Archive for September, 2009

A Sensational Season!

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

What a season this has been. This is my first year working out on the boats and I love it. I always knew that I would be a good boat person and I am. I have turned into such a wharf rat, it is unbelievable. Even on days that I am not scheduled to be out, that is the only place that I want to be. At the end of the day, if there is still sunlight, then there is still time to be on the water. And it is not just the orcas that have made this such an outstanding experience, even though they definitely help.

No, this summer has been great for the crews on the boats, the staff in the offices, the captains, the guests, the orcas and the wildlife. The weather and the water have been a treat as well, and are what draw me to the boats anytime I have a free moment. It is the swaying of the docks and the shushing sound of the waves on the sides of the boats. Even the distress calls that have arisen this season. Both our own and other boats’, like today.

It was a cold and wet day today, but what started out as a trip with no orca reports and a very good chance of no wildlife at all, turned out to be an exciting and invigorating time on the water. One of our fellow whale/wildlife watching boats was in need of assistance, so Capt. Brian, a captain on loan for the day, wasted no time in responding to the call. Luckily the issue was resolved before we got there, but we still took 13 people on to our boat and integrated them into our original tour. Which took a surprising turn for the best, when the formerly distressed boat came across a pod of transient orcas not 2 miles from Friday Harbor, on its way back to port.

Well, that was a boon for us. So we quickly changed direction and had a wet, but wonderful time with the orcas that are labeled as the T19s. There were 5-6 of them spread out and swimming every which way, but we did our best and offered our guests all that we had in terms of knowledge and expertise. The afternoon was a success and the visitors on the M/V Sea Lion could all say that they had seen orcas and been part of a high seas rescue!

Capt. Brian and Lauren were great and I thank them for the job that they did today. I would also like to thank all of our original guests for being so understanding and accommodating when we responded to the distress of our fellow boater. And to all of the people that joined us later, thank you for your enthusiasm and we were happy to have you aboard.

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. ©

Still seeing Killer Whales!

Monday, September 28th, 2009

To sum up yesterday and today’s whale watching tours:
The Orcas are still here!

Yahoo! It’s been a fabulous September for viewing our Resident Killer Whales.

Yesterday we met members of J & K pod a mile or 2 off of Eagle Point, San Juan Island. They were very spread out with frequent changes in direction…lots of foraging going on! Gulls were swooping in looking for scraps of salmon that the Orcas had left behind.

On our way back in we saw a Harbor Seal with a huge salmon in its mouth…the salmon was still very fresh amd was wiggling around. Birds were trying to steal what they could. With a few quick movements, the seal with salmon in its jaws, actually swam up out of the water smacking the fish on the water’s surface from one side to the other. A few minutes later the seal surfaced and the only bit of salmon we saw was the tail, the rest already swallowed! Now that’s fast food!

Today…a little further out near Hein Bank we met up with the Orcas once again. Some nice breaches, half breaching- spyhops, and frequent directional changes. More foraging behavior. A large mass of birds hovered above a small group of Orcas awaiting any scraps they could find. It was a swell day, with sightings of Bald Eagles, Harbor Seals, Stellar Sea Lions lounging on Whale Rocks, and Harbor Porpoise in San Juan Channel. The water flattened out and the first rain drops were just starting as we tied up at the dock in Friday Harbor.

-Jaclyn Van Bourgondien, naturalist


Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Autumn Killer Whales!

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Just want to make a quick note about our trip today. Another successful day viewing our local resident killer whales! Capt. Bill and I were heading south to meet members of L pod who were reported off the southern side of San Juan Island.

We stopped to view a nice group of Harbor Seals basking on a rock near Turn Island State Park, when we heard the Orcas had turned and were northbound in Haro Strait.

Coming around past Roche Harbor, we met the Orcas off of Henry Island….they were very spread out, lots of directional changes…probably fishing. The Orcas later seemed to make a decision as all of them started picking up speed swimming south! Very cool to watch changes in behavior.

We paralled the group till they were just off of Lime Kiln Light and then we continued south to circumnavigate San Juan Island.
Amazing show of Dall’s Porpoise along the way, swimming so fast the “rooster tail” of sea spray bounced right off them as they surfaced! Unbelievable.


I love September in the San Juans!
Jaclyn, naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Friday, September 25th, 2009

After a wonderful wildlife-packed (but orca-free) trip north yesterday, I was excited to hear a report the orcas were back in our range when I arrived to the office early this morning. Yet, as the morning progressed and reports continued to be updated, I became a bit nervous that whales might yet again mosey on northward, to far north for us to catch up with. But, we lucked out and as it all turned out, one group of whales did continued swimming their way northbound, but some members of L pod were reported south of Lime Kiln State Park, headed southbound.

We met up with some L Pod members when we reached False Bay. We travelled offshore, getting some fantastic looks at many L Pod males, including L78 Gaia, and his mother, L2, Grace. The orcas were spread out, some close to shore, others quite far offshore. At one point during the trip we put the hydrophone in the water, no expecting to hear much because the whales were so spread out. However, just as we put the hydrophone down a male orca starting actively fishing 150-200 yard off our port quarter. Everyone on the boat heard the echolocation – you could even here the sound waves bounce off the boat!

This September here in the islands has been one for the books! We have seen orcas galore, the weather has generally been phenomenal, and the wildlife viewing has been at its best!

Over and out,
Ashley, Naturalist


Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Home Away From Home

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

It was a long trip today, but well worth it. A small group of guests joined us on the M/V Sea Lion and enjoyed a tour of Orcas Island and the State Marine Parks to the north as we motored to Birch Bay near Blaine, Washington. That is the farthest northeast that either Jaclyn or I have been and it is always fun to find some new water.

Of course, it is all home to our resident orcas and they were cruising through life today near the Canadian border. The groups were small and spread out, but we had a lovely time with them all of the same. The first group that we watched was some J pod members; J8 “Spieden” and J22 “Oreo” with her son J38 “Cookie”. We then crashed a chaperoned date that J1 “Ruffles” appeared to be having with L53 “Lulu”. The mothers, J2 “Granny” and L7 “Canuck”, were there to give their blessing to the event.

With a long haul to get back to port, our time with the orcas was over too quickly. It was an eventful parting though, as the orcas started to spyhop, breach and cartwheel as Capt. Craig turned us towards Friday Harbor. The crew was happy, the guests were happy and it was another beautiful day in the San Juan Islands!

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. ©

Hide and Seek

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Luckily, we did not have to look too far today, although the orcas were being a bit cagey. Capt. Craig took us out of Friday Harbor at an exaggeratedly slow speed, because the Coast Guard had sent out a radio warning about a submerged house boat that was adrift in San Juan Channel. How something can be submerged and adrift I do not know, but we were on the lookout for it. That was just the distraction that we needed though. We were nearly to Turn Island and we had not gotten up to speed yet when the announcement was made that there were orcas on the west side of San Juan Island at Lime Kiln Point State Park. Wow, what a save; Jaclyn and I took it as an opportunity to run around the boat yelling for joy. Up until that point we were destined for the south end of the island to look for a whale of questionable lineage that was going down on 20 minute dives.

A quick u-turn got us headed in the right direction though, and away we went. As we looped over the top of San Juan Island and motored through the glass-like waters of Haro Strait past Henry Island, I noticed a disturbance in the water well off of our port side. I minute of looking with the binoculars and I spotted a lone orca quickly swimming in the opposite direction to us and unnoticed by any of the other whale watch boats. Capt. Craig once again initiated a slick u-turn and we played catch-up and watched as what turned out to be two orcas with a group of four more behind cruised between us and Henry Island.

With no other boats in our immediate vicinity, we had found the leaders in this orcas experience and we were perfectly situated to watch them all swim by, group after group. J1 “Ruffles”, J2 “Granny”, K42 “Kelp”, K14 “Lea”, K11 “Georgia”, K26 “Lobo”, J27 “Blackberry” and many more. There was baby breaching, adult breaching, tail and pectoral fin slapping and two huge cartwheels just as we left the area. The orcas were absolutely beautiful and our guests had a wonderful time on the water.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you who love the black-and-whites, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A parade of Whales!

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Yesterday’s trip….I just have to blog about this one! It was a warm, sunny September Sunday. The Resident Killer Whales (or Orcas) were moving south from Rosario Strait around Lopez Island. We came through Cattle Pass and were ahead of the Orcas, so we positioned ourselves offshore of the whales so we could parallel them in Haro Strait off the south end of San Juan Island. A tight group in the lead, maybe 6 to 8 Orcas including J1 (Ruffles). Love that big guy! Then a single Orca K12 (Sequim) swimming; a few hundred yards behind her was K11 (Georgia) who was rolling on her side swimming just beneath the surface. Next in the parade was most of Skagit’s (K13) family.

Now I get really excited about baby Orcas…which anyone on the boat would know by my enthusiastic squeals! We had a great look at little 1-year-old K42 with older brother Lobo K26 (his dorsal fin is huge) and sibling K36, mom K14 and aunt K16…I’m assuming 7-year-old K35 (Sonata) was there as well. The family was changing direction a bit…a lot of Orcas seemed to be foraging off of South Beach. Then we were surprised by J26 (Mike) who was swimming near mom J16 (Slick) with 2 year-old J42! They caught us off guard with an underwater directional change and it was too late for us to move out of the way. (It is illegal to have your transmission engaged within 100 yards of an Orca in Washington State.) So remaining shutdown, so as not to create any excess noise or risk disturbing the Orcas, we waited until they were far enough away to start up. The water was so calm and clear we had the special treat to view Mike underwater as he swam by. It is not everyday that we see this. Very awe-inspiring to watch an Orca gracefully swim underwater, then surface to breathe. Wow.

We left all feeling a little humbled by the experience. It was time to move on to view other wildlife. At the south end of Lopez Island we were able to see a myriad of gulls….Heermann’s, Glaucous-winged, Ring-billed, and others I have yet to master identifying. Lots of sleek Cormorants & Common Murres. At Whale Rocks there were close to 2 dozen male Stellar Sea Lions hauled out and around the corner, dozens of Harbor Seals. A convenient look where we could compare differences between these species. What a day!

With the weather prediction to be warm and sunny this week, I’m sure our upcoming trips will be just as beautiful!

Don’t forget your sunscreen,
Jaclyn Van Bourgondien, naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

With word that the orcas were spread out all along the south and west side of San Juan island, many heading north, Captain Nancy, Naturalist Jaclyn, and I boarded the MV Sea Lion (with a slightly late departure, due to a slightly late ferry – you’ve got to love island living!) and decided to head north. By the time we passed Pearl Island, we had heard many whales were starting to cross between Henry Island and Stuart Island.

As we continued onward, we started to see the dorsal fins in the distance! The whales were spread out, traveling and socializing in small groups. We saw J14 and her offspring, including the young calf, J45. The whales were much more active then our encounter with them way up north yesterday. Yesterday they displayed much more of a resting type of behavior.

The day was superb all around – the area was blessed with clear blue skies, calm waters, and wonderful views of many orcas!

Until tomorrow,
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Friendly Canada!

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Once again we turned our bow towards Victoria and Canada today. The orcas, J pod to be exact, were at the Victoria Harbor heading east in a resting pattern. Capt. Craig tried to give them some time to swim to us by stopping to view other wildlife, but the orcas were swimming too slowly and we needed to be making better time. So he jumped on the throttle and away we flew along the south end of San Juan Island and across Haro Strait. There were a few minutes of indecision when an unknown boat reported orcas at the Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, but another whale watch boat was able to determine that it was Dall’s porpoises. Canada was still the way to go and luckily, we were still headed in that direction.

We arrived at Discovery and Obstruction Islands to find that all of J pod was tightly grouped together and traveling towards San Juan Island. They made several direction changes, as if they were unsure about which way they wanted to go around the two small islands. But that worked out well for us, because we had many excellent photo opportunities. Mt. Baker loomed large in the background and the whole pod surfaced together several times with breathtaking scenery in the distance. It was a stunning afternoon spent with the orcas and really confirmed that September is the best month to be in the islands.

As the orcas finally came around Obstruction Island, we were arrested by the sight of San Juan Island in the strait. The orcas made their way up and across Haro Strait, so we thanked Canada for its hospitality and bid the orcas adieu. It was a wonderful day to share with our guests and as always Lauren was a treat to crew with.

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

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

A Plethora of Playmates

Monday, September 14th, 2009

It would be easier for me to list the animals that we did not see today, rather than to list the ones that we did. I think that the only sightings that we did not log were of the Titanic and the Loch Ness Monster. Jaclyn and I could hardly contain our excitement, which is to say that we completely abandoned all trappings of professionalism to run around the boat screaming, every time we saw something new. Capt. Craig insured that we saw all that we could today by monitoring the “chatter” on the radio and doing a wonderful job of getting us to each new adventure.

So, our line-up for the day was as follows:

  • Orcas
  • Humpback whales (3)
  • Minke whale
  • Steller’s sea lions
  • Harbor seals
  • Dall’s porpoises
  • Harbor porpoises
  • Bald eagle
  • Common murres
  • Marbled murrelets
  • Sooty shearwaters
  • Phalaropes
  • Seagulls (various species)

I love the San Juan Islands and the Pacific Northwest and we at San Juan Safaris know that you will too. So from all of us, to all of you, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©