Archive for September, 2009

Su, Su, Su, Superpod!

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

It was a whalestravaganza today on the water. Orcas from the north, orcas from the south and us in the middle of it all. East Point on Saturna Island was the meeting spot and the Strait of Georgia was the playground. I was hoping that we would see all of the whales get together, but I did not think that it would actually happen. It did though and Capt. Pete, Kathy and I were there on the M/V Sea Lion to see it. Our guests saw it too, so it was a stunning day all the way around.

East Point is best known for it’s lighthouse and the fact that the first orca was live captured there. Of course, they were actually trying to harpoon it, but things went awry and “Moby Doll” ended up in an aquarium. Consequently, it was very fitting to have this mass demonstration of orcas off of that point today. Blithely going about their natural processes under the comfort and protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the watchful eyes of the whale watch operators, Soundwatch, researchers and law enforcement.

All three resident pods were represented and they seemed thrilled to see each other. There was tail slapping and lobbing, spyhopping, breaching by young and old, and continuous mingling and vocalizing. Our hydrophone did not do justice the beauty of the sounds, but it took us down into the water with them and allowed us to be part of their world for a little while. Unfortunately, there is never enough time when we are with the orcas and we finally had to leave. It was a lovely day though and one that many guests said that they would never forget.

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

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Here Comes The Sun Again

Friday, September 11th, 2009

After what appeared to be the start of fall and winter, we are now back to the September weather that we are all so fond of. September really is the best month to see the islands and today was a perfect example of that.

I welcomed a lovely group of guests onto the M/V Kittiwake this afternoon and we headed off on our tour. The orcas were at the south end and west side of San Juan Island today, so it was difficult to decide where to go. Capt. Bill did a fabulous job though, and after taking us up San Juan Channel, past Spieden Island and through John’s Pass, we arrived at Turn Point on Stuart Island just in time to see the orcas shoot off of it and out into Boundary Pass. They were in a rambunctious mood today too.

The orcas were traveling in two large main groups that were closely packed together with 30-40 animals in the area. They swam at a fast clip, but spent a bit of time tail slapping and lobbing as well as breaching. Especially, near a research boat that was taking breath samples, so it was motoring right alongside the whales. There was definitely a lot of high energy and it must have translated to the other species, since four Dall’s porpoises shot past our boat leaving rooster tails behind them. They headed north and after several hundred yards dipped down and disappeared.

The orcas though, continued on across Boundary Pass and up Swanson Channel past North Pender Island. We watched as long as we could, but we finally had to say goodbye to the orcas and Canada and get headed back home. Along the way we stopped to see harbor seals at Ripple Rocks and a lone bald eagle on one of the Cactus Islands. The day was warm and sunny and perfect and I am so glad that I have taken the opportunity to live this life.

So, from all of us here at San Juan Safaris, to all of you travel bugs out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Well, the whales have done it again!

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Leave it to wild animals to continually throw our conventional predictions about their behavior for a loop. Often I’ve heard myself and other naturalist speak of how the orcas “rarely pass through the San Juan Channel and prefer to travel and fish in the straits, like the Haro Strait.” Well, the orcas have made me rethink this statement, at least for this summer. The orcas passing by Friday Harbor has become merely uncommon, and now no longer all that rare.

Today, for the third time this summer, members of the Southern Resident Community (some if not all of L Pod and likely K Pod, to be exact) travelled all the way through San Juan Channel. They then continued through the Speiden Channel, which is an even more uncommon behavior.

We travelled alongside L’s and K’s and many other boats. The boats, private and commercial alike, for the most part did an excellent job following the laws (the Southern Resident Community of orcas is an Endangered Species as of 2005 and there are a number of laws that exist about how any boats travel around them). We saw a young calf breach numerous times, many animals where cartwheeling, spy hopping, and breaching. For the most part, it didn’t appear any fishing behavior was occurring. They travelled in a north/northwesterly direction for the duration of our time with them.

Having the orcas so close to home, we caught up with them in about 10 minutes! This provided us with ample time to views the whales and have some time to view other wildlife as well! We saw lots of exotic creatures (Sika deer, Fallow deer, and Mouflon Sheep) on Speiden Island. Off of Speiden Island I also saw the most Red-necked Phalaropes (dainty little shorebirds) than I have ever seen together before (50+). We also saw many harbor seals, both swimming and hauled out on rocks, at least four bald eagles, and a huge group of flying turkey vultures.

To top it all off, the weather was fantastic! The waters were sparkling mirror-calm blue, the sun was shining, as although there was a nip of autumn’s approach, the temperature was very pleasant.

Until next time,
Ashley, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

I found myself remarking today, “well, I guess it is autumn now,” only to have someone respond “oh, it’s fall already?” Perhaps I was jumping the gun a bit, but with such a sunny hot summer the slightest bit of rain and wind getting me dreaming of fall. Today fit right in with my illusions and provided guests with a real pacific northwest experience. Luckily, many guests aboard the MV Sea Lion were coming from hot climates (Texas, for example) and were enjoying the rain showers and cool weather as much as I was.

We caught up with the whales along the northwest side of San Juan Island and travelled back and forth with them from there and Kellet Bluff. Although there was a bit of rain here and there, it was a beautiful day – one guest commented on how amazing it was the water and sky were the same shades of gray and blending together so it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. The whales travelled back and forth, many were along the shorelines, and a few were offshore. We had some great views of J1 & likely J22. We also some some porpoising and apparent fishing action from J14 and her calf J44.

The day was made extra wonderful by the abundance of wildlife we had tacked on to the already fantanstic time spent with the orcas! We saw multiple bald eagles, dozens and dozens of harbor seals, a quick glipse or two of a stellar sea lion, and a multitude of seabirds.

Yet another great day in the islands,
Ashley Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Playful Porpoise

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Abundant wildlife in the area….but where are the whales? A question we were all asking today. With captains scouting the seas around the San Juans near and far and no sign of our Resident Orcas, we decided to give it a try to the south.

Dozens of Harbor Seals and around 10 male Stellar Sea Lions were hanging at Whale Rocks today. A few Stellars were splashing around waving their flippers while swimming through the kelp beds.

A couple of very active groups of birds swarming over a bait ball (lots of small fish below the surface), a big feeding frenzy! And a ton of Phalaropes out there nowadays…(delicate sea birds that feed on small plankton at the surface).

It was a calm day in the Straits for scouting Minkes….no sign of one til much later in the afternoon by a fellow boat.

Plenty of porpoise though! I really haven’t seen many Dall’s Porpoise this season and it was my first day all summer to finally have a few playful ones come bow ride! I love when they do this. The guests were really amused and surprised how sleek and quick these porpoise really are. One minute they are riding the wave that the boat’s creating by pushing through the sea, the next they shoot off to the side and ride the wake at the stern (back end) of the boat. Just beautiful! We had a few do this out near Hein Bank and then we were told of a dozen or so playful ones north in Haro Strait off of San Juan Island. It was awesome!

The really interesting thing is that one of the porpoise near Hein Bank was really odd colored…perhaps a hybrid between a Harbor & Dall’s porpoise?! This particular porpoise was the size of a Dall’s Porpoise, but it was a pale whitish color along its dorsal side…not the same hump the Dall’s have in their back and lots of rake marks all along it. I wish we snapped a photo, but it was much too quick for us!

Another special day in the San Juans,
Jaclyn Van Bourgondien, naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Back to the usual around here!

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Well well well…today is more like the weather we expect for this time of year! After that little stormy spell the last 2 days we are back to calm seas and clearing skies.

On our 1pm tour today we saw a nice group of big, golden, Stellar Sea Lions both hauled out and swimming in the water just off Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass. Then around the south end up towards False Bay to meet the Resident Orcas who were spread out and moving rapidly north. This morning the Orcas were spotted in Admirelty Inlet (by Whidbey Island) and by this afternoon they were already off of San Juan Island! Fast movers. Lots of commercial and recreational fishermen out there today too….we watched a purse seiner bring in a big catch of salmon! A good sign….hopefully the Orcas are chowin down!

Mostly members of J & K pods out on the west side today. Perhaps some L pod Orcas? I didn’t identify many today…did enjoy some nice looks at some cute young calves swimming close to mom and others. A few directional changes by the Orcas…typical of foraging behavior…and 1 nice spy hop by a female taking a look above the surface.

Such a beautiful day. (It’s hard to believe that just yesterday the wind had kicked up such nasty swells in Haro Strait.) We watched the gray clouds sweep over Vancouver Island and meet us, giving us a brief afternoon shower. By the time we were around the north end of the island the sun was shining once again. I love the warm and clean feel of the air right now; with the storm gone the islands have a renewed feeling to them….greens and blues are brighter and the islands just light up!

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

Wet & Wildlife!!

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Not quite as lucky as yesterday, mother nature’s 1st big storm of the fall season came through with strong winds, amazing clouds, and a few sprinkles. The wind kicked up some 5-8 foot seas in the Straits off the south end of San Juan Island…members of J & K pods of Orcas were in this area….a place we could not venture due to these tremendous seas.

With the whereabouts of L pod and any Transient Orcas unknown, we went to calm waters of the north on the lookout for sleek, black dorsal fins. We found many harbor seals on the leeward island shorelines & reefs, hauled out, lazily laying around. Eagles perched in trees or soaring in the breeze. We were fortunate to watch 1 bald eagle swoop down near a seal haul out and steal a little snack….glancing at a blurred photo a guest snapped, it looked like a salmon in the talons of the eagle! (Bald eagles are very opportunistic and will even steal a meal if they can!)

We sped off towards Mosquito Pass, between Roche Harbor & Henry Island as we received word the Resident Orcas had turned around and were heading north in Haro Strait. We were hoping that if the seas were calm enough along the west shore of San Juan we could meet the Orcas….but no….they decided to cross Haro Strait towards Vancouver Island where the swells were far too large.

Turning around we continued in the more protected waters off of Speiden Island. There we found a harbor seal with a freshly caught salmon, and gulls picking for any scraps at the water’s surface. Then along the coastline a California Sea Lion swimming along. Many of Speiden’s exotic game were out…even a male Mouflon Sheep on the rocky shore eating a washed up piece of bull kelp! Another bald eagle sighting and we turned the corner back for Friday Harbor. And the rain held out till we were back at the dock! Definitely a wild day experiencing the Pacific Northwest!

Keep your fleece & rain jackets handy till Tuesday!
-Jaclyn, naturalist
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Mother Nature’s Good Side

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

J pod surprised us today…those speed demons! The skies were clearing, the seas were calming and the Orcas were moving fast towards San Juan Island! A little positive thinking can go a long way (well maybe it was luck)….despite earlier morning reports of some 6 foot waves in the Straits and Orcas out of our range… by the time our 1pm trip rolled around the seas were settling and the whale report was promising! We met J1, J2 and many others as they crossed Haro Strait towards the Lime Kiln Light on the west side. Lot of porpoising and directional changes indicated a bout of fishing. The commercial boats were out just north of there…so my guess is the Orcas wanted their share too! Great looks of the Js….followed by a few eagles and harbor seals in the northwest San Juans. We made it back to the dock in between a few sprinkles and the sky is looking beautiful with the evening sun lighting a range of colorful gray-blue clouds!

Crossing my fingers we’ll be just as lucky tomorrow!
Jaclyn Van Bourgondien, naturalist
Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Tales of Whales

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Some days are just not like the others and sometimes the orcas do things that we just can not predict. Yesterday, members of K and L pods swam up San Juan Channel between San Juan and Lopez Islands. That was only the second time this season that they have done that, and we were there to see it. They made it all the way to Friday Harbor before they turned around and headed back south. It was a lovely, mostly clear day and with the orcas traveling in two large, close groups it was easy to both see and hear them.

One of our young guests has had an adoption of “Moonlight” for a couple of years and he was anxious to see her. With so many animals around it was hard to tell at times which individuals were there, but he and I were both pretty sure that we saw her family. There was also “Flash”, “Saanich”, “Raggedy”, “Cappuccino”, “Ino” and many, many more.

It was a unique and interesting opportunity to see these animals right in and amongst our islands. No one can say why they choose to come through here, or why they usually do not. There is salmon in the area, as evidenced by the seals and sea lions that we see feeding on them. Even yesterday, in a little cove on Sentinel Island, there was a young harbor seal with a huge fish and lots of seagulls around begging for scraps. So food is available, but whether it is not plentiful enough, or if there is too much boat traffic it is hard to say what directs the orcas’ paths to the outer channels and straits. Luckily for us and our guests on the M/V Kittiwake though, the orcas chose a different path this time and we were there to witness it.

So, from Capt. Craig, me and all of the crew at San Juan Safaris, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©

Surprising Arisings!

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Well, I can’t tell you what a treat it is to be headed off on a wildlife trip with no hope of seeing orcas and then you get “The Call”. For the past two days we have motored up San Juan Channel, swung north around Flattop Island and then been alerted of another boat finding orcas. Yesterday it was transients in Canada, today it was residents at the south end of the island. Both days, we had already informed our guests of the bad news of no orcas, but of our intention to visit the haunts of other wildlife in the hopes of coming around a corner and seeing whales. Who knew that our luck would be so good.

For both Jaclyn and I, yesterday marked a special first. We have seen many transient orcas, which look very much like our residents, but neither one of us has seen a transient eat something. Yesterday though, a little harbor seal was the target and he put up a very valiant fight to escape. With four well trained hunters around though, it did not stand a chance. The whole encounter was fraught with tension, but not the horror that most people would expect and the orcas were just doing what was necessary to survive.

Today was just as thrilling. We had finished looking at Flattop Island and were admiring all of the exotic animals on Spieden when suddenly, Capt. Nancy turned the M/V Sea Lion around and raced off into the channel. “Contact” had been made and what we originally thought were going to be more transients, were then reported as a family from L pod and turned out to be nearly every member of L pod with some of K pod as well! What a shock that was, especially since all of the reports had been of the three resident pods northeast of Active Pass in Canada going farther north!

Luck and good whale fortune have been with us this week and it continues to allow us to show our guests the beauty and majesty of the Pacific Northwest. These were trips of great memories for both the crews and the visitors and we were happy to have hosted you all.

So, from all of us here at San Juan Safaris, to all of you bold adventurers out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!
~Tristen, Naturalist

Orca Whales and Wildlife Are Our Only Business. ©