Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Ks & Ls in Haro!

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Today under grey skies the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor with positive reports of our local celebrities: the Southern Resident killer whales! Traveling south we encountered a number of very playful harbor seals and enjoyed the presence of some of our numerous seabirds. We also took a few minutes to stop at Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass to look at about a dozen Steller’s sea lions sprawled on the rocks. These large pinnipeds are about the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow and can weigh upwards of 2500 pond, while achieving a length of 12 feet. THEY ARE MASSIVE! We moved on from the sea lions, heading north up the west side of San Juan Island. We met up with the K12 matriline just off of False Bay. K33 Tika was foraging with his younger Aunt K43 Saturna, and we got awesome looks at both of them! We peeled off off the K12s to head offshore to a group of incoming L pod whales. We saw breach after breach, tail slap after tail slap as the whales¬† joyfully made their way towards San Juan Island. We were delighted to see members of the L4 matriline, L54 matriline, as well as crowd favorites L92 Crewser and his Aunt L90 Ballena. We got some awesome looks at these beautiful whales today, despite the cloudy skies. Yet another great day to whale watch in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Sarah, M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris!

L is for looks – August 27

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Thursday was a beautiful day filled with typical San Juan calm waters and cool breezes, and we went typically went looking for Killer Whales. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I headed to the west side of San Juan Island and soon saw an unmistakable giant, dark dorsal fin slicing through the still waters. Orcas… But who is this one specifically? Orcas, like many mammals, have distinctive markings that allow us to tell one from another. In orcas we mainly use the shape of their dorsal fins and the pattern of a whitish-grey marking directly behind their dorsal fins. We call this their saddle-patch.

First this whale was big, really big, and definitely an adult male due to his very straight and tall dorsal fin. As he passed us we could see his pretty solid saddle patch and two notches in his dorsal fin. It was L-41! aka Mega! He cruised pass with the awesome ease that one only sees while watching giants.

MEga is in L pod and we haven’t see a lot of L pod this summer. Since we know that orcas usually travel in their family groups, more of L pod must be around.

We were right and our efforts bore fruits! or whales.

More L pod!

Looking at saddle patches and dorsal fins we recognized Matia (L-77), Calypso (L-94), Calypso’s daughter Cousteau (L-119). It was wonderful to find them when we did, because it quickly turned into socialization time. This group kept swimming tight circles around each other and pushing the young Cousteau around. They love spinning underwater and rubbing up against each other, and it was so beautiful to see them playing as one big happy family.

As these whales played around and drifted by more of L pod could be heard in the distance surfacing and breathing. And before we had to head back around towards Friday Harbor, another adult male, Crewser (L-92) passed by giving us a great view of his sprouting dorsal fin which has an extra curve right at the top.

 

But that’s not all! We passed by Whale rocks near Cattle Point and saw a slew of Steller Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks. They just returned from their rookeries in Alaska and they are so much fun to look at as they stick their heads straight up in the air and look suspiciously back at you. But don’t get too close these can weigh up to 2,500 lbs. and they are the largest Sea Lion in the world! It’s great to see them laying next to all the Harbor Seal too just to get the great size difference! We watched them slugging around and swimming around in the kelp forests for a little bit then onward until… two Bald Eagles Appeared on a rock! ONe had just caught a fish and they were having a mid afternoon snack! We thought our excitement was over until in the middle of Griffen Bay on our way back we saw two Humpback Whales. Now these are the the creatures that bring about images of stories of leviathans. They are as long as our boat – around 50 ft. – and can weigh around 50 tons. The stop here on their migration to rest and fuel up on tiny plankton. so they were up and down a lot showing their massive flukes as they dove deep to scoop up krill and fish.

 

Well I don’t know how the day could get any better.

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick,

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J’s and K’s Headed North!-August 24th, 2015

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion went on yet another grand adventure! Captain Mike, Sarah and I were just as excited as our boat-load of passengers to get out into the Salish Sea on this beautiful day and look for wildlife.

As we left the dock in Friday Harbor we headed North towards Canada! We heard reports that part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population was headed that way so we went ahead to investigate.

The area known as the Salish Sea, in which these particular orcas spend the majority of their summer feeding on salmon, has ties to both the United States and Canada. We regularly cross the border into Canadian waters, and the Coast Guard hasn’t caught us yet! Actually, as long as we do not make contact with land (make port, anchor, or touch another boat) then there is no need for passports and we can continue our whale watch unhindered!

As we passed Spieden Island and the Cactus Islands we were scanning the water for those big black dorsal fins that we love to see. Finally, at the northern end of Boundary Pass, we saw dorsal fins rising from the water. It was J Pod!

We watched as the massive fin of J27 (Blackberry) rose from the water. In the same motion, his sister J31 (Tsuchi) and his brother J39 (Mako) also surfaced with a loud WHOOSH as they exhaled before slipping back under the water. The rest of the J19 matriline was not far behind, and we got some great looks at these stunning cetaceans.

Usually we see the Southern Residents traveling in discreet family groups, and today was no different. After the J19s passed us by, we got a visit from K Pod! It is always very cool to see two pods traveling and interacting together. The K12 and K13 matrilines, complete with huge fin of K25 (Scoter) and the slightly crooked fin of K33 (Tikka) and the distinct markings of K20 (Spock), gave us some stellar looks as they passed us by on their way to better fishing grounds.

After spending some more time watching these whales do their thing, we began to head back down south, but the adventure was far from over. As we were passing Stuart Island, we caught sight of yet another colossal dorsal fin! It was J26 (Mike) and the rest of the J16 matriline!

Complete with a full grown male and two fresh young calves, this group is unmistakable. They typically travel apart from the rest of J Pod, and we were able to see grandma J16 (Slick) babysitting the two calves while the new mother J36 (Alki) had some alone time.

After this surprise whale encounter (the best kind) we began to meander our way back to Friday harbor. Our return trip showed us a few harbor seals and plenty of jumping salmon, and of course we were back in the slip far too soon.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Kittiwake Goes International

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

Today Captain Jim and I left Friday Harbor on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to head north to a report of some of our Southern Resident killer whales rounding Saturna Island, British Columbia. The day was beautiful: sparkling water and blue skies. Boundary Pass was gorgeous: This body of water separates the US and Canada and is one of the widest expanses of water that we spend time in on our trips. As we crossed we started spotting dorsal fins and blows tucked in right next to shore. We had the pleasure of traveling with members of K Pod as they rounded East Point up into the Strait of Georgia. As the whales went up the Strait they began to spread out and go on longer down times as they started to fish. Killer whales are capable of holding their breath for up to 30 minutes, but around here it would be very rare to see a dive time exceeding 5 minutes. We watched that behavior for a while and then decided to go see a second group of whales slowly and socially moving in our direction from South Pender Island. We met up with that group at Java Rocks and, boy, were we treated to a breachfest! Whale after whale took flight and splashed down! We also witnessed many inverted tail slaps (whales lying on their backs splashing with their tails) and spyhops as well! Because of our small group size (11 people) everyone got amazing views and photographs. Another amazing day on the M/V Kittiwake!

Naturalist Sarah, M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Orcas’ Last Gleaming – August 20

Friday, August 21st, 2015

There are stories surrounding orcas that say if we visit them in their natural realm, the sea, we’ll see them as humans since they will be home and we will be the visitor. I don’t know what that means the human will then look like, but I like to think of humans with permanently grinning orca faces.

Unless you don a drysuit and some air tanks there is no one to see if this little myth is true but I believe it’s good to think of orcas in a more human way, to connect with them emotional, and maybe guess at what their thinking.

We headed out on Thursday even with a slight breeze and calm waters. We headed towards Alden Bank near Patos and Sucia Islands and had a beautiful trip skirting along the north side of the islands watching Murres and Cormorants, our daring cliff dwelling birds, fly past steep island coastlines. When we arrived, we soon spotted a lot of dorsal fins. It was a large group of K pod! The sunlight was at such an angle that the dorsal fins looked jet black on the front and aflame in the back as these two families milled for Salmon in the orange light given by the end of the day. Tika (K-33) appeared directly behind us startling me with his loud breath and impressing everyone with his tall dorsal fin. Tika is a Chinook word meaning swift and he is definitely that. We watched him go in and out of salmon schools and soon started to see the rest of his family in the K-12′s swim closer. Sequim (K-12) is the matriarch and her three children we all there: Sekiu (K-22), Rainshadow (K-37), and Saturna (K-43). Saturna even popped up in front of her namesake island of Saturna in the distance! Sekiu (K-22) is the mother of Tika, and it was amazing to see three generations to pass by.

We saw some splashing in the distance and decided to go investigate. It was the K-13′s! My favorite family with Skagit (K-13) as the matriarch and leading the group. Skagit has a large family with her children: Spock (K-20), Scoter (K-25), Deadhead (K-27), and Cali (K-34) and her grandchildren: Comet (K-38) and Ripple (K-34). I personally got distracted by either Skagit or Cali breaching in the distance that I didn’t even notice Spock (k-20) and her child Comet (K-38) swim past on the other side of the boat! Those too are my favorite, and Spock is interesting because researchers thought that she was male for awhile because of her male looking dorsal fin…until she had a calf. Whoops.

Spock and Comet swimming right next to each other, now that’s something. This mother-son pair swam calmly by and it’s interesting to compare their relationship and behavior with other mother-child pairs. Especially when Comet started jumping over and over in front of his mom with his mom responding with tail slap after tail slap on the water.

As we thought about each whale and how differently they behave kind of like how different humans act we watched them swim by one last time through the golden stream of sunlight brought by one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve seen over Vancouver Island. It’s certainly a feeling I don’t think any of us will lose for a very long, long time.

 

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Birds and Whales and Sunset OH MY!

Friday, August 21st, 2015

As August winds down, our evening tours become more and more precious. The sun is setting earlier, which means better light for us throughout the duration of our tour. The M/V Sea Lion picked up our 26 guests, left the harbor, and headed south through San Juan channel. As we made our way through Cattle Pass, Haro Strait opened in front of us revealing almost glass-like water in the golden light. We made our way North along the West side of San Juan catching glimpses of some of the wonderful bird life that we have in the area. We started to see members of our Southern Resident killer whale population right off of False Bay, and, man, they were active!! We witnessed several full breaches, several spyhops, and inverted tail slaps. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when we dropped our hydrophone over the side of the boat. These underwater microphones let you hear, in real time, what is going on underneath the water. The vocals were out of this world: clicks, whistles, squeaks… you name it we heard it. After spending nearly an hour and 45 minutes with the whales lazily playing around us we started to head back to Friday Harbor. Looking back across the Strait the sun began to set and really paint the sky. It was a fittingly beautiful way to end the experience!

Naturalist Sarah, M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

San Juanderful – August 16

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

On Sunday, we had a great group on the Kittiwake and weather to match them. Capt. Jim and I took them to the west side of San Juan Island in search for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. We headed north and soon found most of K pod near the County Park. We saw Tika (K-33), Lobo (K-26), and Cappuccino (K-21) right off the bat. They were easy to spot because of their huge, adult, male dorsal fins or almost huge in the case of Tika – he’s still growing. We stayed with K pod for awhile paralleling them as they moved north and were starting to leave to look for some other fun wildlife near the Cactus Islands when, Splash! Two of the males breached in the distance as we were motoring away. So of course we turned around and watched as they started to wake up and feel feisty. The younger members started to breach and tail slap too and then it was a K pod party with all breaching and slapping and spyhopping near shore! We followed the whole K pod crew until Henry Island and then again tried to tear ourselves away from the excitement and headed to some of the outer islands. Around the north side of Spieden Island we took a moment and Capt. Jim had us appreciate the view of all the different islands and ridges we could see at that one point on the water. We could see Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, Shaw, most of the outer islands like Stuart, Johns, Waldron, Sucia, and could also see the Olympics, Mt. Baker, and all the way up into the Canadian Gulf Islands. What a beautiful sight. We skirted around the Cactus Islands and the north side of Spieden and saw a bunch of Harbor Seals playing in the Kelp beds and a few families of the exotic Mouflon Sheep prancing along the coastline. Soon though it was time to travel back down south to Friday Harbor. Another beautiful, sunny day on the water.

 

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Cetace-Oh-Yeah – August 13, 2015

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands are called the Salish Sea. And here we are lucky enough to have more than a few members of the Cetacean family (whales, dolphins, porpoises) stop by every once in awhile. Most folks come to see the famous and charismatic Orcas, which are the world’s largest dolphin, but we have a few more fun members that are just as wonderful to see. Going from largest to smallest there is the Humpback Whale, the Minke Whale, Dall’s Porpoise, and the Harbor Porpoise.

And on Thursday we saw all save one…

It was a cooler afternoon when Capt. Jim, me, and one family headed south on the Kittiwake. We were going to the west side of San Juan Island to look for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. We soon saw the dorsal fins in the distance and as we neared False Bay it was apparent that we had found K pod! K pod is one of the three pods in the Southern Resident community and they currently have 19 members. They were hunting for their favorite food, Chinook Salmon up and down the west side. We luckily got to spend a lot of time with two particular families, the K-16′s and K-14′s!

As I mentioned before, orcas / killer whales, are the biggest dolphin and in the world of cetaceans aka whales we like to look at their mouths a lot to see similarities and differences. The orcas have rows of sharp, cone shaped teeth, the next few whales won’t.

After visiting with the orcas, we headed south to look for some other wildlife. And soon as we were looking at a bait ball both a Minke Whale popped up and few Harbor Porpoises. Minke Whales are small baleen whales. They are about the same size as orcas but filter feed using a thick, bristly mesh in their mouths called baleen. Harbor Porpoises are tiny, swift creatures that have sharp spade-shaped teeth that swim all around eating tiny fish. They usually are solitary, but this time of year they start to form aggregations of larger groups.

After watching them for awhile we moved even further south and south spotted a full grown Humpback Whale! This is another baleen whale, but instead of being 30 ft. long like the Minke, this guy is around 50 ft. long and weighs around 50 tons! That’s definitely bigger than our boat. This guy was amazing to look at as he rose, breathed, and lifted his fluke high up in the air until he slipped deep down again to feed once again.

After really appreciating this leviathan, we slowly started to return to Friday Harbor, but got to see some Stellar Sea Lions and Harbor Seals on the way! What another amazing day on the water!

 

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Welcome to the family T37A4!

Friday, August 14th, 2015

Today, Captain Mike, Erick and I headed north out of Friday Harbor with a full boat. We were going for some transient killer whales headed to Battleship island. Surely enough, there they were, the the T37As. With them, was a noticeable tiny (6-7 feet long) calf–one that I had been seeing for the past few days. Today, however, it was confirmed! This was T37As newest calf, the very recent, T37A4. They swam right between Battleship Island and McCraken Point, before they continued east in to Speiden Channel. They remained close to shore all the way across the north side of SJI. At one point, there were two dogs barking at them from shore as they swam past, and I was half expecting them to jump in to the water and get eaten. Before they could however, the Ts when in to kill mode. They were porpoising in every direction and we’re almost positive they got a seal. After all, transients are strictly mammal eaters. And they’re actually choosy–taking out the parts they don’t like, such as skin and organs. They’re able to accomplish that all using their tongues. After hanging out with these guys for a while, we spun around Speiden and the cactus islands to find some seals, and then caught up the the whales one more time before heading home.

 

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

“Watch this you salmon eating weirdos” – Transient Orcas everywhere

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Yesterday Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I set out on one of the calmest evenings we’ve had on the water. We were looking for some of the local Transient Orcas. There are three main communities of Transient Orcas that live on the west coast of North America. They all belong to the same ecotype but form different communities that usually remain in one general area, but each small pod can travel from Baja California up to Alaska. The community here is called the Washington – British Columbia community and guess what they live off the coast of Washington and British Columbia!! These Transients separated from our more well known Resident Orcas around 10,000 – 13,000 years ago. So although they look very similar they are genetically distinct and have two very different cultures. The transients usually travel in smaller pods, have a looser social structure, and hunt marine mammals! Yes, everything that looks cute and cuddly in the ocean, they are going to nom on them.

We headed north to some of the outer islands of the San Juans. We had our first sightings of the trip right of the east side of Johns Island. We saw their blows unbelievably close to shore as we approached, and sure enough they were in hunt mode. Do get excited, this is sort of what the folks at the Discovery Channel live for, but usually from the top of water their is little to no blood floating in the currents. It seems that orcas are not as messy of eaters as we believe them to be. They also drown their prey so little is done in the way of killing above the surface. We continued to see them as they moved south along Johns Island. Transients always offer surprises since they do a lot of direction changes underneath the water where you can’t see them, so they can pop up…anywhere. When we got to the south end of Johns Island they skirted through a very narrow channel and started to check around a few massive kelp beds – where many of their prey like to hide.

Now things were starting to get even cooler they kept popping up all around us, looking like they were hunting something else. We were in a small channel now surrounded by islands, kelp, and now…silent orcas. As a Bald Eagle swooped by the orcas showed us a profile and we could tell there were 5 of them and by their markings they looked like the T36A’s along with a few family friends we were unable to identify. This family has two really young orcas who were extremely playful. As they went in between the Wasp Islands we respectfully followed and they disappeared again. Only to reappear in full force as a synchronous breath and then back under again, then one of the calves did a perfect backflip to nosedive combo! This was finished off with the mother and the other adult female bursting out of the water and doing two body slams!

…Woah…

That. was. amazing! Maybe they did that to have fun or maybe to show up those fish eating Resident Orcas, because I have never seen a full back flip from an orca before. They continued to play as they ate more and more (probably Harbor Porpoises). We watched for a few more moments as they happily played in the road of shimmering light cast by the sunsetting over Spieden Island, then bid farewell once more.

Whale folks until next time,

Naturlist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris