Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Transient Orcas in Canada

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

With impending rain, Captain Mike steered the M/V Sea Lion north with Naturalists Heather and Emily, and guests in tow.  The goal: transient killer whales off North Pender Island in Canada.  A little Northwest rain did not dampen any spirits on board and before we knew it we were rewarded with great views of 7 transient orcas traveling southeast in Swanson Channel.  T137 and her offspring T137A, T137B, and T137D were traveling with T36A and her two offspring T36A-1 and T36A-2.  It was awesome to see two different family groups traveling together!  We followed the 7 transient orcas for several miles and saw porpoising, a couple of rolls, and a few spy hops!

After traveling with the orcas for a while, Captain Mike took us in search of Steller Sea Lions.  There was a large group of Stellers hauled out on Green Point on Speiden Island.  A couple of the sea lions were swimming in the wind blown water and playing in the waves!  At 10ft long and over 2000lbs, you would think the Steller Sea Lions would not be on the menu for transient orcas, but with a lot of team work and skill orcas are able to bring down these giant pinnipeds.  Recently two Steller Sea Lions were found dead with many rake marks from the teeth of the orcas.  One of the theories for the decline in the Steller Sea Lion population is that they are being selectively targeted in some areas by transient orcas.

Everyone had a great time out on the water viewing orcas and sea lions on this rainy spring day!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

K Pod Back in Action!

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Captain Mike, Naturalists Emily and Kevin, and guests on board the Sea Lion were lucky enough to see K Pod on yesterday’s Whale Watch Tour!  This is the first tour of the year where we were able to view our Southern Resident Killer Whales.  K Pod, comprised of 19 individual orcas, returned in full to the waters surrounding San Juan Island.  This pod was spread out into 3 traveling groups, all headed east from Victoria, B.C. towards the west side of San Juan Island.  K Pod is typically seen the least amount of the 3 resident orca pods, so we all hope that this is a good omen for the coming summer and the 2014 salmon run!  While traveling guests were able to see several great spy hops.  Orcas spy hop so they can check out what is happening above the water.  They are just as curious about us, as we are about them!

Besides great views of K Pod, guests were also treated to almost 20 Stellar Sea Lions at Whale Rocks!  At 10 feet long and up to 2,000lbs Stellars are the largest of the Sea Lion family.

K Pod, Stellars, and so much sun it felt like summer,  it was a great day on the water!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Tansient Orcas Outside Friday Harbor!

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Although the day started out grey, the sunshine quickly took over in the San Juan Islands.  Captain Mike lead Naturalist Emily, Naturalist Kevin, and the guests on board the M/V Sea Lion north out of Friday Harbor in the pursuit of orcas.  We started the morning with no orca reports, which is common in the early season, so we went to look in areas that orcas frequent in the San Juans. As we were headed around the north side of Spieden Island two dorsal fins were spotted and moments later the call came over the radio!  Two transient males, T49C and T77A were traveling in Spieden Channel.  Many transients orcas have been spotted recently in the area; there have been over 50 individuals in our waters in the last week!  The two male orcas passed many a harbor seal, but luckily for the seals, it did not seem to be lunch time.  With great surfaces and a few rolls these tranient orcas were a treat.

After viewing the tranient orcas for a while, guests were also treated to a large group of Stellar Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks soaking up the rays.  A solo California Sea Lion was also spotted sunning himself!  Guests also saw several Bald Eagles and plenty of Harbor Seals.

As we motored back to Friday Harbor, we found the same two transient orcas!  Just outside Friday Harbor, it seemed like the orcas possibly found an afternoon snack, as there were many quick dives and circling in the water.  The two male orcas briefly split apart, but were seen swimming together again inside Friday Harbor!

Great wildlife and orca sightings along with ample sunshine made this spring tour one for the books!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Predictions call for a Good Salmon Year

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Spring has sprung in the Pacific North West and everyone is ready to get back on the water!  With our first Whale Watch and Wildlife Tour in two weeks time, we are all hoping for a great season.  Recent predictions concerning salmon runs should contribute to another wonderful summer.  Canada is predicting up to 72 million sockeye salmon to return to the Frasier River this summer, which is far higher than the typical 3-4 million.  Chinook and coho salmon are predicted to return in slightly higher numbers this year in Puget Sound with an even bigger run into the Columbia River.

What’s causing the hopeful influx of salmon: great ocean conditions.  After hatching, young salmon, or fry, will grow in the river and estuaries they were born in before making the journey to the ocean.  This process can take days to months.  Once in the open ocean, salmon will spend up to 5 years growing before migrating back to the same stream they were hatched in.  Salmon prefer cold nutrient rich waters, often an outcome of coastal upwelling.  Luckily, the past few years have seen a lot of upwelling, which has allowed salmon born in the last 5 years to grow big and healthy in a near perfect ocean environment.

We can only hope that these predictions come true, both for our Southern Resident Killer Whales and local fisherman.  Southern Resident Killer Whales eat almost 80% chinook, which are supposed to return in higher numbers than last year. We are keeping our fingers crossed and can’t wait to be back on the water!


Reservations Manager, San Juan Safaris

Birds of Prey in the San Juans

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Many animals call the San Juan Islands home.  From kelp crabs to orcas and finches to eagles the San Juans have and abundance of species.  With both ocean and land environments, birds of all sorts abound on San Juan Island.  Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons are two top predators of the sky.

Bald Eagles are well known as the national bird of the United States.  Bald Eagles mate for life and return every year to the same nest.  They even have the ingenuity to build a second next, just in case the first one should break or fall.  The largest nest on record weighed more than 2.000lbs!  Bald Eagles are known for sitting out on the limbs of trees to better see prey in the waters below.  When fishing, Bald Eagles prefer salmon as they are fatty and make a great meal.  Unfortunately for the Bald Eagle, a large salmon can get the better of the formidable predator.  Bald Eagles will sometimes work so relentlessly to get a large salmon out of the water that they will drown in the process.  While eagles are great hunters, they are first and foremost a scavenger.  With their large size Bald Eagles will steal other animals meals and feed on carcasses whenever possible.  A Bald Eagle has a wing span of up to 8 ft and can weigh close to 15lbs.

The Peregrine Falcon, at a maximum of just 3 lbs, seems like it would less impressive than the Bald Eagle, but it is this falcon’s speed that sets it apart.  Peregrine Falcons can dive at speeds over 200mph, making them the fastest animal on earth.  Peregrines are such quick hunters that they have been knows to prey upon hummingbirds. The Peregrine Falcon mostly preys upon other birds, and will even go after other smaller birds of prey.  In cities, these falcons have been known to nest on the tops of tall sky scrapers and enjoy an endless buffet of pigeon.  There are several nests throughout the San Juans where these amazing hunters perch.  If you are lucky enough, you may even see one dive for a meal.

We can’t wait to get back on the water and see these amazing birds at work.


Reservations Manager, San Juan Safaris

Transient Orcas at Henry Island

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Another fabulous day on San Juan Island! Our Owner and Captain Brian was out on the water today and spotted transient orcas near Henry Island late this morning.  T18 was out with the T19 group hunting in Open Bay and off Battleship Island.  We often see these transient orcas in the summer months as well.  Harbor seals were the main course this morning, a favorite of transient orcas.  Brian observed lots a vocalizations after the hunt was over.  Transients are often seen “celebrating” after a kill, the sign of a happy and full orca.

Battleship Island is a nature preserve and heavily populated with harbor seals.  The harbor seals enjoy the large kelp bed that surrounds the small rock island.  In the summer time harbor seal pups are often seen laying on top of the kelp.  It is not wonder that it is also a favorite diner for transient orcas!


Reservations Manager, San Juan Safaris

Southern Resident Orca L112 Stranding Final Report

Friday, February 28th, 2014

On February 11, 2012, L112 a 3 year old Southern Resident Killer Whale was found stranded on the shores of Long Beach Washington.  L112, more lovingly referred to as Sooke, was the daughter of L86 Surprise!.  After two years of debate and research,  it has been concluded that Sooke died of a massive blunt force trauma to the head and neck.  It was proposed that sonar and explosives  were the cause of death as the Canadian Navy confirmed they were doing testing off the coast of Vancouver Island in early February.  This theory was ruled out due to tidal and wind directions.  Both the tides and the wind were coming from the south, causing Sooke to drift northward.  At her proposed time of death, she would have been too far south for the sonar and small explosive testing to have caused her harm.  It is unknown weather the object that stuck Sooke was inanimate or animate.

For a full report, you can visit NOAA online.

It was a sad day when we lost Sooke, and we hope that all members of the Southern Resident Community return safely this year.


Office Manager and Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

J Pod Braves the Waves

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

J Pod made an appearance this past week traveling through Haro Strait.  With exceptionally high winds this week, the Haro has been rougher than usual, but this did not stop J Pod from trudging through.  In the summer months the Haro Strait is often very calm, as it is very protected by Vancouver Island.  During winter months, the normally placid waters around San Juan, can become windswept and whitecaped.

Of the 3 Southern Resident Pods, J Pod stays closest to home during the winter months.  K and L pods are often spotted off the coast of Oregon and California.  K and Ls are sometimes seen as far south as Monterey Bay California.  Each summer the 3 South Resident Pods return to the waters surrounding San Juan Island in order to feed upon salmon that are traveling to the Fraser River in Canada.   Salmon run past the west side of San Juan Island in high concentrations, making it an excellent place to grab a bite to eat.

We hope to see all of the Southern Residents eating up a storm this coming summer season!


Office Manager, San Juan Safaris

Sunshine on Valentines Day

Friday, February 14th, 2014

San Juan Island has seen just about every type of weather in the last week. Currently, it is everyone’s favorite: blue skies and sunny! We are hoping this weather lasts. All of the sunshine is making it feel like summer is right around the corner. We are already gearing up for the season and taking many reservations for 2014.

While we have not seen orcas recently, there was a Grey whale that popped into Puget Sound to say “hello” earlier this week.  Grey whales are baleen whales, or mysticetes, at eat benthic invertebrates through a process called “mucking”.  Grey whales lay the side of their mouth on the bottom of the sea floor and muck up the invertebrates.  This process often causes the Grey whale to have one side of its face free of barnacles and possibly a misshaped head.  We hope the Grey whales decide to visit us more often this summer!

With love in the air and cetaceans on the mind, we hope the coming season is the best yet!


San Juan Safaris

Whales+Snow= A Great Weekend

Monday, February 10th, 2014

J-Pod, and L-87, made an appearance in the San Juans this weekend. Vocalizations were heard over the hydrophone at Lime Kiln State Park Saturday night. As to their current location, some faint vocalizations were picked up on the Port Townsend hydrophone, but nobody has seen or heard from them sense. A group of possibly 30 transient orcas were spotted up in Canadian waters this weekend as well.

While the snow has turned to rain here on San Juan Island, the flakes are still coming down on Mt. Baker. Baker already has 8 new inches in the last 12 hours, and it is supposed to keep on coming. We hope you have a chance to go play in the snow this week!

Office Manager
San Juan Safaris