Archive for June, 2009

Sunset Orcas

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Our sunset trip started out at about 5:30 PM and we headed south. The seas were glassy, super calm. We got word that the Orcas were near False Bay and heading up island. We rushed over there and immediately were able to identify J-1, “Ruffles”, we then saw granny, Riptide, Sachi and a few others.

We were so excited, J-pod twice in a row! It’s always so amazing to see Granny; she is estimated to be 98 years old and the matriarch of J-pod. She is also a movie star; her future role was in Free Willy 2!

We watched J-pod as they cruised with the current toward Lime Kiln State Park. They traveled very close together for a while, and then spread out of a little. We put our hydrophone in the water, we waited to hear if they were vocalizing, but we could only hear some faint sounds.

We then headed north to Spieden Island. At night when it’s cool some deer and sheep come out of the woods and graze. These animals are non-native to this area, but are super fun too see. We also saw two Bald Eagles on the Cactus Islands. Another great trip filled with wildlife!

Naturalist Jeannette Miller

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Orcas and Minkes

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009


J-pod on both of our trips! On our afternoon adventure we saw J-30, Riptide, along with other J-pod members.

Riptide was born in 1995 and is the eldest surviving offspring of J-14, Samish. He is maturing into an adult and is growing a very tall dorsal fin. We watched as he fished, very interesting, you can see how quickly he is capable of moving.

We also saw lots and lots of spy hopping; this is when they come up vertically with their head and portions of their pectoral fins exposed. This is one of my favorite orca moves.

On the way back to Friday Harbor on our afternoon trip we were looking at all the sea birds, mostly gulls, congregating in one spot on the ocean surface. This is a sure sign of ‘fish’. The birds were making lots of noise and sure enough we saw a Minke whale.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales. We watched for a few minutes and another minke surfaced, but this one was much smaller, one of the Captains named him “Twinkie”. “Twinkie” the baby minke…

What a great adventure, Orcas and Minkes!!! Before reaching Friday Harbor we also saw Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, Cormorants and lots of other birds.

Naturalist Jeannette

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

This just in…

Monday, June 29th, 2009

“Here’s my review -

We really had a good time. My wife and I took the whale watching tour on 26 June 2009. Nancy captained the boat and the naturalists were Jacqueline and ??. They were all very professional and knowledgable. They were also very patient and helpful with all the participants, even the smaller children. It was a very enjoyable experience. Be sure to take warm clothes!”

Thank you to Rick and his wife for joining us on another fabulous whale & wildlife trip. We appreciate the heartfelt response and are always glad to receive feedback and photos. So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, we will…

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

P.S. – I was the other naturalist on duty that day. Clearly I need to work on my delivery.

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Lovely Looks at L Pod of the South End of San Juan Island

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Having heard a report that some members of the Southern Resident Community (the salmon-eating orcas) were spread out all down the west and south side of San Juan Island, we boarded the guests and cruised south down through San Juan Channel. The weather was warm, the sky was remarkably clear, and the water was calm. As we cruised through Cattle Pass the guests and naturalists gazed at a wonderful view of Mt Rainer (a mountain that we don’t usually see from the San Juan Islands’ waters) to our southwest.

When we arrived on scene, Captain Craig slowed down the boat to get a grasp on orcas whereabouts. Members of L Pod were spread out in the water off the south end of San Juan Island. We shut down the engines after cruising offshore and had some closer view of two L Pod members, L 78 (Gaia) and L 2 (Grace). L pod was fishing offshore of the island, making their their surfacings unpredictable and sporadic. This mother and son duo surfaced behind our stern, then off our starboard side (right side, for all you non-seafaring folk) and off our bow!

Eventually these two L pod members moved further offshore and met up with a larger group (perhaps 4-5 more L pod members) travelling away from us. In this group was at least 2 adult males. We had some wonderful views of the orcas breaching, tail-slapping and fishing during the day trip today!

Over and out,
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Super Safari!

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

What a day! There were Orca families zooming everywhere with breaches, tail slaps and spyhops galore. We saw auklets and harbor seals and even a bald eaglet in the nest with his parents standing guard in nearby trees. The sun was out and the waters were calm and our guests on the MV Kittiwake could not have been more fun.

Capt. Craig and I took a lively group of visitors through Friday Harbor and down the east side of San Juan Island. Just past Turn Island we stopped to see some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks in the sun and a bald eagle sitting on the very top of a tree causing it to bend over with the bird’s weight. We then rode the ebbing tide down San Juan Channel past Griffin Bay and out Cattle Pass. A quick left turn at the southwest corner of Lopez Island and there were the whales.

J1 “Ruffles” along with the rest of his family group went racing past us in a very tight formation and across the opening to Cattle Pass. Once on the other side they slowed down, probably because they were no longer fighting the currents. We could see numerous other family groups in the distance all headed west along the south ends of Lopez and San Juan Islands. They were swimming so fast that we say porpoising and white wave caps each time that the Orcas returned to the water. One individual did a fabulous bellyroll and there was so much tail waving and tail slapping going on I lost track of who was doing what.

After leaving what appeared to be a mix of Js, Ks and maybe Ls we then cruised Long Island and found the mated pair of bald eagles there and then motored over to the coastline of Lopez Island to check out a nest and chick that our sister boat, the MV Sea Lion, had alerted us to. Sure enough the adults could be seen sitting in nearby snags and the eaglet was proudly standing up in the nest surveying his domain. It was very cool.

Today really showcased what an awesome job this is and how fabulous it is to be here in the San Juan Islands. Neither I nor our guests could have asked for anything better. So, from all of us here at San Juan Safaris to all of you adventurers out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Natural Entertainment

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Life is good as a naturalist these days. The Orcas are back in the islands and the summer is in full swing. With the 4th of July coming up, as well as Friday Harbor’s centennial and the sesquicentennial of the Pig War there is no shortage of special events to fill those hours that can not be spent on the water. Luckily for our guests today, it was a day spent on the water and in the company of whales. And not just giant black and white dolphins, but real whales as well.

As we were making our way down the Strait of Juan de Fuca we got reports from another boat about a minke whale near Salmon Bank. It turns out that there were actually two whales and we watched for several minutes as they surfaced and fed. Each time after a breath sliding quietly back beneath the waters. Shortly though we were once again on the trail of the Orca. Luckily for us some of the other wildlife watch companies had scoped out the action before we got there.

The Orca whales, actually the world’s largest dolphins, were spread out over a large area similar to where they had been the day before. There were a number of family groups numbering from approximately 4-6 individuals feeding and traveling within sight of the south end of San Juan Island. Even though there had been reports that L pod might have left the area, that was who we found today. All the groups were pretty focused on what they were doing and so there was not a lot of rambunctious behavior. But there were some quiet vocalizations heard as one family group passed by the MV Sea Lion.

Even though the south waters were as calm as could be today, it soon became time for us to go. So Capt. Nancy, Kathy, our guests and I bid the Orcas farewell and motored on back to Friday Harbor. On our return trip we caught sight of a bald eagle, some harbor seals and even a couple of harbor porpoises. It was a full and lovely day with the abundance of nature to entertain us and the sun coming out to chase away the clouds.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris to all of you loyal Orca fans, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

For The Love of Whales

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Not wind, nor weather, nor water can deter us. If the whales are in the vicinity then we will do all we can to get to them. So said our guests today on the MV Sea Lion. Despite the grey skies and the spitting rain everyone was ready to get out on the water and commune with whales. We were in no way disappointed. The reports had been of sporadic behavior, but we found the whales at the South end of the island moving around in classic feeding patterns, which means that they were swimming everywhere.

We were on scene with the Orcas for a few minutes traveling with them as they moved offshore. Whales could be seen spread out over a large area traveling in small groups or even as singles. Suddenly, through what must have been a direct command or agreement, all of the whales changed direction and started heading west. The Orcas collected together into a group and increased their speed as we continued to see some erratic movements that coincided with feeding.

There was a general sense of urgency about their travels and we saw a number of spyhops and tail slaps. The tail slaps may have been a means to gather together and even herd salmon and other fish for feeding. The spyhops might also help with that since it gives the whales a chance to see where other members of the pod are, where the boats are and how far away the coastline is.

Finally, time and rough water forced our return to port, but not before we saw one juvenile and two adult bald eagles on Long Island. As well as a Bald Eagle that buzzed over Goose Island and sent all of the nesting birds into the sky in a frenzy. Despite the grey skies our day was golden with the glow of time spent with J pod, members of our beautiful Southern Resident Orcas.

From Capt. Nancy, Jaclyn, San Juan Safaris and myself, thank you to all of you nature lovers out there and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

The Wonder of Whales

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

How do you measure the quality of a moment? What is it that makes some indelible and others ephemeral? Why aren’t all moments created equal?

Today was one of those types of days. It was grey and overcast with a little bit of rain in the air. The water was steely but calm and nature seemed to be holding it’s breath. An eagle floated slowly past, harbor porpoises surfaced erratically and the breezes were still. There was a sense of bridled anticipation coming from the guests, the crew and even from the boat itself. Would the whales move out of range? Would we have traveled all those miles simply to see empty ocean? Would our memories be restricted to the wind and the waves?

Alas, no, the other companies had not led us astray. As we cleared Boundary Pass and entered the Strait of Georgia there were the other wildlife watching boats and whale blows and Orca dorsal fins could be seen amongst them. We slowly joined the throng so as not to disturb the magic that the whales cast over everyone and took our place in the moment. It did not take us long to realize that there were family groups spread everywhere and that you had to keep your eyes moving to take it all in. We saw J1 “Ruffles”, J28 “Polaris” and J26 “Mike” among others. All of J pod seemed to be there with some extras as well. The animals were excitable and transferred that energy to us through their breaches and spyhops, tail slaps and splashes.

As always our time with the Orcas seemed too short, but soon we had been there nearly an hour and it was time to head back. We slowly departed the dream-like scene just as we had arrived and watched as the whales and their human sentinels faded into the foggy background. Our minds cataloging and storing the precious memories that we had just amassed. So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris to all of you dreamers out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A terrific Tuesday with the Orcas!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I knew when I woke up this morning and the sun was shining that it was going to be a good day! And it was.

Both our trips today had amazing looks at the Orcas or Killer Whales that frequent the San Juan Islands. We lucked out on our 1pm tour with reports of Residents (salmon-eating Orcas) eastbound near Victoria, BC. A little trip to the south around Cattle Pass and across the Straits (which looked as if it were a pond today)….so calm, clear views of the Olympic Mountains to the south and we met up with the whales crossing to San Juan Island. They had been traveling quite fast according to the other boats and they ended up splitting into 2 or more groups, with some whales moving towards the southern half of the island and other northbound up Haro Strait. The Orcas were quite spread out in all directions….apparently it was J pod and K pod. (I’m still getting back into the swing of identifying these guys.)

We had some wonderful views of 2 younger calves playing in the currents where the kelp was collecting, along with logs and other debris. One even draped a bit of kelp across its dorsal fin!! There was some breaching, tail slaps and just some great looks at the whales.

We moved north, from one group to another and left them off of Kellet Bluff, Henry Island as we looped around the north side of San Juan Island. A peek at 2 Bald Eagles posing side by side at the top of a tree on Sentinel Island. What a picture that was!! And off we were back to Friday Harbor, having circled San Juan Island.

Then the 5:30 pm Sunset Tour. Wow! This is why I absolutely love the evening trips. It was one of those nights where there was no wind, the seas were like glass, and the clouds cleared so I could finally see Mount Baker in all its glory in the Cascade Range! J pod had covered some ground and was up in the Canadian Gulf Islands. So to Canada we went. We had a small intimate group of people on the boat who got one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time! We were able to watch J27 (Blackberry) who at 18 is turning into quite the large male. Along with J27 was his sister J31 and a sprouter male who I believe was J34, and a few others I didn’t ID. There were actively spy hopping, rolling, foraging, and moving northbound.

The unfortunate part of this experience was a private boater that was much too close to the whales, who continued to pursue the Orcas and park as close as possible to the animals. It is illegal for any vessel to be within a 100 yards of these Endangered Southern Community of Killer Whales (pods J, K, L). Many folks don’t realize that this is law and the point being we want to give the Orcas enough space so that we boaters are not causing them to alter their normal behavior. Hopefully as more people learn this, we will all be more conscience of how we conduct ourselves around the whales.

We were able to also get great looks at J26, the other 18 year old male with his mom J16 and younger sibling J42. Again very active tonight! Breach after breach, even by the little calf! The next family group included J17, J28, and newborn J44? I kept looking for the little one but the glare on the water against the dark rocky shoreline made it difficult. By now we were nearing Active Pass and it was time to head home.

Our guests on board were frantically snapping photos trying to capture all the activity and I couldn’t believe how lucky we were!! What a beautiful and special day in the San Juans.

-Jaclyn, naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Active Orcas

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Today was a great orca viewing day. The whales were doing back dives and breaches!!! They were also traveling fairly fast. Both the guests and I very interesting to watch. Everyone on the boat was very impressed with J-pod.

J-pod is one of the three pods that make up the southern resident killer whale community. These killer whales are actually fish eaters, they do not prey on marine mammals. These orcas have been listed as an endangered species in both Canada and the United States.

On the way back to Friday Harbor we took a look at the Cactus Islands and saw a couple of bald eagles. We even saw a bald eagle in the nest feeding its eaglet.

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