Archive for August, 2009

Happy Hour!

Monday, August 31st, 2009

A wonderful end to the month of August….lots of Orcas..J, K, and some L pod members were all traveling together this afternoon! Somewhat of a superpod. (Other members of L pod were at the south end of San Juan Island today). They had been moving along to the north, when we arrived in Swanson Channel, a waterway in the Gulf Islands they were just slowing down and gathering together. We watched a big group with lots of whales all busy socializing! Amongst the group were J26, J33, 2 year-old J42, J19 & calf J41, L72, K12, K22 along with many others. Somewhat of a little happy hour…lots of activity at the surface: tail slaps, rolling over, pec slaps, half breaches, cartwheels. It was awesome…and a few of our guests were not so lucky on a past visit to the San Juans and realized just how special today was!

Signing off,
Jaclyn Van Bourgondien, naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Oreo Doublestuff Cookie!

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

A foggy morning had one ferry very much behind schedule…but no worries….we are on “island time”. Lots of Orcas out there today and they were in no rush! Nor were we.

On our way out I saw my 1st Stellar Sea Lion of the season! A big male, snorting as he surfaced and exhaled, swimming in Cattle Pass. I love these guys. A male Stellar can weigh as much as 2000 pounds! Just huge compared to our Harbor Seals which weigh in around 250-300 pounds.

J-pod, one of our 3 pods of Resident Killer Whales, was cruising around the southwest end of the island when we met them today. Flat calm, no bumps today…just a gorgeous afternoon. The Orcas were very spread out with some hugging the coastline off of Eagle Point & False Bay, while others were 2 miles offshore. Lots of directional changes, foraging, the occasional half-breach or spyhop….We had lots of nice views of J34, named Doublestuff, who’s an 11-year-old male just starting to really “sprout” his dorsal fin. Not too far away was mom J22 (Oreo) and 6-year-old brother J38 (Cookie). The vocalizations of this family were amazing!! Lots of squeals, echolocation, and a faint call that reminded me of a cow moo-ing. haha! It was great! Later, J26 (Mike) surfaced showing his tall dorsal with mom J16 (Slick) just logging at the surface. Not to be left out, little 2-year-old Echo J42 came porpoising by…as if to say…”Wait for me!” A wonderful day…the Orcas were all off of Salmon Bank as we left with J14 and her offspring…(including the very small & cute newborn J45) in a close knit group surfacing together! Yet another day enjoying the natural beauty of our islands and its wildlife.

Hope to see you out here!
Jaclyn, naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Seasons Come and Go

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

“To everything, turn, turn, turn…”, so they say and that is true of life here in the San Juan Islands. The indicators are small currently, but the times they are a changing. I saw a second Steller’s sea lion in a week today, which means they are starting to wander back down here from Alaska. This one was probably another sub-adult male that was not that impressive to the females, so he is back in our waters to work on his physique so that he has more success next year.

These large otariids, or eared seals, winter-over here in The Islands and then spend the summer in Alaska feeding and wooing the women. They are a very large seal and their faces heavily resemble that of a dog. Amazingly though, they are directly related to bears. This is also true of harbor seals, but as a true seal, harbor seals are a step further removed and have been adapted to living in a marine environment longer than the sea lions have.

Another marker of the changing seasons is the end of our sunset trips. These were all lovely times on the water and I will miss them exceedingly. Of course, we still have our afternoon tours and we are still seeing our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Again today actually, we were off of the south end of San Juan Island and saw members from all three resident pods. The J pod males were there, as were either L7 “Canuck” or L77 “Matia”, and K40 “Raggedy” with here brother K21 “Cappuccino”.

There were many more animals around, maybe even all of them, but they were spread out in a way that made it hard to tell. It was definitely almost a super pod, just without all of the acrobatics and vocalizations. It appeared as if we caught them during a resting and traveling period, with maybe some slow feeding going on as well. Either way, it was a lovely day on the water and I truly enjoyed our guests as well as my co-crew Ashley and Capt. Craig. The M/V Sea Lion needs its recognition as well, since it has served us admirably this season and is a very comfortable boat to both work and sightsee on.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you wildlife watchers out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©


Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Residents and Transients

We saw resident and transient killer whales today! This almost never happens, transients avoid resident orcas, but today they were about 5 miles from each other. We went north, to Point Roberts. Here we watched resident orcas. We had heard these resident orcas were members of K-pod. As we watched these animals we noticed a big bull. We identified him by his saddle patch, this male was actually L-78, and we also saw L-2. L-2 is actually L-78’s mommy! Resident orcas have a very unique family structure, they never leave their moms.

On the way back, about 5 miles from where we left our resident orcas, we found transients. They we very close to the shore line of Patos Island. We even got to see a spy hop. This transient may have been looking for some seals. We watched and all noticed some of the subtle difference from resident to transient orcas. Transient orcas have a more pointed dorsal fin tip and seem to travel into smaller bays and closer to shore.

Remember our Southern Resident Orcas are an endangered species; anything you can do to help salmon will help the resident orcas, because that’s what they eat. “It’s all about the salmon”.

Always a great adventure with San Juan Safaris!

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

Into the Fog!

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Residents have returned to our waterways! After 2 days in the Strait and ocean, members of the fish-eating Orca community have made their way back towards San Juan Island. They were just off the south end…moving from Salmon Bank inshore towards Eagle Point and False Bay.

The fog was incredibly thick to the south, masking the Orcas, other boats, and even the island in a damp sock of white. Jeannette and I were the lookouts for Captain Craig….this was what I call “extreme whale watching”…..after well over an hour of searching and the Orcas continually eluding the boats in the fog we got our first peek at 2 dorsal fins. The calm seas allowed us to hear the blows or breathing of the whales better than we could see them! One whale spyhopped twice taking a peak above the water.

Jeannette was so excited to hear echolocation above the water’s surface! With the hydrophone in we were able to hear more echolocation and vocalizations. The Orcas were lost again in the fog…we were ready to call it quits and head north to find other wildlife when we were graced with views of at least a dozen Orcas….lots of directional changes, they seemed to be fishing….(we saw several salmon jump throughout the afternoon).

Our guests got some nice photographs in the fog. I was able to ID J28 in the mix with several L pod members….L72 with her 5-year-old son L105 and and his uncle L95 were amongst the Orcas. We left to circumnavigate the island….(where? what island?) and suddenly it was a gorgeous day with the sun shining and the fog was just a memory.

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest! Another amazing day, where the weather and nature will always surprise you.

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


Monday, August 24th, 2009

There are two distinct types of orcas that frequent the San Juan Islands, transients and residents. Resident orcas are fish eaters and transients eat marine mammals. Today we saw transients, also known as T’s.

The T’s seem to specialize in pinnipeds. They behave differently than the resident orcas. They seem to travel in smaller numbers with usually about 3 to 4 animals. Travel more stealth like, vocalizing much less with an estimated 3 to 4 calls, especially when foraging. Some researchers believe they even control their breathing, so when they surface for a breath they do not alert their prey.

After viewing the orcas we took a little island and wildlife trip. It was beautiful! We saw marine birds, porpoises, seals and eagle nests.

Another great adventure with San Juan Safaris!

Naturalist Jeannette

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

The Sun Has Set

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

It was inevitable, but sad all of the same. Tonight was our last evening trip. We did not waste it though and we had a lovely group of guests out with us on the M/V Sea Lion. Even though there were no resident orcas tonight we still saw all kinds of wonderful wildlife.

As Capt. Pete toured us through the islands, we stopped time and again for harbor seals hauled out on rocks. Of course, there is always a method to Capt. Pete’s madness and he was stopping at all of the places that a transient, or marine mammal eating orca, would hunt. The seals’ cute faces watched us from the rocks and water as we glided by watching them. The pups are almost all weaned now and it is getting harder to tell the youngsters from the adults.

Bald eagles have had a good breeding season this year and all of our active nests have now fledged their chicks. With San Juan County having the highest density of bald eagles in the State of Washington, it is not surprising when you see them on each island that you pass. Ashley and I were kept busy spotting not only the adults, but the all brown juveniles as well. With the great evening lighting though, it was perfect for picking them out amongst the trees.

A loop out through Haro Strait unfortunately did not produce any Dall’s porpoises, but the whole trip was heavily laden with sightings of harbor porpoises. Their little dark dorsal fins dotted the waters, especially anywhere that there were multiple currents mixing and churning. We did get a surprise though, when we came around the corner between the Cactus Islands and saw a Steller’s sea lion. These guys are still supposed to be up in Alaska. This was probably a sub-adult male that just was not quite big enough or sexy enough to win any females. Hopefully next year will be better for him.

We closed out our evening with a cruise past Spieden Island. What an amazing way to end the most beautiful part of our season. The mouflon sheep, sika deer and fallow deer were out in herds. Every hillside and crevice was dotted with animals. They all mingled together, peacefully grazing on the dry summer grass. Several males from each species were out and the racks of antlers and horns were incredibly impressive. In our slow pass along the island, we also had chances to see the lion’s mane jellyfish with it’s blood red tentacles slowing sliding past the boat.

The sunset was a crowning glory to a last wonderful evening. So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you that spent your evenings with us, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Ahh August!

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Boy, for being from Massachusetts, I sure have become acclimated to the Pacific northwest’s 75 degree (F) weather! It hits a few degrees above 75 and I’m sweating. This is much to the humor of my guests, many of whom are coming from Texas, Florida (had some folks for Atlanta, Georgia, today), and other hot summer spots, who board the boats with jackets in tow. Today was like so many other summer days here in the islands this summer, hot and sunny! Due to what we like to call the “rainshadow effect” the islands are a little banana belt of sunshine almost all summer long – and this summer feels like it has been even sunnier than most.

Captain Denny and I boarded an eager boatload of guests aboard the MV Kittiwake. Having heard there were whales south and north, we decided to head north to what sounded like a larger group of whales. We reached members of K Pod passing between Kellett Bluff on Henry Island and Turn Point on Stuart Island. The whales were rolling around, travelling quickly at times, and breaching here and there. We shut off the engines many times throughout the trip and let the animals pass along the shoreline, watching them and listening to the sounds of their blows as the passed behind our stern. Guests snapped some fantastic photographs of the whales and watched with respect and admiration as the orcas travelled in small spread out groups toward Boundary Pass.

After saying farewell to the orcas, we cruised along Stuart Island’s north side, passing through John’s pass. We watched harbor seals swim and bob and juvenile bald eagles fly and land off of low-lying rocks west of the Cactus Islands. As we cruised past the Cactus Islands we saw two adult and one sub-adult bald eagles eating what appeared to be some sort of fish and looked at harbor seals hauled out on rocks half submerged in water. On the east side of Speiden we viewed the entire variety of exotic species that now call Speiden home and watched two river otters crawl down the rock face and dive into the water.

What a wonderful day out on the islands. I was glad to escape the heat in town – and couldn’t think of a better way to do it!

Over and out,
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Summer’s back!

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

After last week’s bit of rain and cooler temps, the temps are back in the high 70s here on the island. A bluebird day and a gorgeous view of Mt. Baker this afternoon just topped off our time with the whales. The L12s and a few other Orcas were out on the west side of San Juan today. The rest of the Residents were too north, coming south from the coal docks…a bit out of reach.

We met up with L41 (Mega) and his sister L77 (Matia). Orcas are identified by their dorsal fin and the white patch behind it. I have a really tough time identifying L77 from her younger sis L94…both Orcas have a small nick 1/3 down the dorsal fin, as well as open V saddle patch on the left and a solid saddle patch on the right! Anyhow the nick looked a little more like that of L77. Bro and sis were spread out from each other…changing direction constantly…my guess is there was some fishing going on. A bit later we saw 2 salmon jump clear out of the water!

Had a few other Orcas (2 males and 1 female) coming south from the Lime Kiln lighthouse just cruising right along. And for the number of boats out there today, I must say it was pleasing to see almost every boat giving the Orcas at least 100 yards of space if not more. A thanks to Soundwatch & Straitwatch out there today monitoring vessel traffic and increasing boater awareness on vessel behaviour around Orcas.

We topped the trip off by circumnavigating San Juan Island and taking a look at harbor seals and a few bald eagles before returning to Friday Harbor.

Hope you all are enjoying the sun-a-shining!
-Jaclyn Van Bourgondien, naturalist, San Juan Safaris.

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Spectacular Sunset!

Monday, August 17th, 2009
Sunday evening…..Pete and I were crossing our fingers, with reports of the Resident Orcas moving south from the Fraser River into US waters, we were hoping the whales would be within our reach. The majority of all 3 pods of Orcas had been at the Fraser River all day, presumably feeding on salmon migrating back to their spawning grounds. It was yet another calm day, with temperatures once again in the high 70s. Off we went….

Luck was with us! Although the whales had changed from a southbound direction to more of an eastbound one…towards Blaine, Washington we made it! The Resident Orcas were spread out, the water was glassy so you could see their blows a mile or 2 out! The lowering sun glistened on their black dorsal fins. We were shut down, as mother K22 (Sekiu) and her son, K33 (Tika) swam off our port bow, then double-backed in the opposite direction. We dropped the hydrophone in at one point and the Orcas were busy vocalizing! There was a possible J pod female travelling with K22 & K33. The occasional breach in the distance could be seen & heard…blubber on water…there’s no other sound quite like it! We turned to start heading home, and stopped to get a great look at L41 (Mega) and his grandmom L12 (Alexis). We wanted to make it back to port before dark, so it was time to leave the Orcas as they continued to the east.

The sunset was the finale with the sky turning beautiful shades of pink…I just snapped this photo on my cell phone’s camera!

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