Archive for June, 2010
The sun was low in the sky, illuminating the clouds and creating a soft glow upon the water.
Two majestic bald eagles, with 7 foot wingspans, soared above us as we headed north towards S. Pender Island.
Our crew was thrilled that we were able to cross into Canadian waters. We said goodbye to the U.S. and hello to the orca whales! We spotted at least five orca whales that were most likely from the J-pod because J1 “Ruffles” was traveling near by. They were tail slapping and cartwheeling all over the place! After a great show, we turned back to Friday Harbor, in awe of the natural beauty surrounding us.
“All we need now is a rainbow,” the crew joked as they took pictures of the islands. Well, sure enough, a rainbow appeared, just when we thought it couldn’t get any better. Rainbows and whales.. what much else could we ask for?
In the San Juan Islands, we are blessed with an abundance of wildlife. We are one of 7 places on Earth with a high population of orcas. Almost every single day for the past two weeks we have seen them off the west side of our very own island, San Juan. The west side of the island is where the land based whale watching park is located. Like a stationary sentinel, it watches the orcas foraging off the cliffs below. We are one of the few places in the world where you can see ‘black and whites’ almost every single day for at least 3 months of the year.
These islands are a renowned vacation destination because of their natural beauty. People come here for miles of driftwood beaches, blackberries you can pick off the bushes, orca calves breaching and harbor seal pups with fetal folds still visible. They want to see the sun glint off the water and let their mind relax, watching the bull kelp swaying slowly. The reason the San Juan Islands are so relaxing is because of snow capped peaks, seas and forests stretching off into the distance. The San Juans had thoughtful planners in the form of The Nature Conservancy and The Land Bank who buy land simply to preserve it. That way generations from now, people can still enjoy the San Juans as a premiere vacation destination.
One of the things the BP spill has highlighted is our interdependence on nature. Like the San Juans, there is a thriving eco-tourism business in the Gulf that the spill has destroyed. It’s also destroyed the fishing industry. Those examples are only the tip of the iceberg as to how this spill has affected resources for years to come. The fact is, how we treat the Earth has a huge impact on all of our lives. And the effect on the economy in the Gulf proves that. Its not just wetlands, marine mammals and endangered sea turtles that are dying. Its people’s livelihoods. We are absolutely dependent on resources and this spill has mismanaged many of them.
In the San Juans, we know that a similar spill would be devastating. We keep an emergency rescue tug at Neah Bay to attend to tankers in trouble. They have rescued several over the years, who for one reason or another, have found themselves ‘not under command.’ We also have a dedicated clean up crew in the form of Island Oil Spill Association (IOSA). Many committed and forward thinking community members make our pristine environment possible.
San Juan Safaris
Meaning that it was calm and relaxed and just a chill day on the water. L pod is known for being a little more relaxed in their activities and that energy carries over to the whole trip. A calf did treat us to a goodbye breach though. Our cruise started out with some excitement when a bald eagle flew over the M/V Sea Lion just after we pulled out of our slip. Despite the sea gulls that were trying to chase it away the eagle dropped down to the water, talons extended, and pulled out a big fish. Unfortunately, as it was rising back up into the air the fish came loose and fell back down to the water. A sea gull immediately landed in the water in the same spot, hoping to salvage some lunch from the possibly injured fish.
The theme for the day seemed to be good experiences with bald eagles. After we left the orcas at the southwest corner of San Juan Island, we stopped at Whale Rocks down in Cattle Pass. The harbor seals were not hauled out on the rocks, but were all swimming in the fast moving currents that were bringing the water level around the islands back up to high tide. Sitting right on top of one of the rocks was another bald eagle. It had frightened all of the sea birds into the air and was then sitting there waiting for it’s chance to grab something to eat. After a minute or so, the eagle circled the reefs and the boat a few times before once again settling down on the rocks.
Despite all of the harbor seals zooming around Whale Rocks in the currents, it was surprising to see a mom and pup get carried past. The pup would hang on mom’s back and then float off by itself before she caught back up. That is one of the nice things about being able to swim from birth, mom can not lose track of you in the water because you can keep up.
So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you looking for relaxation, thank you and we will…
See You In The Islands!
What a beautiful day it was out today! Lately the Orcas have been cruising the west side of San Juan Island so when the reports came in today of whales over by Lummi island I was really excited. Whales and somewhere new to see! Lummi Island is located just off of Bellingham. We barely made it out of Friday Harbor before we encounter Dall’s porpoise frolicking in the wake of boats passing by. The adorable black and white porpoise are often found riding the bow of boats. After a few glimpses of the tiny cetaceans we continued on in search of our larger black and white friends the Orca.
We all marveled at the gorgeous day and the wonderful view of Mt. Baker in the distance. Reaching Lummi Island the guests were delighted at the site of a towering dorsal fin gracefully sliding by. Just as reported earlier we were observing J pod. Members of the pod were widely spread and appeared to be casually traveling along. Moving further offshore we encountered the infamous Ruffles and Granny. The flat calm waters made it easy to see the saddle patches of the Orcas. The saddle patch is unique for each individual and is used in photo identification. After our time with the Orcas we headed back through Obstruction pass viewing harbor seals and a bald eagle. Looking forward to more days like this one!
Softly we sat and watched the whales about 700 yards away from us. At first we could only see white wake, their bodies like boats zooming through the water. As we waited, their dorsal fins began to loom in the distance. We followed them as they swam parallel to us west along the south side of Stuart Island, reuniting with their pod at Turn Point Light House. It was a slow but satiating afternoon as we watched the orcas loll about the land, hugging the shore. Bright, sunny, peaceful and with a bit of wind, when it was time to go, it felt like a dream one wasn’t quite ready to let go of.
A particularly fulfilling trip, we were able to see, not one, but two Bald Eagle’s nests, one on Big Cactus Island and one on O’Neal Island. We even saw several eagles mid flight. Harbor seals were hulled out on rocks blending in to the backdrop. As we pulled into Friday Harbor, I wrapped up the trip by encouraging people to walk along the docks. White plumose anemones stick to the underside of the docks repelling when touched and bright yellow sunflower sea stars can be seen on wooden pilings. Many of my favorite things to do on the island, and the things that I most highly recommend to visitors, are free. Hike along the many trails and driftwood beaches while letting the juice from fresh blackberries drip off your lips. Watch the sun set from the peak of Mt. Young, overlooking Haro Strait with the sharp snow capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains as your silent observers. If you’re attentive, you may be able to make out tiny black triangles and clouds of white mist. Orcas breathing in our midst.
“Vote with your lifestyle choices to Save the Whales”
Ok, not really, but wouldn’t that be cool. We did spend time with the orcas though and had a lovely afternoon on the west side of San Juan Island. There was Ruffles, our big old male, some of his other J pod mates and lots of swimming going on. Not every encounter with the orcas is a circus of breaches and spyhops, but any day that we spend with them is a good one and good days is what we are all about.
Even days without orcas are good days, because there is always something beautiful to see in the San Juan Islands. Like the eaglet on O’neal Island that is now so big it has it’s adult type feathers and we can see it standing up in the nest. Or the harbor seals that are getting ready to have their pups any time soon. Even the islands themselves with their changing beaches and flora are indescribably beautiful. It may not all be orcas, but it is definitely all good.
So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you swimmers out there, thank you and we will…
See You In The Islands!
It was a cool and blustery overcast day in the San Juan Islands today, but that did not stop us from spending time with the orcas. On the west side of San Juan Island, from Kellet Bluff to Lime Kiln Point State Park, we tracked several orcas through the surf. Of the animals that we were able to identify there was L26 “Baba”, her daughter L90 “Ballena” and her grandson L92 “Crewser” who is a sprouter male. The orcas are a matrilinial society, which means that the oldest female in the family is the leader. That also means that the different family groups are identified by the oldest female’s official designation. Therefore, the family group from L pod that we spent time with is known as the L26s.
As for sprouter males, those are young males that are going through the gangly teenage stage just before becoming adults. It exactly coincides with the teen years in humans and the growth spurts that we endure. For young male orcas though, it means that their dorsal fins are starting to get taller and straighter making them look more like their adult counterparts. Females keep their shorter, curved dorsal fin simply gaining weight and length in their body as they mature.
So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you hooked on the Discovery Channel, thank you and we will…
See You In The Islands!
It has been a few days since I have visited the blogosphere, but that does not mean I have been sitting on my laurels doing nothing. We are heavily into “The Season” now and I have been out seeing orcas on a daily basis. Yesterday it was the afternoon trip on the M/V Kittiwake and then the sunset trip on the M/V Sea Lion. Today it was the M/V Sea Lion again, this time with Casey and Capt. Mike. Each day has been a different experience and a lovely time on the water. When the ocean is your office it is hard not to appreciate the life and setting that you find yourself in. So what have we seen recently? How about this:
- Bald eagles; adults, juveniles and nesting pairs
- Harbor seals on dozens of haul-outs
- Harbor porpoises
- Seagulls, cormorants, auklets and many more seabirds
- Minke whale
- Orcas – J1, J2, K40, L41, L25, J26, J28, J14, J30, J46, J45
So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, how was your day?
See You In The Islands!