Archive for May, 2009

Sunny San Juan Island

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

What a day for whale watching. Today was one of those days that we dream about here at San Juan Safaris. The waters were calm and the sun warmed our faces as we watched individuals from J and K Pods swim along the southern and western sides of the island. Our group of guests joined Capt. Pete, Jeanette and myself on the MV Sea Lion from all over the world for a beautiful time on the water.
In Cattle Pass Capt. Pete stopped the boat so that we could all see and feel the disturbance caused by the mixing of waters from different channels. The boat slowly turned in an eddy as we talked about the nutrients that well up from the deep and watched Goose Island slide by. We also made a stop at Whale Rocks to see a bull Steller’s Sea Lion resting in the sun with two Bald Eagles sitting above him on the rocks. They were a gorgeous mated pair with their matching white heads and bright yellow beaks.

Then we were off to track the whales through the southern waters. The Orcas were spread out over a large area with some travelling singly or in pairs and others in family groups. One family group that we saw were swimming tightly packed together coming up for air together and then dipping back below the water. We motored on past Limekiln Lighthouse and were headed for the North end of the island when we spotted J1 “Ruffles”. He was traveling by himself well ahead of the other whales and made for a very picturesque lonely sentinel.

We wrapped our day by finishing up our cirvumnavigation of the island as we came down San Juan Channel and back into Friday Harbor. We had a great day with our guests today, so thank you from all of us to all of you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Orcas and Bald Eagles….

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Today was a beautiful day, we had sunshine and smooth water. We took a trip around the South side of Spieden Island. Bald Eagles were out flying, some very nice lady’s got some amazing pictures of two bald eagles flying together. One lady even got a great picture of a bald eagle in its nest. We then ventured through John’s Pass, this is always a beautiful trip. We then got news of J-pod near Turn Point of Stuart Island. We found them and watched as they traveled through the Haro strait and began heading north through Boundary Pass. They were great today as always, we got some good views of a calf. Passengers also thought they saw J-1. On are way back we took another look at Spieden and saw some non-indigenous sheep and deer.

San Juan Safaris Naturalist
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A bit of sun, a bit of rain, and a whole bunch of orca viewing!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The MV Sea Lion departed Friday Harbor washed with sunlight, ready to chug on up to Canada to try to catch up with J Pod. Our first report was that J Pod was up by Point Roberts headed south. The boat caught up with J Pod members north of East Point on Saturna Island. It was off of East Point that the first whale to be placed successfully into capitivity was captured. In 1964, Samuel Burich, a sculptor, was hired to kill a killer whale to use as a model for a life size killer whale sculpture for the Vancouver Aquarium. Burich harpooned his target, which didn’t die, even after it was shot. A decision was made to tow the live whale back to Vancouver, were he survived in captivity for 87 days. This whale was named Moby Doll (he was actually a male), and sparked the whale captures for marine parks during the rest of the sixties and into the early 70′s.

We travelled with various members of J Pod, who were spread out for miles between East Point and Patos Island. J1, Ruffles, and likely J2, Granny, made a nice appearance, passing in front of our bow after we had shut down the engine to allow them to pass. We saw breaches and spy hops from the distance and closer whales travelled on by. As we viewed the whales we passed in an out of sunshine and rain, hitting just a few rain clouds here and there.

The boat pulled into Friday Harbor to a cleared sky and are pleased guests gazed kindly at Friday Harbor after a great day of whale watch viewing.

Over and out.
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Mellow Day with J Pod

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Having heard an early morning report that J Pod was milling around the False Bay area, I left the office this morning giddy to get aboard the MV Sealion. The clouds in the sky may have dampened San Juan Island, but they sure weren’t dampening our spirits! After coming through Cattle Pass, passing by False Bay and reaching Lime Kiln State Park, we started to see dorsal fins. We travelled slowly on scene because the orcas were spread out all over the place.

As we sat in placed and watched orcas on all side, guests captured beautiful photographs of passing orcas. We had some excellent views of orcas travelling behind our stern and off our bow. Blackberry (J27) made an appearance, alongside what may have been his brother and sister. We hung out with the whales for some time, travelling along one group and then another, until we decided it was best we start heading home. As we were about to head back, one of the young calves, its mother, and another female passed about 150 yards off our starboard side. We had some great glimpses at one of the young new members of J Pod (probably the best view I’ve had of one of the calves yet this season!).

Heading back, we decided to circumnavigate San Juan Island. It’s always fun heading through Mosquito Pass, slowly travelling through provides a great opportunity to view the beautiful houses that line the Roche Harbor area.

A quick pass by Speiden Island allowed for some great views of all of Speiden’s exotic creatures, as well as a bald eagle sitting in its nest.

The sprinkles didn’t hinder the wildlife-viewing one bit. Another wonderful and mellow day out on San Juan Islands waters.

Until Tomorrow,
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Some Days Are For Cruising

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

It is good to live in the islands these days. Capt. Pete, Nan and I welcomed a diverse and friendly group onto the MV Sea Lion today and we were able to show them the islands in all of their glory. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the water was calming. The Orcas seemed to have moved off to parts unknown overnight, but that did not stop our guests from spotting some great wildlife.

There were more Harbor Seals than you could shake a stick at and we saw almost every color pattern imaginable. No signs of pups yet, but it is still a bit early in the season. Our local population of Bald Eagles appears to be doing very well, since every rock and island seemed to have an eagle on it. There were several immature eagles sighted yet again today as well as a few nests and mated pairs. One of our guests even spied an adult Surf Scoter with a juvenile floating in the rough water around Boiling Reef. Those are the first ones that I have seen here!

After heading up to East Pt. on Saturna Island in Canada, and getting a quick glimpse of a Steller’s Sea Lion before it dove off into the water, we then cruised down the coastline of Saturna Island. The sandstone formations were beautiful and you could see the different layers of rock on the bluff faces that marked the great geological changes that have occurred over the eons in this area. A quick turn around Green Pt. on Spieden Island to look for sheep and deer and to see the effects of the Vashon Glacier there marked the end of our trip. It was then a straight shot back to port for a great group of guests and crew.

Thank you from all of us to all of you for choosing San Juan Safaris and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Porpoiseful Day

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Boy, did we have a great day out on the water today! A boatload of guests, Captain Pete, naturalist Tristen, and I departed Friday Harbor with the sun glistening on our faces. The weather today was warmer than the past few days, it is really starting to feel like summer is coming to the islands. Captain Pete had heard that J Pod was up by Point Roberts in Canada – so northward we went!

As we cruised up toward Canada we pasted many, many harbor porpoises porpoising (because the porpoise of porpoises is porpoising, of course). The area must have been rich with small schooling fish today! We also saw a few bald eagles as we cruised along. The MV Sealion reached Canada and we checked out a large group of Steller Sealions (males, females, and young) hauled out on a rock off of East Point (on Saturna Island). As we marvelled at the massive size of the Stellars, suddenly a male and two female orcas came porpoising behind the boat. They were travelling quickly and the other members of J Pod were quick to follow. Captain Pete shut down the engine and we let J Pod start to pass. After most of the group had travelled by, Pete joined alongside Blackberry (J27) and what appeared to be his siblings, Tsuchi (J31), and Mako (J39). Spread out all over the place, we watched orcas breach, tailslap, porpoise, and just travel along. We saw a wide variety of orca behavior and had some wonderful views at many members of J Pod.

As the boat cruised home we spotted more harbor porpoises abound, quite a few more bald eagles, harbor seals, and even a river otter off of Green Point on Speiden Island.

What a fabulous day!
Ashley, Naturalist

Relaxing with J Pod in the Haro Strait

Friday, May 15th, 2009

With the sun shining and the water sparkling, Captain Nancy, the other naturalist Tristen, a group of (as always) enthusiastic and eager guests, and I took off from Friday Harbor with the hopes of meeting up with J pod. To the excitement of guests, naturalists, and captains alike, J pod (the most resident pod [pod = family unit] from the Southern Resident Community) has been in the area almost every day for the past couple weeks. Captain Nancy heard word that the group was moving slowly up Henry Island.

We arrived on scene between Henry and Stuart Island to find what appeared to be all of J pod moving in one tight knit group and travelling in a resting pattern. The group moved slowly along. They had no particular destination in mind, switching directions at will. Distinct members of the pod, like - J26 (Mike), J27 (Blackberry), J1 (Ruffles), the two babies (!), and J30 (Riptide), swam amongst the pod. All members made their appearance for the crowd of pleased guests. It was a wonderful afternoon for whale viewing due to the mild weather and calm waters. J pod also made the viewing pleasant because of their slow travel and tight knit group.

On the way back toward Friday Harbor we travelled alongside Speiden, stopping first at Sentinel Rock to glispe at an adult bald eagle and hauled out harbor seals. Grazing and meandering on Speiden’s southside we saw a few fallow deer and quite a few herds of both male and female muflon sheep. In a tree overhanging the water in the middle of Speiden’s southside shoreline we spotted a bald eagle watching over its nest, which has a chick in this season!

We had a full array of wildlife to view today and all returned happy and worn out from a wildlife-packed afternoon!

Ashley, Naturalist

Another Day Well Spent with J Pod

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

After a few days off the water, I was antsy to get my share of the J Pod viewing action. Luckily, J Pod decided to appease my desires and we left Friday Harbor with a group of excited guests to catch up with the whales (well, dolphins – technically) on the west side of the San Juan Island.

After viewing some harbor seals hauled out (as usual) on some rocks, we arrived on scene, with the whales spread out heading in the direction of Port Angeles. Captain Nancy followed next to a group of around 5-6 individuals (one adult male, a young orca, and four females – it appeared). This was a nice group to see because the rest of J Pod was spread out quite a distance in front of us. Due to an ebbing tide in our favor we reached the whales quickly and had a nice long time to view them. A few guests even spotted a Minke whale or two (one of the smallest baleen whales, around 30 feet long). As we turned to head back to Friday Harbor we caught a nice glimpse or two of a group of around 4 orcas dilly-dallying back and forth.

Although it was a bit chilly (it’s not quite summer yet!), the sun was shining and the water was calm. Everyone returned mellow and satisfied after a wonderful afternoon with our friends from J Pod.

Until next time,
Ashley, Naturalist


Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Our adventure startedby heading North out of Friday Harbor. We found the orca whales about 5 miles North of Patos Island heading and they were headed north.

Members of J and K pods were there. We identified J-1 “Ruffles”. We were also lucky enough to see one individual back dive about 4 times in a row. One of our guests got a great picture. Hope she emails it to us (

On our ride back we made a quick stop around Yellow Island to see some Harbor Seals hauled out on the rocks.

Everyday is a great adventure we never know what great things we are going to get to witness.

Jeanette Miller

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Never Give Up. . .

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

With no reports of whales our safari started by heading South out of Friday Harbor. We passed Whale Rocks and encountered Steller’s Sea Lions and Harbor Seals. I am always impressed with the size of Steller’s Sea Lions around 1500 pounds! Pupping season for harbor seals is mid June and I can’t wait to see all the baby seals.

We also took a good long look at Goose Island on the southern tip of San Juan Island and saw the Cormorant rookery. Fishermen from China historically had used cormorants for fishing. (We will tell you the whole story on the boat, just ask)

As we came around the southern corner of San Juan Island into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, we ran into some rough waters. So – we decided to turn north and go up the west side of San Juan Island. This ended up to be a fantastic decision… We found J-pod near Lime Kiln State Park heading North. We were able to identify J-1 “Ruffles”, the eldest male of all Southern Resident Killer Whales. His dorsal fin is about 5 feet tall.

We ended the tour by taking a quick peek at Spieden Island. The Mouflon Sheep were out grazing and a Bald eagle was sitting in its nest.

Our trip may have started with doubt and rough seas, but we never gave up.
We ended up seeing orca whales and some great wildlife.

Jeannette Miller

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©