Archive for July, 2011

Harbor whales?

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Today was awesome.  Call it luck, call it karma, call it retribution for the past few days of driving to Vancouver…whatever the case, I have never seen whales actually pull into the harbor.  When we found the group of J’s they were just north of the harbor.  They were cruising slowly south. I was expecting total chaos. Because of the whales’ proximity to town I figured everyone and their mother would be out watching.  The sheriff was out and about, which was great to see.  There were a few other whale watching boats there and a couple of private boats.  One little speed boat cruised by at top speed fairly close to the whales.  A big male raised half of his body out of the water in a giant, slow motion spy hop as if to say, “Hey buddy, what do you think you are doing?”

The whales continued lazily down the channel.  More spy hops, a breach, lots of inverted tail slapping, and at one point one of the adults just laid on his back.  It looked like they were enjoying the sunshine as much as we were.  As the whales turned to corner in toward the harbor we departed and cruised south to find other wildlife.  We saw seals, pups, eaglets, harbor porpoise, and even a school of fish.  The sea was alive today.  When we reached cattle point we turned around and headed back up the san juan channel toward the harbor.  The whales were  still moving south, but had slowed to resting pace, slowly surfacing to breathe and taking some longer dives.
Suddenly we got a call.  Tucker the whale scat-sniffing dog had located his quarry.  We stopped where we were and watched Tucker work.  He ran from side to side and wagged his tail furiously.  Finally we saw the scoop go into the water and Tucker was rewarded with his tennis ball.  A cheer echoed from the surrounding boats.  Not something you see every day.

If I had sat down with a piece of paper and had designed a trip myself I don’t think it could have been better than today.  As we were pulling into our slip a bald eagle flew over head, its feathers illuminated from above.  Ridiculous.  Awesome.

Laura, naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Milling with Killer Whales

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

We headed north out of Friday Harbor this afternoon in search of any and all wildlife that lives in or around the Salish Sea. Our first encounter came when we slowed and went across Spieden Island where there was wildlife from the shore line to the sky. First we noticed harbor seals that were hauled out on the narrow shoreline. Then looking up, we saw mouflon sheep and fallow and sitka deer along the grassy hill tops. Finally, in the sky was a lone bald eagle in all its glory; wings fully extended and soaring above the tree tops.

It didn’t take much longer until we saw the first signs of killer whales; spouts were up ahead! Then dorsal fins! After watching for a few minutes we realized that there were a lot of whales, twenty plus, milling around in very close proximity to one another. It looked like there were members from both J and K pod in the group, and there was a very small, orange calf that didn’t look like K44! (new calf possibly?!).

After spending our time with the whales we headed back to San Juan Island. On the way we stopped by turn point near the lighthouse where we encountered a few harbor porpoises and we were also able to stop and view some more harbor seals that were hauled out on rocks. It was a very exciting day!

Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Official Entry into the Whale Watching Photo Contest

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
I just wanted to thank you again for the great time my buddies and I had on your tours a couple weeks back. Our tour guide was  from our home town (a suburb of Chicago) which made the experience that much more enjoyable. I knew I got some cool pictures from the adventure, but was even more excited when I blew it up and so how well they had turned out. Thanks again for everything, consider this my

Orca Whale by D. Litch July 2011

Orca Whale by D. Litch July 2011

D. Litch

Crazy baby K

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Every morning I come in to work, nervous about what the day may hold, but also excited about the prospect of seeing whales.  There is a lot of pressure on us as naturalists, captains, and crew to find the whales and keep the passengers happy, which is why we get so very excited when we hear two sweet words…South side!

Gotta love it when the whales are close and we get to spend time with multiple groups. I do love a good drive up north every now and then, but sometimes it is just awesome when the whales are nearby and there is less traveling and more watching.

The whales were milling between False Bay and South Beach.  Boats were spread out across the channel in every direction and we assumed the whales would be too.  We saw a massive dorsal surface inshore of us, followed by a couple of mid size and then baby K!  He was active.  Super active.  Rolling, tail slapping, porpoising high out of the water.  The rest of the whales seemed to be indulging him and there were bouts of activity here and there between the little guy and the others.  I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  It was the most active I have seen the whales in a week or two.  There were 5 or so whales in the little group.  The best part was that they just milled; spinning, rolling, spy-hopping, and pec-slapping.  We sat and watched and barely had to move.  I love whale watching with the engines off.

We forget sometimes what a privilege it is to see these amazing animals interacting with each other in their own habitat.  We forget that we are the guests when we are out there on the water.  The urge to yell ‘jump’ or think they are showing off for us is hard to resist.  Sometimes it takes an encounter like this to remind us that we are lucky just to see them at all.

Laura, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

 

Wildlife Bonanza at Swanson Channel

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Some days we just know we have to go the distance to find the wildlife.  But the general rule of thumb is: it’s so worth it!

Today, we cruised out of sunny Friday Harbor with both boats–Sea Lion and Kittiwake–full of eager wildlife seekers.  As we pleasantly made our way north through many of the islands dotting the Salish Sea, we saw birds and boats and waves and trees and then: the channel marking the border to Canada.  Once we crossed that, the wildlife appeared in full force!  Up in the Swanson Channel off North Pender Island, we caught up with a mixed pod of orca whales.  Both J and K pods were socializing in a group of about 15-20 individual orcas.  One passenger assisted in confirming the identity of J-34 “Double stuf” (son to “Oreo,” brother to “Cookie;” see a theme here?!).

We stepped out of the orca watching crowd to search for a possible seal carcass on the other side of the channel and found harbor porpoises along the way and [LIVE!]harbor seals hauled out on the rocks.  Oh and an orange-beaked oystercatcher bird flying by.  And then we saw the bald eagles… feeding on a nasty, smelly harbor seal carcass at the high tide line; one of which was a mottled brown and white juvenile bald eagle.  Gruesome, gross, and awesome!

Back at the whales we saw the new baby, K44, swimming just next to and behind mom before we had to start making our way back to the harbor.

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

Newest Addition to Southern Resident Community

Monday, July 18th, 2011

We started seeing the dorsal fins of K pod after exiting the Speiden Channel and spotted Deadhead (K-27) with her new son (K-44). The boy is her first offspring and he will remain unnamed until after he has survived a winter and is officially considered part of the pod. Researchers do this because of the alarming fact that only around half of the calves survive the first year of life. The first-born calf has an even lower survival rate which is believed to be partially due to the large amount of toxins they receive through the milk. The organic toxin Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) is extremely concentrated in the orcas of the Salish Sea with the transients having the highest levels recorded in any marine mammal. PCBs are soluble in fats so they are found in high doses in the fat-rich milk of mothers. A female unloads a huge portion of the toxins she accumulated throughout her life onto her first child, with subsequent calves receiving much less of the chemicals. With hopeful thoughts of this little ones future, we watched him lobtail next to the cliffs and lighthouse of Stuart Island while the sun warmed the scene.

Kirsten, naturalist

Herb Rides Again

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Herb has been out with San Juan Safaris for years now and on so many trips that he is an “honorary staffer”. Along with knowing a lot about whales, and I am talking Hawaii to Massacusetts, he has a great eye. He has been very generous this year and in the past sharing all his photos. Here are just a few of the many taken in the past 3 days.

Spy Hop by Herb Hartman

Spy Hop by Herb Hartman

Marine Naturalist Serina by Herb Hartman

Marine Naturalist Serena by Herb Hartman

Kittiwake aka the adult boat 12 guests, 12 years and older by Herb

Kittiwake aka the adult boat 12 guests, 12 years and older by Herb Hartman

Maturea Bald Eagle by Herb Hartman

Maturea Bald Eagle by Herb Hartman

Tucker - the whale poop sniffin' dog (go ahead, ask us) by Herb Hartman

Tucker - the whale poop sniffin' dog (go ahead, ask us) by Herb Hartman

Parallel Orca Whales by Herb Hartman

Parallel Orca Whale by Herb Hartman

3 porpoise by Herb Hartman

3 porpoise by Herb Hartman

Guests on the Kittiwake watching whales by Herb Hartmann

Guests on the Kittiwake watching whales by Herb Hartmann

Smooth orca by Herb Hartman

Smooth orca by Herb Hartman

Dreary Days Don’t Keep the Wildlife Away

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Sky and sea blended together as we left Friday Harbor this afternoon. It was overcast and a bit foggy, but spirits were high in the hopes of finding killer whales. We headed south, and as we turned around Cattle Point it started to clear up, giving us good visibility. As soon as we reached False Bay, off in the distance was a large, triangular dorsal fin. Soon after that we were surrounded by killer whales, and even got to see a younger one breach three times before swimming off.

We followed the whales back towards Cattle Point then headed towards Salmon Bank in search minke whales. It didn’t take long for us to spot a lone minke occasionally coming to the surface to take a breath. After watching the minke disappear one last time we headed back into Friday Harbor, but we weren’t done watching for wildlife. Near Long Island there were three bald eagles sitting on top of the rocks. We also slowed near whale rocks to see an acrobatic group of harbor seals in the water. Finally, we stopped to watch a large pod of harbor porpoises, some of them popping up close enough for us to hear them exhale. This dreary weather day turned into an amazing day full of wildlife.

Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Js Ks and Ls

Friday, July 15th, 2011

We headed out of Friday Harbor with some very fun and excited passengers.  Our first stop was right around the corner with some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks and we even saw a tiny little pup trying to climb on its moms back while swimming in the current.  We continued on through Cattle Pass and quickly found a great group of Orcas near False Bay.  As we slowly approached and started watching one group, we saw even more whales in every direction around us.  The word from other vessels on the scene was that Ks and Ls were moving in to the area to hang out with the Js.  It seemed like just about every member of the Southern Resident Community was spread from close to shore to the Olympic Peninsula.  It was incredible!

Unfortunately we had to head back to the harbor, but on the way we encountered a Minke whale as well as the most harbor seals I’ve ever seen around the boat playing and feeding in the tide rips.  Another great day on the water!

Mike – Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

An Abundance of Wildlife!

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

We headed south out of Friday Harbor this afternoon with word that there were killer whales around False Bay. On our way to the west side, we spotted a few harbor porpoises in the distance and some harbor seals poking their heads out of the water. Once at False Bay we caught a glimpse of three dorsal fins and some spouts, then there were six+ dorsal fins all coming up from underneath the glassy Salish Sea. It was J-pod. They were slowly traveling close to each other, nearly synchronized in their surfacing. It was an amazing site to see.

After spending some time with the whales, we headed back towards Salmon Bank. As soon as we got to that area, we spotted a single minke whale and watched it surface a few times before it disappeared into the depths. Then, on the way back into town, we came across another minke whale! Plus we stopped to check out a large group of harbor seals that were checking us out from the water, and a large pod of harbor porpoises that surrounded the boat and were proposing out of the water. It was an exceptional day in not only the numbers of species we encountered, but in the quantity of each species we saw as well!

Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris