Archive for July, 2010

Touch of Grey

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Fog is fascinating and something I miss about the Central Valley of California.  After driving in tule fog in the dark anything else seems like gravy.  (Meaning easy, not, as thick as.)  In the past few days though, the islands have delivered up some pretty good shows of fog.  Last night was absolutely surreal, what with us being on a boat floating around in something that resembled a dream since we could not see more than 100 yards in any direction.  Forget about seeing land.  It was like being in an alternate universe or as if we were the last people on the face of the earth.  I could even imagine it being a scene in an Alfred Hitchcock film.  Of course, there was no murder or monster involved.

There were however, orcas.  Lots of orcas.  It started out with a chance sighting of a female.  She was there and then she was gone and we could not find her again.  Then another whale watching boat materialized out of the ether.  To the port side of it a huge black dorsal fin cut the water like the sail of a demented ship.  It was only Ruffles though and he looked even cooler in the fog.  Oh so slowly we tracked his blows and eerie presence through the misty grey.  Suddenly we came into a tunnel in the fog that was like a yellow brick road to the promised land.  We could see orcas spread out in small groups off into the glittering sunset, with their blows crystallized by evening light.  We sought out these denizens and were mesmerized by their show.  Calves tail slapped and splashed, adults chased salmon and all of them moved about the area with grace and purpose.  All of them were entrenched in their worldly business.

It seemed like a bit of a longshot, but we lowered our hydrophone into the water and were immediately transported even more deeply into the alternate universe that we had discovered.  The vocalizations and echolocation clicks were more weird and lively than Capt. Mike, Ashley or I had ever heard.  There were buzzes, clicks and whistles.  Some close and some far.  All carrying importance to the orcas and magic to us.  It was truly a night like no other.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you navigating your own miasma out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

J-pod Fan Club

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Today we traveled north towards Stuart Island.  Captain Mike stayed in close communication with the other whale watching vessels; he received many reports that the whales were in that area.  Our spirits rose with anticipation!  Shortly after we departed Friday Harbor we spotted a bald eagle soaring high above San Juan Island.  As we neared Stuart Island the orca whales were traveling south down Haro Strait.  We traveled parallel to the direction they were heading along the west side of San Juan Island.  We identified J-1 “Ruffles”, J-16 “Slick”, and J-30 “Riptide”.  There are 28 members of the J-pod, with 4 new calves in the last year.  Tristen, my fellow naturalist, and I encouraged the guests to submit their ideas for naming a few of the new calves.  The names are voted on at the Whale Museum and the lucky winner will receive an orca adoption package for one year and of course, bragging rights.  The whales were active today; we observed a few breaches and a lot of tail slapping.  After spending a good amount of time with the orcas we turned back to Friday Harbor.  However we couldn’t resist slowing the boat to view the harbor seals basking in the sun on many of the rocky outcroppings.




Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

The afternoon reports were in.  There were ten to fifteen orca whales spotted near Stuart Island.  We traveled north and encountered the orcas near Turn Point.  Turn Point is the very northwest piece of continental land in the United States!  Captain Mike slowed the boat as we approached the misty blows of the orca.  The whales were traveling very close together, heading north towards Pender Bluffs on South Pender Island.  Not only were they in a large group, but they were showing off the white undersides of their tails when they slapped the water.  The highlight of today’s trip was when an adult breached about 250 yards away from our boat.  It’s amazing what a lasting impression the whales can make.  The image of a breaching orca resonates with you all day.  Walking around Friday Harbor images of orca whales are ubiquitous; these images bring back the memories we experience on the boat.  We are so fortunate to have 90 resident orcas in the San Juans every spring and summer.  With that said, I shouldn’t fail to mention the bald eagle and harbor seals that we spotted near Spieden Island.  There’s a lot to be thankful for.



Victoria AND the Olympic Penninsula

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Today we left Friday Harbor and headed south down the east side of San Juan Island through Cattle Pass. Cattle Pass is known for torrential currents because both Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan De Fuca converge demanding to be let through. In the midst of Cattle Pass we saw stacked nests of Double Crested Cormorants on Goose Island, Harbor Seals hauled out on Whale Rocks and a Bald Eagle fishing on Long Island.

The snow capped peaks of the Olympic Penninsula were clearly visible as was Victoria, British Columbia, just 9 miles west of the west side of San Juan Island. Rhinoceros Auklets carried fish in their bills, Common Murres swam dramatically by with their iridescent white bodies and black heads, while Bonaparte’s Gulls bragged about their beauty. They are the only beautiful gull, but they don’t compare to the orca.

The orca is a dolphin rather than a whale. It has perfectly cone shaped teeth as dolphins do and at 25 feet long is considered midsized. Dolphins have been defined as the second most intelligent creature on Earth other than humans. Their physical prowess and heightened perception are what drive us to see them. We consider them to be much more beautiful than even a Bonaparte’s Gull because of their aliveness- they are alert and intelligent.

Lauren Sands
Support Seeing Orcas in the Wild

Moving up stream

Monday, July 26th, 2010

What a beautiful day for a whale watch!  Sunny, warm and calm waters. The whales were reported to be off the west side of San Juan Island but by the time we were off and running they had made their way up to Saturna island. These whales were moving really fast! Captain Mike positioned us just ahead of the leaders and far enough away from other boats to lower our hydrophone (our underwater microphone). Wow they were really making a lot of noise! The tide was changing and the whales were headed against the current but it definitely was not slowing them down. They went through an area of exceptionally strong current and began to breach, spy hop and tail slap. Our guests were real troopers riding through the waves having almost as much fun as the whales appeared to be!

On the ride back we stopped to observe some harbor seals enjoying the warm sun. These days were are seeing more and more pups.  Last but not least just as we rounded the corner to turn back into the harbor we spotted a young bald eagle. All in all it was just another spectacular day here in the San Juan Islands!


“The Love Boat”

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

“Soon we’ll be making another run.  The Love Boat…”

These orcas are all about peace, l0ve and fish these days.  They have been more active than I have ever seen them before with the percussive behaviors, the amorous behaviors and the feeding behaviors.  It is fantastic and exactly what we want to see from our small population of endangered marine mammals.

Today we spent time with L pod, and while they were not as active in the splashing and feeding departments, they made up for it in the amore’ department.  A large male and adult female, both of whom Casey and I could not identify darn it, were having a summer of love.  The male was following the female wherever she went and they were both rolling around each other and cavorting.  We even saw the male float on his back and display himself, which of course set off a round of giggles on the boat from our bemused visitors.

The most surprising sight of the day though was a sub-adult minke whale, possibly the same one that had been traveling with J pod last week, swimming right in with the probably mating orcas.  It was in close enough at times that it appeared to be rubbing right up against the orcas.  These of course were Southern Resident Killer Whales, so they posed no threat to the minke, but it was surprising that they seemed to be wholly unconcerned or bothered by the fact that the small baleen whale was in the middle of their business.  There are, of course, rabid theories being bandied about as to why the minke is so interested in the orcas.  Is it lonely?  Or maybe afraid for its safety?  These are patently anthropomorphic ideas about an animal that we can not even begin to understand the logical workings of, but they are fun to fantasize about in an attempt to piece together the mystery.

Minke Whale

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

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

Of Dolphins And Diamonds

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Seeing the San Juan Islands is magical and seeing the orcas can be downright transcendental for some.  But, when you can pair those two things with a major milestone in a person’s life it becomes a rare and unique moment that makes existence in this world a more glorious thing.  It also shines a light on one of the reasons why I have always chosen to live the impoverished lifestyle of a naturalist/wildlife rehabilitator/marine mammal rescuer/zookeeper.  Much as it is said that baseball is all about the love of the game, wildlife caretaking is all about the love of the animals.  And that love makes it all worth it.

Today we saw the orcas again and it was a beautiful day.  But, for Chase and Ashley it marked the completion of a quest and the start of a new adventure.  This was their second trip out to Friday Harbor from Toledo, Ohio and last time they did not see orcas.   This visit they were determined, even if it meant going out on the boat every day so that Ashley could see her most favorite animal.  She even has the best tattoo of an orca I have ever seen; it looks just like the pictures.  Thankfully it turned out to be their lucky day and we got to watch J pod breach, spyhop and generally horseplay their way around East Point and down Saturna Island.  Chase was even able to get some great photos that they can put on the wall of their home to mark this special of day.  An additional reminder of their time here in the islands will be the fact that this is the day that Chase and Ashley got engaged.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you lovebirds and animal lovers out there, thank you and…

Congratulations Chase and Ashley!

~Tristen, Naturalist

Roly Poly Fish Heads

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The amount of activity that we are seeing out of the orcas this season is amazing.  They seem far more acrobatic and aerially inclined than they were last year.  Of course that is undoubtedly just my generous heart making me see more than there really is, but I think it is spectacular.  Especially all of the aggressive feeding that we are able to watch day after day.  It suggests good things about the salmon run this year and means that all of our new moms will be well able to feed their calves.

Like they say for milk, salmon builds strong bones, plus it is the orcas most favorite thing to eat.  Chinook is their chocolate and who can blame them?  Even the bald eagles, harbor seals, Steller’s sealions, California sealions and humans want some of that salmon.  With all of those hungry mouths hankering for some tasty vittles though, what can that mean for the salmon population?  Confusing the issue even more is the fact that all five of our local salmon species are endangered.  Uh oh, this could be bad.  What are we to do?

Here is a list of some of the simple things that anyone can accomplish to help stabilize and hopefully revitalize the salmon stocks here and elsewhere.

  • Eat all 5 species
  • Buy frozen or local
  • Choose wild
  • Buy organic foods
  • Conserve water and electricity
  • Look for the Salmon-Safe label
  • Join a cause

There you go, it is that easy.  So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you fishy friends out there, thank you and we will…

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist

What a wind-rocking, whale watching good time we had today!

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Today, although the clouds cooperated and cleared way for the sun to shine upon our faces, the wind decided it would continue to bluster all throughout the day. Ah well, we said, and crashed the M.V. Kittiwake through the waves. Onward to Canada, we sped!

The whales had been reported in 4-5 foot swells of the south end of San Juan Island mid-morning today. By the time we reached them on our afternoon trip they were already all the way to North Pender Island! North Pender is one of the Canadian Gulf Islands, making today an international trip!

As we, and other whale watch boats, looked on the whales fished, spy-hopped, breached, and swam this way and that, right up next to North Pender.

It was a beautiful day on the boat, despite a tad bit of choppy water. Join us next time, won’t you?
Ashley, Naturalist

Photos from Judy for the Orca Whale Photo Contest 2010

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Big Slap! Wild Tail Slap by Judy Jacques

Big Slap! Wild Tail Slap by Judy Jacques

I am submitting three photos that I took the afternoon of July 12th while on the boat “Sea Lion”.  It was a totally fabulous afternoon, a little choppy, but we saw lots of whale activity.  We actually had a whale come under our boat and breach up on the other side.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the whole breaching show, but did get a couple of nice shots of which I hope you will enjoy.  The other photo I am sending I thought was quite interesting with the three whale fins up out of the water all at about the same height, spaced so well apart with the sail boat and the hills in the background.

So I hope you enjoy the photos and thank you all so much again for a truly wonderful afternoon.

I am certain I will be back with a couple of my grandkids.  (Hopefully with a few free tickets!!!)

Slap! Orca Tail Slap by Judy Jacques

Slap! Orca Tail Slap by Judy Jacques

Three Sailing Orca Dorsal Fins by Judy Jacques

Three Sailing Orca Dorsal Fins by Judy Jacques

Thank you Judy for emailing these photos to us from your tour on July 12, 2010.