Archive for June, 2011

Salmon buffet

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Today we left the harbor and went up over Lopez and out into Rosario Straight.  We were nearly to Anacortes, just outside of Burrows Bay, when we saw a massive dorsal fin slice through the water.  There were a couple of smaller fins in the vicinity and as we drew closer there was a huge explosion of water as an orca breached clear and landed on its side.  Another breach followed shortly after and we noticed that there were whales very close to the rock.  They were moving fast, changing direction a lot and finally our suspicions were confirmed when one of the whales surfaced, on its back, with a salmon in its mouth.  We were able to identify Blackberry of J pod and Onyx (L-87).  The whales gradually moved around the corner, deeper into the bay.  We followed L-87 all by himself to the south and then rounded the corner to meet up with the whales in the bay.  There were spyhops and then more spyhops, a few breaches, and lots of tail slapping.  One younger individual swam on its back and tail slapped for a good 5 minutes straight.  We prepared to leave 3 or 4 times but couldn’t tear ourselves away from the activity.  It was the largest display of surface behavior I have seen all season.

Finally it was time to go, but only after we stopped to see a pair of Peregrine Falcons sitting in a dead tree.  We saw eagles and hawks as well on our way home.

It was a nice little Thursday.

Laura, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Clouds and Whales and Rain and Sun

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Our adventures today started off a little cool, cloudy and choppy as we traveled south towards Cattle Pass.  Along the way, we stopped for some harbor seals hauled out attempting to bask but then found others at the Pass being more efficient with their time (there was no sun for basking) hunting for food.

Around the bend, headed northwest into the Haro Straight, we began seeing intermittent identifiable black dorsal fins: looks like J-pod was in the neighborhood.  The pod was spread out over a half mile with about ten individuals in pairs and singles.  Some of the animals were even breaching!  Another whale watching vessel identified one of the leaders as J2, “Granny,” leading the whales south but potentially changing the pod’s direction to go north again.

On our way back towards the harbor, we stopped by Long Island to see a bald eagle perched on a tree branch just fifty yards from its nest.  As we made our final run into the harbor, we got some rain sprinkles followed by a very rewarding full sunshine!

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

Black Blades!

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The gigantic dorsal fins of Blackberry (J-27) and Double Stuf (J-34) sliced through the flat water as we rounded Mouat Point of North Pender Island. The two males appeared to be feeding when they would pause from their northward travel pattern to circle one another as they powerfully taillob the surface. Double Stuf, in his early stages of maturity at the age of 13, still bears a curved and skinner dorsal from youth. A group of four orcas, which consisted of a very small individual, hugged the coastline as they surfaced in unison while heading towards Port Washington.

Kirsten, naturalist

Are we in Canada? Or the US?

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Today was a day of border crossing, and re-crossing, and crossing again.  In search of orcas rumored to be nearly out of reach, we headed north out of the harbor, eventually crossing the border into Canada at Boundary Pass.  Up around Saturna Island, we went into the Strait of Georgia where we finally found whales.  We spent much of our time going back and forth across the border as we observed J-pod and L87, a large male named “Onyx” with a solid white saddle patch on his right side and a black-indented saddle patch on his left side.

The pod was fairly spread out, with a pair (female and calf?) towards the north and another pair southwest of us.  At one point, we shut the Kittiwake down just to listen and enjoy the quiet of the water and the sounds of the whales breathing before we  had to make the long journey back.  While we were powered down, a pair of females/juveniles/both came by our stern within one hundred and fifty yards and passed under us, popping back up off our port bow!  We only knew they had surfaced by the sound of their blows.  With that awesome finale, we powered up and returned to the harbor, but not until we had seen two Bald Eagles fish-seeking from pines on San Juan Island.

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

Playful Pod

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

The sun was shining and the waters were calm as we headed north in search of wildlife. Just as we left Friday Harbor, we spotted a harbor seal poking his head out of the water and slowed down to get a better look. We continued our journey enjoying the beautiful day and the sites of the surrounding islands. As we reached the west side of San Juan Island north of Lime Kiln, we saw what we were looking for, killer whales! Lots of them! The pod was spread out so we didn’t know which direction to look; whales were breaching to our right, some were lob tailing to our left. They were all being super playful, it was quite a view!

After spending some time with the whales we decided to circumnavigate the rest of San Juan Island. On our way back in we spotted some harbor porpoises and stopped because the water was absolutely calm and beautiful, plus we were able to admire the views of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker off in the distance. Excellent day full of wildlife!

~Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Lob tails and spy hops!

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

We were excited to depart Friday Harbor with sun, glass waters and a boat full of passengers who’ve never seen whales in the wild before. We headed north into Canadian waters where the orcas were last sited. After viewing harbor seals hauled out on the rocks, we continued into the Strait of Georgia. It took us over an hour to get there, but at last, killer whales!

There were many orcas, perhaps two pods, spread out over a large distance. We stayed to the outside of the group and observed a trio with an individual lob tailing and even saw a three spy hops! Our passengers then realized that there was another group of six or seven whales about 400 hundred yards off the other side of our boat. A beautiful and exciting day!

Kirsten, naturalist

Rosario or bust

Friday, June 24th, 2011

It started raining at exactly 1:00.  We slogged out of the harbor under a giant black cloud that seemed to cover only San Juan Island.  The farther away we got, the more sun we saw.  Finally, headed southeast over the top of Lopez Island and down the east side, we moved out from under the cloud and into the sunshine.  Guess who was waiting for us in the sunshine?  Orcas.  Resident orcas.  Lots of them.  We found them in Rosario Straight.  They were spread from the near side of the channel all the way across toward Whidbey Island.  It was tricky to get a good ID as they weren’t coming up too far out of the water, but our best guess from the partial saddles that we got was at least some of J pod with a possible few K’s and maybe even an L or two mixed in.  Shortly after our arrival there was a bit of splashing and we did get to see a little guy breach a couple of times off in the distance.  There was one tight group that stuck together the whole time we were there that included one big male and a couple of ladies as well as a juvenile and a calf.  All in all it was a pretty spectacular day on the water.  We ended up circumnavigating Lopez and saw a few porpoises and bald eagles galore on the way home.


Laura, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

J-pod on the west side

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

On this beautiful, sunny Thursday afternoon we headed south out of Friday Harbor with news that the killers were hanging around the west side of San Juan Island. The passengers spirits were high as we headed out with the prospect of seeing all sorts of wildlife. As we made our journey west we stopped to watch some harbor seals hauled out on rocky areas soaking up some sun. Just before we reached Lime Kiln we saw what we were looking for, the killer whales were up ahead. It was J pod! We slowly made our way across watching the whales who were spread out so there were different individuals passing us. One of the calves was especially playful lob tailing, and at one point breached out of the water. It was a spectacular view! After spending some time with J-pod we circumnavigated San Juan Island and were able to see several bald eagles circling a tree and another posing for us on a branch. It was a great day!


~Kristen, Naturalist: San Juan Safaris

Rewarded for Going the Distance

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Woooeeee, the whales made us work for it today!  Resident killer whales were reported at nearly the farthest point we can travel on our trips and they weren’t coming our way south either.  We loaded up both boats and headed north right out of Friday Harbor with not a moment to spare to stop and gaze at other islands as we went.  We crossed the border into Canada at the Haro Straight, went into Plumper Sound and  between Mayne and Saturna Islands to pop out on the other side in the Strait of Georgia: we could see the city of VANCOUVER!  Holy moly.  OK, a little farther north along Mayne Island and BAM: whales!

They were all over the place and being a little sassy too.  It looked like J30 “Riptide” and friends/family from J-pod were together, with several cow-calf pairs.  Even further, many of the calves–and some of the adults–were incredibly active, with tail slapping, pec slapping, upside down tail slapping, SPY-HOPPING, and–are you ready for this?–breaching!  And not just the lazy kinda-sorta breaches; we’re talking full on clear-the-water breaching!

Eventually, as it always goes in wildlife watching, we had to leave the whales to their Canadian frolics and head back to San Juan Island.  Who knows, maybe they will decide to head south today or their counterparts, the transients, might come into the area instead.

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

Picture Perfect Afternoon!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Heading south out of Friday Harbor we encountered a picture perfect afternoon today! The sun was out and the sky was clear enough to see Mt. Rainier over 120 miles away! As we headed further south towards Smith Island we encountered a pod of fast traveling orcas. This pod of killer whales (believed to be a mix of J and K pod) had everyone’s attention as they displayed an array of exciting behaviors! A rambunctious younger member of the group was the first to breach! As the pod spread further apart they became even more active with several members of the group breaching, spyhopping, and kicking.  At one point we even had a simultaneous breach from two of the pod members! The whales kept us awing for as long as we could handle and as if the whales did not entertain us enough, we were lucky to have a bald eagle sighting and lots of lazy harbor seals hauled out on Whale Rocks as we made our way back to Friday Harbor!