Archive for July, 2009

Turning Points

Friday, July 31st, 2009

It was an evening to behold and luckily we were there. Most, if not all, of L Pod passed by the MV Sea Lion tonight and with the number of animals that we saw there must have been some of K Pod as well. Capt. Nancy caught us up with the whale watch fleet just south of Turn Point on Stuart Island. We floated in the golden evening light as group after family group of orcas passed by us. There was Mega and Skana, all of their siblings and mothers and Gaia with his new dorsal fin scars, to name a few.

As the animals neared Turn Point they ran very close to the cliffs breaching and splashing. We saw feeding and high spirits and watched as the different groups glided through the kelp beds under the lighthouse. Our hydrophone picked up beautiful vocalizations that slowly faded as the whales moved away. The orcas blew and breached their way into the distance and we left them cruising northwest into Canadian waters.

On the way home to Friday Harbor we stopped by one of the Cactus Islands to look at 11 bald eagles feeding on a carcass. It was a mix of both juveniles and adults scattered all over the rocks and shoreline. As we watched a very large, all dark brown bird flew in and landed right on the carcass, startling all of the juveniles away. Capt. Nancy and I were hesitant to say what species of bird it was since sightings are so rare, but we think it was a golden eagle. They are occasionally seen here in the islands and it is a lucky person indeed that witnesses one of these striking birds.

What an incredible trip we had tonight and I am so glad that our guests had a chance to be with us. So, from all of us here at San Juan Safaris, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Wildlife Adventure

Friday, July 31st, 2009

What a diversity of wildlife today, birds, seals and orcas. Just north of Lopez Island we saw a mature bald eagle (with a white head and tail) and a great blue heron about 10 feet away. Then we headed further south and saw some very large black dorsal fins. We knew right away that we were looking at some mature male orcas. We were then able to determine that we were looking at L-pod based on the saddle patches.

L-pod is the largest pod of the Southern Resident Community of orcas. There are about 39 orcas in this pod. The Southern Resident Orcas have been listed as an endangered species in the United States and in Canada.

We watched a few animals as they milled around the west side of San Juan Island, near False Bay. We then ventured offshore and found a few more individuals from L-pod. We saw a breach and a spy hop. As we returned to the San Juan Channel we encountered a few harbor seals swimming and a few hauled out at various locations. We also got some great views of the adorable pups.

Another great adventure in the San Juans with San Juan Safaris!

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

A full on excursion!

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest is starting to subside! It was the 2nd day in a row for me to wear shorts on the boat and not freeze! Can’t say I can do that very often. I was out on our smaller vessel the Kittiwake with our 12 guests aboard for a little adventure this afternoon.

Rumors were that the Orcas were still west of us in the Strait of Juan de Fuca slowly making their way inbound. They were out of range when we left the dock but I had a good feeling they would be coming our way. We went north for fun to check out a few eagles nest and tour through the San Juans…knowing (and crossing our fingers) that we could meet up with them if they did get within our range…

The Bald Eagle chick on O’neill Island was perched on a branch just inches above the nest! Looks like it is getting ready to fledge if it hasn’t already. The nest on the south side of Speiden still had its chick in it with an adult posted on a nearby branch. A little hot for grazing exotic game on Speiden…just a few Mouflon Sheep out on the south side.

Now it was about this time when we got the good word the Orcas were picking up the pace and inbound. Still in Canadian waters, south of Victoria but nonetheless coming our way. We sped off around the west side of San Juan Island through Haro Strait. Our guests were getting lucky today! A full tour around all of the island and an international trip! We met up with the “leaders” of this Orca train and paralleled them as they crossed Haro Strait towards False Bay on San Juan Island. Looked like they were enjoying the bit of waves & currents…almost surfing the waves and porpoising! I am quite positive that we were looking at K13 Skagit and her offspring: K20 Spock & her calf K38 Comet, K25 Scoter, K27 Deadhead, and K34 Cali. The great-grandmother (K11 Georgia) of 5-year-old Comet may have been there as well. This family group did spread out a bit as they travelled and we got a great look at K25 (an 18-year-old sprouter male) doing some fishing in a rip. His fin looked much like that of a shark as he quickly pursued his prey underwater! Behind this group was another large male and my guess is that it was L87 who may have a girlfriend in the group. He’s been seen with K pod quite a bit in the last week or so! Maybe a new little calf will be born in another 16-17 months or so!

We were running low on time so we said goodbye to the Orcas and heading back towards Friday Harbor by way of Cattle Pass at the southern end of the island. Lots of birds out today! Just before Cattle Pass I did see 3 Common Murres sitting on the water!

Another enjoyable day with great guests and wildlife in the beautiful San Juans. Hope you’re able to join us!

-Jaclyn, naturalist
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Orca Madness

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

While a heat wave roars through the Pacific Northwest, we here in Friday Harbor decided to cool our heals in the waters of Boundary Pass. The orcas had been north and east and everywhere according to the reports that we were getting, but we found them heading west towards Swanson Channel and the Pender islands. Supposedly, J1 “Ruffles” had been over near Lummi Island, but almost like clock-work he and his family showed up off of the starboard bow of our boat.

Capt. Craig always seems to know where to find them and he makes Kathy’s and my job so easy. He slowly maneuvered the MV Sea Lion around to run parallel to the orcas and keep our customers insight of them. There were a few breaches in the area, but it was mainly a sunny stroll through calm waters. The orcas slowly spread out and dissipated until we were tracking just one or two. So we waved a last goodbye and headed off to see some of the other amazing wildlife in the San Juan Islands.

Flattop Island, a National Wildlife Refuge, had several mature bald eagles sitting on it and each little rock that stuck up had a harbor seal on it. We even saw one female on Ripple Rocks that had been stained rust color from excess iron in the waters where she has been living. Cormorants sunned on the rocks nearby and harbor porpoises fed in the area. It was a good reminder of the bounty of this area and that orcas are not our only natural wonder.

It was another great trip well attended by both wildlife and guests. So, from all of us here at San Juan Safaris to all of you sun babies out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Wildlife in the San Juans

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

What a phenomenal day for wildlife viewing in the San Juan Islands. We headed south in the San Juan Channel and then up the west side of San Juan Island.

We encountered L-pod off shore of False Bay. It was amazing out there. The water was so calm, we shut down our engines and listened to the orcas as they surfaced to breathe. Every encounter with the orcas is amazing but today was exceptional. Orcas everywhere.

On the way back to Friday Harbor we took a look at Long Island to see a Bald eagles nest. We also saw a beautiful mature bald eagle. We then saw some Harbor seals hauled out on Whale Rocks. Lots of pups were born this year and they are very adorable. And just when everyone thought we were done viewing wildlife we saw Harbor porpoises.

Another great adventure with San Juan Safaris.
Naturalist Jeannette Miller

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

North and South, J’s and L’s!!!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

We had a whale-packed day out on the MV Sea Lion today! Captain Craig, naturalist Jeannette, and I cruised all over the islands. During our afternoon trip we made our way north to Turn Point on Stuart Island (the most northwestern point of the islands AND the most northwestern point in the continental United States!). When we arrived to Turn Point J Pod was cruising on past in one tight knit group, with a few members dispersed here and there. J-1 and J-27 where in the tight pack, but as we approached closer to Turn Point J-1 (Ruffles) separated a little from the pod to do his own thing. J pod is the most resident of the three pods that make up the Southern Resident Community (the community of orcas people are typically thinking about when they hear of orcas in this area), they generally come back into the islands waters’ at least once a month every month of the year. They gave us quite a show but moved rather quickly northward, so as we made our way back to Friday Harbor we were glad to here there were other orcas located somewhere near the south end of San Juan Island!

We boarded the boat for the evening tour, and headed in the opposite direction from the afternoon trip. Southward bound we cruised, excited to see what whales were located off the south side. We caught up with the whales near Castle Island of the southern side of Lopez Island. They were (just like J pod in the afternoon!) in a one tight-knit group with a few outliers here and there. We saw L 78 travelling a bit separate from the group and a few others here and there, but for the most part there was a large group spyhopping, porpoising, breaching, etc etc. It was a wonderful show on glassy calm sun-lit waters!


Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Jolly ol’ Js

Friday, July 24th, 2009

It was a double round-trip for those guests coming from Anacortes today. We loaded them on the boat in Friday Harbor and then motored through Upright Channel and Thatcher Pass to get to Rosario Strait right outside of Anacortes. There was some fog again today, but it was well inland and offered a nice soft background for viewing the orcas. And orcas there were.

J pod was all there travelling in two tight family groups down the strait. The four big boys, both calves with their mothers, all of the juveniles and the grand dames as well. J1 “Ruffles” showed us some tail slapping action and then someone popped up in a spyhop. The calves were tucked into the middle of the groups with their moms at their sides and J2 “Granny” led the whole thing. The most picturesque moment came when most of the pod surfaced together for air with the lighthouse at Burrows Island in the background.

We finally ended the trip with a head-on view of the orcas coming right at the boat. A moment only allowed us to revel in the awe of these stunning animals and then we moved away before we disturbed their travel. By this time we were at the south end of Decatur Island, so we slipped through a narrow pass to the coastline of Lopez Island and followed that back around to San Juan Channel and home. A bald eagle, harbor seals and many, many sea birds rounded out our day of wildlife viewing and a close-up of the schooner Adventuress wrapped our day.

So, from Capt. Nancy, Jeanette, MV Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris and myself, thank you for all of your whale watching enthusiasm and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Fairytale Ending…

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Last night was incredible! Our guests did not realize how good they got it! We circumnavigated San Juan Island, leaving to the south and meeting up with the Killer Whales (Orcas) of J & K pods on the west side. The seas had calmed down…(earlier we had 2-3 footers & white caps)….but by the evening it was flat calm and you could see a thick fog bank looming in the Strait between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula. The Orcas were spread out and we got great views of a 1 or 2 here and there travelling south. We moved a half mile from Lime Kiln and shutdown to drop the hydrophone in. The underwater vocalizations and echolocation were incredible! We had no idea where the vocalizations were coming from…which direction or which whale, since there were none nearby. Sound does travel 4-5 times faster in water than air, so they could be a mile or more away! At one point, one of our younger guests aboard remarked “Are you sure that sound’s not coming from their butt?! It sounds like a fart!” Haha! Did that get the crowd going….

Enthusiasm is contagious…we all couldn’t help but smile and laugh when this same young guest first saw the Orcas and shouted “Wow! I didn’t know wildlife could be so cool!”

We saw some great behaviors….logging (when an Orca just sits at the surface with its fin & head poking above the surface for minutes), flipper slaps, tail slaps, and some fishing in the rips where currents collide. Most of the whales seemed to have turned around and started to head north. So hopefully that means plenty of salmon for them and they’re sticking around our waters for the next few days!

As we rounded the north end of the island you could see a few dark clouds hanging over the San Juans. The lighting this time of night in the summers is spectacular with the sun getting low in the sky. Then coming south through San Juan Channel you could see one end of a rainbow touching down on Orcas Island, the other on San Juan Island! Just as we docked, the entire rainbow filled in and we had a complete arch! I think our guests got the impression that it’s always picture perfect like this out here. Not quite, but last night it was!

-Jaclyn, naturalist
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Cappuccino anyone?

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

K-pod today! We identified K-21, Cappuccino. Cappuccino was born in 1986 and is a male. He was traveling with a female known as Deadhead, K-27. K-pod has 19 individuals and is the smallest of the three pods that make up the Southern Resident Community of killer whales.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales are a significant population in the Pacific Northwest. SRKW’s have been listed as an Endangered species in both the US and Canada. These resident orcas are often in the San Juan and Puget Sound area during summer months. These animals are considered to be “resident” orcas (a distinct form of ocra) and specialize in foraging on fish. They do not eat marine mammals like the “transient” orcas. Research has shown that the resident orcas prefer to eat salmon, especially Chinook salmon.

Chinook salmon has also been listed on the Endangered Species List. Salmon is an anadromous fish. They actually leave their natal freshwater streams, migrate to the ocean, they stay there for usually 3 to 5 years on average and then migrate back to their natal stream to spawn. There are many of issues facing these fish: dams, water diversions, habitat destruction, water quality and temperature changes, pollution, predation in fish ladders and over fishing (and that’s only to name a few).

Chinook salmon needs to be recovered if we want to keep these southern resident orcas around. “It’s all about the salmon”.

Naturalist Jeannette

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

San Juan Island, where the whales are…

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Today we headed north in the San Juan Channel. We had a few sightings of orcas earlier at False Bay on the west side ofSan Juan Island. We were originally considering going south. But as we motored out of Friday Harbor, we heard that the orcas were moving up on the west side of San Juan Island – fast.

So we went north and cruised past the south side of Spieden Island, which is just north of San Juan Island. As we looked for big black dorsal fins or a big blow from the bow of our vessel the Sea Lion, we saw a small, triangular fin. A Harbor Porpoise!

We then saw the big dorsal fins. Our first sights of orca were right off the west side of Henry Island. Henry Island is just to the west of Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. The orcas were fishing right off shore. They are intriguing to watch as they fish – going back and forth and back and forth. We identified some individuals by their saddle patch (just behind their dorsal fin). We were seeing K pod and a few of the L pod.

The Southern Resident community consists of 85 killer whales, making up three pods: J, K and L. K pod is actually the smallest pod consisting of 19 individuals. L pod is the largest with 39 killer whales. We watched the orcas for about an hour. They began moving off shore and heading south, down San Juan Island. They probably traveled right past Lime Kiln State Park.

We then headed to the Cactus Islands and saw what I believe to be a nesting pair of Bald eagles perched side by side in the top of a tree. We also got a great view of their rather enormous eaglet flapping its wings in the nest. I am always surprised with how fast eagles grow. We also saw a few Harbor seals and their pups swimming around.

Another great trip with San Juan Safaris.
Naturalist Jeannette Miller
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©