salmon Bank was a serene place. While motorboats were constantly audible, none ever approached nearer than a mile to the bank. Our only company was the seabirds, the harbor seals, the bait balls, and the jumping salmon—the best company. We drifted to and fro on the tide, listening to the chimes of the buoy and the chattering of the birds. After an hour or so, we hugged the shore back to the beach to avoid an adverse current.

This was my second time striking out on minke whales at Salmon Bank, although I have encountered them here on a previous trip while returning from Hein Bank. It takes persistence to find this species, but here in the San Juans, even an unsuccessful whale search is still a good trip.


[Cross-posted on]