Archive for May, 2009

Transients!!! (whales that is)

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Today we left Friday Harbor at about 1 pm and headed out south past Cattle Point in the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
We found some Transient orcas! These orca usually hang near Canada and usually in a small bunch 5 to 6 whales.
I think we counted about 12 to 16 individuals traveling all together and from what I have read and heard this is rare.

The transient orcas were amazing. I was really impressed with them. Our guests were very excited about their encounter. On the way back our Captain made a stop at Whale Rocks and we saw a bald eagle and some harbor seals. The weather was also great today and visibility was spectacular. It was another great whale watching and wildlife trip with San Juan Safaris.

Naturalist,
Jeannette Miller
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Oh deer!

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

What a nice cozy trip we had today on the MV Kittiwake. With thirteen super guests, Capt. Craig at the helm and me sharing all of the knowledge that I could, there was no way we could have anything other than a great day. On a 32′ boat everyone gets to be fast friends and the nice small group is almost like a private charter.

With the Orcas still busy at sea and the South end of the island fogged in we set off to find our kicks elsewhere. And what a time we had. There were Bald Eagles galore, including four nests. We saw them sitting in trees, sitting in nests and flying over the boat. At Mandarte Island in Canada we saw nesting Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants as well as gulls and Pigeon Guillemots. Out in Haro Strait we made a valiant effort to locate a Minke Whale that I had a couple of long-distance views of, but even with the help of two other boats it slipped away from us. Minkes are the smallest baleen whale in these waters and are very secretive. After the Minke watch Capt. Craig stopped the boat near the international border so that I could talk about the Pig War and its long-lasting effects on the ownership of these islands. We even saw a cute little Mink running along the water line of Johns Island.

The sun kept us company throughout the day and everyone came back pink cheeked and happy. Our crowning glory though was when we came to the channel between the Cactus Islands only to see two buck deer swimming between the two islands. Since moving here I have heard stories of deer out in the channels, but this was a first for everyone on board. What a shock when the strange looking log in the water turned out to be the heads and velvet covered antlers of a couple of Black-tailed Deer. I thought the cameras would all start smoking from the mad picture taking that ensued. It was definitely a rare show and one to save for posterity.

Even though the marine mammals that were spotted were not what everyone expected, it added lustre to a great trip. So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris to all of you out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Thar She Blows!

Friday, May 29th, 2009

It was all sunshine and smiles again today on the MV Sea Lion as Capt. Nancy took Ashley, a great group of guests and me over to Whidbey Island for some more Gray Whale watching. As almost always there was a little bit of chop to the water as we motored through Cattle Pass, but it was smooth sailing after that. We got great looks at Mt. Baker and the Olympic Peninsula, but clouds to the South obscured Mt. Rainier today. The last few days have definitely lent credence to the old mariner’s rule that if you can see Mt. Baker without any clouds in front of it there will be no rain for 24 hours.

The trip over to Whidbey Island gave Ashley and I a great chance to chat with our guests about where they were from and what wonderful things they have been doing here in the Pacific Northwest. As soon as the whale was spotted though everyone was down to business. The gray today seemed to be the same one that we watched yesterday, but it was a little further South of the naval air station and moving more quickly. We were only treated to one or two breaths before each dive and during the last dive while we were on scene the tricky behemoth changed direction underwater and resurfaced well North of us.

We decided that that was our cue to head back to San Juan Island, so Capt. Nancy took us back across the Strait of Juan de Fuca for a trip along Lopez Island and up San Juan Channel. As we were heading towards home off in the distance we caught sight of the beautiful schooner, or tall ship, Zodiac. It is a 136 ft. sailing vessel with several masts and even more sails. Ashley regaled us all with the history of this magnificent ship and the fact that it is the largest working vessel on the West coast of the U.S. Our perfect day was wrapped up with lots of views of Harbor Seals and seabirds, like gulls and cormorants, around Whale Rocks and Goose Island, and a majestic pair of Bald Eagles sitting side-by-side in a tree top on Long Island.

It was another fabulous day with a great boatload of guests. So, from all of us here at San Juan Safaris to all of you who make our job a delight, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Three Hour Tour…or More

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Wow, what a day. Our sun was back in full force today and the rough waters that we have been braving in the Strait of Juan de Fuca have given way to a lovely calm. The Orcas are still off on a whirlwind tour of the open ocean, but that did not stop us from seeing whales.

Capt. Nancy, Jeanette and myself motored South with a happy, lively group of visitors aboard the MV Sea Lion. We were off to investigate reports of a lone Gray Whale feeding off of the beach on Whidbey Island just South of the naval air station. Cattle Pass was a dream as we headed past the lighthouse and the effect was intensified when we spotted Mt. Rainier in the distance. Everywhere that we looked there were majestic mountains; Mt. Baker, the Cascades, Mt. Rainier and the Olympic range all surrounded us. As we headed towards Admiralty Inlet and Whidbey Island we got ever changing views of the topography and waters of the Puget Sound watershed region.

We met up with our fellow wildlife watching companies and the whale in just 40 feet of water. It was a lone gray that was slowly surfacing and diving only +100 yards from shore. It would take a series of breaths and then dive down to scoop up the thick mud from the bottom that is so rich with shrimp and plankton. We were timing the dives at about 3.5 minutes in length with 3 to 4 breaths at the surface before each dive. We got some great looks at the barnacle and crustacean load that the whale was carrying and we even saw a little bit of the fluke as it dove under.

After our sojourn with the whale we headed for Lopez Island and a cruise along the coastline. We came across several groups of foraging Harbor Porpoises and we were lucky enough to have them continue their behavior rather than swimming away. There was a beautiful Bald Eagle on Long Island and lots of Harbor Seals on Whale Rocks. After that it was a trip up the channel between San Juan and Lopez Islands and back into the harbor.

All-in-all we covered 40 miles and saw what a wonder the Pacific Northwest is. So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris to all of you, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Birders Dream

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Today was a great trip for all those bird lovers. We saw bald eagles in the trees, on the rocks, flying, and in their nests.

On Spieden Island, just north of San Juan Island, we saw the Mouflon sheep and non indiginous deer. On the backside or north side of Spied in the Cactus Islands we saw bald eagles, harbor seals and bull kelp.
We were also lucky enough to see a California Seal Lion right outside of Friday Harbor. Not only did we see great wildlife but we had great warm and sunny weather and smooth seas.
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Rocking & Rolling off the West Side of San Juan Island

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Savoring the last day of Memorial Day weekend, Capt. Craig, Tristen, and I departed Friday Harbor aboard the MV Sea Lion with a boat full of guests, excited to see orcas. Yesterday was a new moon and today we had tide fluctuation of 12 feet (a -3.22 low) so we pushed on through choppy Cattle Pass, determined to catch up with J Pod. We reached J1, Ruffles, while parallel with the northen most portion of American Camp on the southern end of San Juan Island.

J Pod was busy foraging along the westside of San Juan Island. The guests caught some great glimpses at J Pod’s oldest male (J1), as well as some fantastic views of J17 and her new calf J44. It was rough out in the Haro Strait today, but that didn’t hinder the excitement of viewing J Pod fishing off of the south and west side of the island.

On our way back we saw some of the other wildlife that are around the islands, including bald eagles, harbor seals, and a California sea lion.

What a great day.
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Memorial Day Parade Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Here is the outstanding Elliott Bay Pipe Band performing in Friday Harbor on Memorial Day 2009. They were the prelude to another great parade and holiday on San Juan Island. From all of us here at San Juan Safaris we will…

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Orcas off the west side of San Juan

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

J-pod off the West side of San Juan Island near Lime Kiln State Park. J-pod was fairly spread out but great to watch. We took a trip past the North side of Spieden Island and the Cactus Islands. The North side of Spieden is very different from the south side. There is more shade, less evaporation and has evergreen trees. We encountered some Mouflon sheep, a non-indigenous animal to the island that are believed to be the ancestor of all modern day sheep breeds. We saw them near the trees and a few rams closer to the shoreline. We also saw three bald eagles, a Great blue heron and even harlequin ducks near the cactus islands. On the way back to Friday Harbor we saw a minke whale, the smallest of baleen whales in the San Juan Channel. Its always a great adventure with San Juan Safaris, you just never know how many amazing animals you will have the opportunity to encounter.

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A couple photographs

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

A couple photographs from today:

<--A few of our guests enjoying watching the orcas.

<-- Me, gabbing about orcas.
Ashley, Naturalist

Memorial Day Weekend – The Unofficial Start to Summer

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Although summer doesn’t technically start until the Summer Solstice on June 21st, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning to summer. It sure does feel like summer has reached Friday Harbor! Town was bustling today, people in tank tops, t-shirts, and shorts wandered the streets and the Farmer’s Market displayed tasty looking vegetables, baked goods, local-raised meat, garden starters, pesto, and other glorious goods. With the sun shining and the sky clear enough to see Mount Baker as I headed down the hill into town, I had a feeling it was going to be a fantastic day aboard the MV Sea Lion.

With guests aplenty, we boarded the boat and headed south. J Pod was reported to be travelling off of the south end of Lopez island, heading towards the coastline of American Camp on San Juan Island’s south end. The tidal flucuations were large today, with a -3 foot low, meaning the water dynamics in narrow Cattle Pass (Cattle Pass also has many underwater ridges) were intense and extremely interesting. Captain Pete stopped the boat and talked about currents, upwelling zones, eddies, and other water dynamics information to a group of spell-bound guests as the boat was swept onward by the current.

After enjoying ourselves (probably a bit too much) in Cattle Pass, we reached members of J Pod around Salmon Bank, which is off the south end of San Juan Island. Members of J Pod were spread out offshore. We saw many tailslaps, a few cartwheels, and even saw what appeared to be J 19 and another orca (maybe J41, her young son Eclipse) either hunting in, or playing in, bull kelp caught in between two currents off the port of the MV Sea Lion. We had some wonderful views of J19, Shachi, during the either fishing or playful behavior in this current line. Orcas have been known to try and wrap bull kelp blades around their dorasl fins. It is thought they enjoy the sensation of the bull kelp rubbing up against their bodies.


On our cruise home we checked out a bald eagle nest on Long Island, saw some harbor seals hauled out on Whale Rocks, and as we were almost back in Friday Harbor, spotted a large male California Sea Lion (which are only in this area during their non-breeding season) hauled out on a buoy right outside of the harbor! What a phenomenal day out on the water!

Ashley, Naturalist





Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©