Archive for July, 2011

Gray skys turned into an exceptional day

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

I was a little worried waking up this morning to overcast skies, but just before leaving on today’s adventure the clouds started to part and the sun shined through. Our luck continued as we circumnavigated San Juan Island. There were tons of harbor seals with little pups in the water and hauled out on rocks. As we went around Cattle Point a bald eagle flew over our boat, giving us one of the best views I’ve seen of one. Just further ahead, we spotted our first killer whale. Then, a little further ahead, there were many killer whales, at least ten of them, traveling close together. We were able to identify the new calf (K-44) and Cappuccino. We also believe there were some J-pod members in the mix. The juveniles were being particularly playful, spy hopping and tail slapping. One little guy also breached! In the midst of all the excitement, some salmon jumped out of the water in front of our boat. The whales then started heading close to shore, and right before they reached Lime Kiln, changed direction and headed back towards False Bay.

After spending our fair share of time with the killer whales we continued our journey around the island. We slowed for more harbor seals, some sheep and deer on Speiden Island, and another bald eagle at the top of a tree. The weather was beautiful, we saw lots of wildlife, and everyone enjoyed the afternoon.

Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Sleep With One Eye Open

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

A group of killer whales that were hugging the coastline came into sight as we rounded the southwestern end of Henry Island. Cappuccino (K-21), one of the mature males of K pod, was spotted with his open saddle patch. Within the first ten minutes two mature orcas spyhopped, bringing half of their bodies above the surface, and there were a few lobtails from the juveniles. Then all activity ceased as they slipped into resting with a typical tight, slow moving formation. The mood was tranquil as dorsal fins of all shapes and sizes broke the surface in unison and the orcas took a lingering breath before sinking back into the Salish Sea.

Resting, or unihemispheric slow wave sleep (USWS), is when only one of the cerebral hemispheres engages in sleeping and one eye remains open. This form of sleep occurs in all the species within the Cetacea order, along with various marine mammals and birds.

Kirsten, naturalist

Kitchen sink?

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Today was one of those amazing, beautiful, sunny, “warm” (ha, not really), incredible wildlife days.  There were seals, eagles, eaglets, steller’s sea lions, and of course orcas.  We found whales right around false bay and they were milling, hunting, and doing other things that whales like to do.  It looked like K’s and a few J’s here and there.  Blackberry was making amorous advances toward one of the K ladies, who had a little one with her.  Salmon were jumping, whales were pec slapping.  The wildlife was all around rowdy.  One our way back in we saw two more male sea lions hanging out around whale rocks.  Awesome.  We literally saw everything but the kitchen sink (and luckily I have one of those at home).

Laura, naturalist, san juan safaris

Spyhop

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

The black dorsals of J and K pod broke the chop of Haro Straight as we made our way towards Victoria. We then allowed the strong current that had worked against us to now be in our favor as it pushed us towards the west coast of San Juan Island, drifting beside the orcas. We saw Deadhead (K-27), who was named after the singer of the Grateful Dead who passed the year of her birth, and her three-week-old son. The passengers (and the naturalists) gasped as she unexpectedly spyhopped to check out her terrestrial surroundings. With a boat full of first-time whale watchers it was an exciting day!

Kirsten Dale, naturalist

San Juan Safaris Whale Watching & Wildlife Tours

Couldn’t Dream of a Better Day!

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Today was one of those rare perfect days to be a wildlife watcher. The sun was shining and the water glassy as we made our way south from Friday Harbor. Our first stop was at whale rocks where there were the most wildlife species I’ve ever seen at one time. There were cormorants, gulls, harbor seals in and out of the water, and two animals we do not see often: a brown pelican and not one, but two giant Steller’s sea lions, one of which was in the water and came up right behind our stern.

We then headed to the west side of San Juan Island and found killer whales spread out and traveling towards cattle point. And as we were watching them, we were surprised by a few salmon leaped out of the water! It was a very unusual site. We stayed with the killer whales for a while longer, watching one tail slapping, and two pass us on either side of the boat. Then we made our way to salmon bank in search of minke whales. As soon as we turned off the engines, we spotted one. It came up twice before disappearing, so we slowly made our way around that area and had two more minke sightings before we headed back to town. But the trip was far from over; on our way back we spotted some harbor porpoises playing in a rip and relaxed while soaking up some of the warm sun. Perfect Day!

Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Sunset – The Lighting Is Magical

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
LOrca off South West End of San Juan Island Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Orca off South West End of San Juan Island Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Last evening I got out from behind the computer and went on the 5:30 whale watching tour. It is the “lighting”. I just love it around 7:00 pm when eveyone’s faces are warm from the sunlight. The Madrone trees seem firey and the summer grass on the hills glows.

There were many, many whales out off San Juan Island last evening. A guest took a photo and Serena ID’d the orca as Cappucino. The orcas were doing lots of fishing.  The movements they were making near the surface – back and forth, back and forth – then there were some spy hops and some well, was it “love” in the water?

The seabirds were partying on an outcrop. Sea Lions and Harbor Seal were all having a snooze – lazin’ about.  A couple bald eagles were circumnavigating Spieden Island.

We passed through Mosquito Pass (Roche Harbor) named so because the boats through that passage were as thick as mosquitoes. We slowly passed homes gleaming in the late light, little private docks, little private boats, large private boats (none with helicopters tonight) and more Madrone trees popping out past Pearl Island near Spieden Island.

18 knots and 25 minutes later we came around the corner and there was our little town on the hill – Friday Harbor with its evening lights twinkling. Home Sweet Home.

 

 

Sea Lions and Seals Sunset Whale Watch Tour July

Sea Lions and Seals Sunset Whale Watch Tour July

Male Southern Resident Orca Whale Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Male Southern Resident Orca Whale Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Madrone Trees on the Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Madrone Trees on the Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Guest on the Sunset Whale Watch viewing snoozing harbor seals

Guest on the Sunset Whale Watch viewing snoozing harbor seals

Male Orca Dorsal on the Sunset Whale Watch Tour July

Male Orca Dorsal on the Sunset Whale Watch Tour July

Lookin' Around (spy hop) Taken on a Sunset Whale Watch Tour

Lookin' Around (spy hop) Taken on a Sunset Whale Watch Tour

It's a Sea Bird Party! Sunset off San Juan Island

It's a Sea Bird Party! Sunset off San Juan Island

Young Guests Viewing Wildlife at Sunset

Young Guests Viewing Wildlife at Sunset

There's A Serious Photographer - Photographers Love the Sunset Tour

There's A Serious Photographer - Photographers Love the Sunset Tour

An orca game of pass-the-kelp

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Right out the gates, we headed south and just before Cattle Pass we encountered a harbor seal munching on a salmon it had just caught!  At first, two gulls were interested in the seal’s catch but each time it surfaced, another gull and then another and then another came on until there were ten gulls fighting for a piece of the salmon prize.  Wait a minute, did the gulls even do any of the dirty work to catch that salmon?!  Oh, scavengers.

Around the west side of San Juan Island, we started to see the tell-tale dorsal fins of the orca whales!  We saw a cow-calf pair, two females and then a lone male traveling south along the island.  Eventually, we saw three females/juveniles playing pass-the-bull-kelp!  One animal had the kelp crossed over its dorsal fin while the others swam around in random directions to potentially catch it as the first orca dropped its “toy”.  Among some of the vessels offshore, we saw another eight whales in a closer group.  Based on the vocalizations we heard on the hydrophone, we were seeing a very spread out resident pod of orcas.

As we continued around the northern part of San Juan Island and then Henry Island we saw more bald eagles on Henry and Battleship islands, both perched at the tops of their respective trees scanning the sea.  At O’Neal Island, we saw one more bald eagle and then headed for home.

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

Angry ocean/happy whales

Monday, July 25th, 2011

What can I say about today…?  The whales made us work for it.  We headed around the calm, serene north side of the island and turned the corner south down the west side.  We had heard that there were whales moving north in the vicinity of Lime Kiln but by the time we got there there was nothing.  We kept motoring south around the corner toward False Bay.  Still nothing.  The wind was blowing and the seas were getting rougher the farther along we went, but still we went.  Finally up ahead we saw dorsal fins.  We got there, thinking we would be able to relax and cruise down swell, parallel to the whales.  Apparently the whales had other ideas.  The big male that had been about 400 yards off our starboard side suddenly surfaced behind us.  We motored away to get out of his path, but again he turned toward us and surfaced off our stern.   It put us sideways to the swell, but there was nothing we could do.  We braced ourselves against the roll and the hearty passengers continued to watch and attempt to snap photos.  The whales were cruising.  There was a lot of direction change and I hope, for their sake, there was some epic hunting happening.  We finally turned and moved on in toward the shelter of the San Juan Channel.  It calmed down as soon as we rounded Cattle Pass and we stopped at Whale Rocks to check out 2 big Steller’s and a hand full of Harbor Seals.  There was a bald eagle in the top of a dead tree to top it all off on our way into the harbor.

What a day.  Whether you are an ocean adventurer or  rooted to the land, there is nothing like some big swell and a little salt spray in your face to make you feel alive and remember who is in charge when you are out there on the water.  A wise friend once told me, upon my first foray into the field of marine biology, “The ocean will always win”.

Special thanks to our amazing Kittiwake passengers who made the day an exciting adventure and made me remember why I do this day after day.

Laura, naturalist, san juan safaris

Charter Boats, Friday Harbor San Juan Island, Near Seattle

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Recently we had a family group charter the Kittiwake boat for a family reunion.

They had our favorite caterer bring boxed lunches, sodas and home made goodies for the occasion. Kittiwake is certified for 24 passengers. When booking the public in, we limit this number to 12. When using her for a charter we like to limit it to 14 so that there is plenty of space for guests, food and guests belongings.

This boat charter saw orca whales, bald eagles, harbor seals, at least a dozen species of sea birds and lots and lots of island scenery.

Chartering the boat gave this family an opportunity to be isolated with their loved ones and they had the Captain and the Marine Naturalists all to themselves.

When they returned, they made sure to come into the office to tell us what a wonderful time they had and how great the crew was and how happy the were that they chartered the boat.

Charters start at $895.00

Charters start at $895.00

Sneaky Minke

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Today we had a wonderful encounter with my old friend, the Minke whale.  We left the harbor and headed south.  Just before Cattle Point we noticed lots of splashing.  We moved toward the disturbance and saw two harbor seals acting very peculiarly.  One seal would lay, flat out, on the surface of the water.  The other seal would lunge at it, bite it, and then porpoise and slap its back flippers on the surface.  Over and over again we watched the same scene play out.  Perhaps a bit of courtship?

We moved on to give the seals some privacy.  We approached whale rocks to check out some seals that were hauled out.  We saw a massive brown head peek out from around the corner and moved in its direction.  It was a huge male Steller’s sea lion!  When we got around the corner we saw that there were two of them!  They were the first I have seen in a couple of months.  They looked fat and happy and seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.  Next we moved south toward Salmon bank.  There were birds fishing everywhere.  Just a couple minutes of patience rewarded us with a Minke sighting a couple hundred yards away.  We watched the whale surface a couple more times and then noticed another a little farther away.  We watched as the little Minke repeatedly stole the fish out from under the feisty aggregation of sea birds.  It is always amusing to watch the sneaky little Minkes in action.

When we finally pulled away from the scene we were surprised as one last Minke surfaced just off our port side.  It was a great way to wrap up the trip.

I know people are focused on the Orcas when they come out here, but the Minkes are my secret favorite; kind of like the underdogs of the whale watching community.  They are stealthy, graceful, mysterious, and, in the height of the season, often overlooked.  Minkes need our love too.  I will always be happy to hang out with a Minke whale.

Laura, Naturalist, san juan safaris