Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Residents in San Juan Channel

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Today we left the dock with reports of resident orcas out on the West side of San Juan Island.  It was a beautiful sunny day here in Friday Harbor so our trip out to the whales was filled with sunshine.  We met up with the K14′s on the South side of Stuart Island.  We first spotted K26 (Lobo), an adult male with a 6 foot dorsal fin, feeding in the area.  We also got a great look at K42 (Kelp), the youngest member of the K14′s.  The whales then started moving towards the Cactus islands, which are located behind Spieden Island.  It was very odd to seem them travel in this area because they generally stick to the outer straits of the San Juan Islands.  This was actually the first time in 20 years that the whales were seen traveling in that area.  We then watched the K14′s meet up with the J2′s (Granny and her family)  as well as the J19′s, including the new calf J51.  We watched the whales travel around the area and display different social behaviors including tail slapping and even a breach.  It was an unusual and interesting day out on the water but a memorable trip for all on board.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J16s in Boundary Pass

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Today Captain Brian, Naturalist Rachel and I headed North towards Canadian waters, with reports of part of one of our Resident, salmon-eating pods, J Pod traveling along Saturna Island’s shore. As we arrived on scene, Captain Brian did a wonderful job maneuvering so that we were not only saying the legal limit away from the whales (100 meters in Canadian waters), but also getting the best looks possible. We quickly realized that we were looking at one of the current famous families in the Southern Resident population, the J16 matriline! This family is one of the more charasmatic, and has made news in the past months after J16 Slick gave birth to her forth calf J50, and that J16′s daughter J36 Alki gave birth to her first calf J52. Both calves were present today and we got excellent looks at each of them! The water was calm, the sky was a bit cloudy, and we had an incredible time out on the water!

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

Transients in President’s Channel

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Today we had two different whale reports by the time we left the dock; J-pod coming down from East Point, and transients coming through President’s channel. Along the way, we decided to go for the transients, or Bigg’s killer whales. Transients are mammal-eaters, a stark contrast between their culture and that of the resident killer whales (whom eat only fish). They’ll work together to hunt for harbor seals, sea lions, porpoises, or even larger whales. An adult male orca can eat about 400 pounds per day. In theory, that means two harbor seals. However, orcas are very altruistic, and each kill that a pod makes will be shared amongst them. In addition, they’re able to skin and gut the seals, and then eat the more desirable muscles and other meat.

Another difference between transients and residents is their social structure. Yes, both are matriarchal, and in general led by the oldest female in the pod and stay with their mothers most or all of their life. However, the transients have a much more fluid social structure. In fact, today we were able to identify a male that has been separated from his mother and siblings a quite some time now. T77A, the son of T77 was with us today. He was swimming with a pod of 5-6 females and juveniles, whom I had never seen before. They all seemed to be taking pretty long dives, and may have been hunting, but we were able to get some really great looks at them and everyone on the boat was super excited to have seen them!

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Hawk, San Juan Safaris


San Juan Sightings

Friday, June 26th, 2015

On Thursday afternoon the folks on the Sea Lion got some great views of some J Pod orcas on the west side of San Juan Island! J Pod is one of the 3 pods that make up the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population. This group was wonderful to watch as they travelled south past Lime Kiln State Park. They appeared to be in a celebratory mood as they did some tail slaps, cartwheels (when they lift their tail out of the water and rotate it to the side before slapping it down), and even some breaches! Two whales breached parallel to each other and at the same time for a double breach! Woah, I didn’t think it could be any better except for the reason for our quick identification of some of these orcas is that J pod has some new members! Slick (J-16) had a calf in December 2014 (J-50) and Alki (J-36) had her calf in March 2015 (J-52). These two little calves are very adorable and will stick very close to their mothers to be safe and learn all they need to know about hunting for awhile now and they won’t receive nicknames until later in the summer. After we followed the orcas further south we said good bye and headed to Goose Island to view our local Harbor Seals. These seals are year round residents and are in the middle of pupping season so the low, rocky islets throughout the San Juans have seal pups hauled out trying to stay warm. Happy Summer everyone!


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Breaches, and Breaches, and Breaches

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Today we left the dock in high spirits with two options to see whales. Captain Mike certainly made the right choice, and as we came to decision time, the proverbial fork in the road, we headed North into the Haro Strait. The results couldn’t have been better.

Breaching killer whales are always impressive and as we got closer to a few other boats in the whale watching fleet, it was obvious we were in for a show. I counted at least six breaches before we even got close enough for most of our guests to see the whales. By the end of the trip I had lost count at 40.

When we approach a group of Killer Whales that has already been reported, we often know if they are Southern Residents or Transients, and potentially even which individuals are around. Today was no different, we had already heard K and L pods were traveling South off the coast of San Juan Island. However, had we not known Naturalist Alex and I would have looked at saddle patches first to figure out who we were looking at. Every trip offers different opportunities to learn the individuals that reside in the San Juan Islands during the season.

The weather was glorious and an area of the water that can be tumultuous with tide and wind was flat and calm all afternoon. We followed the intermingled pods, watching breach after breach, logging whales, and a lot of foraging behavior on our way South. We left them as they continued on, happy with amazing views of cavorting wild whales before glacier-capped volcanoes Rainier and Baker. And with a quick view of a Minke Whale on the way back, we were home in Friday Harbor.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Whales in the waves

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

With the boat freshly cleaned, the sun in the sky, and a report of whales headed southwest down Haro Straight, we departed from Friday Harbor at 1:30 on the dot. Shortly after riding through Cattle Pass, we spotted our first dorsal fins. We soon realized that we had A LOT of orcas with us, probably 40-50, likely some members of each J, K, and L pod. When multiple pods come together like this, it is very possible that it is a breeding event. As far as we know, the southern resident killer whales will mate across pods, but not within pods, and therefore avoid inbreeding.

How do they know who’s in which pod, you ask? Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family. That being said, they, like all dolphins, each have their own individual whistle, which play a huge role in identification.

With this many whales in one area, everyone on the boat could basically look in any direction and see dorsal fins breaking the surface. Everyone on the boat was delighted to see such a display of their sociality. After a nice long visit with these residents, we headed back to Friday Harbor.


Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Welcome back J Pod!

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

All three Resident Orca pods were away from the islands for a few days but returned to the area yesterday evening! This afternoon we met up with part of J pod, the J-16s, off of Henry Island. Slick (J-16) is the matriarch of this family and she was hunting with her adult son, Mike (J-26), her adult daughters, Alki (J-36) and Echo (J-42). There are two brand new members to this family as well! The new members are Slick’s daughter, J-50 who was born in December and Alki’s calf, J-52, who was born this March. These two were especially fun to watch as they almost fully come out of the water when they are breathing since they still have not fully mastered surfacing and breathing. This was a great family to watch as they moved together for a while and then separated to continue hunting. As Mike surfaced with his 6-foot tall dorsal fin one child on the boat exclaimed, “This is the best day ever!” and I have to say that I completely agree. After hanging with the J-16s we stopped by Gooch Island to look at some Harbor Seals and a wide array of our local sea bird population and a solitary bald eagle. We even got to stop by the J-16s again and they seemed to be having as much fun as we were when they started to porpoise a little (that’s when they swim really fast and gain speed by coming right to surface of the water to gain some lift as they travel at more than 20 mph!)

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transients at Bird Rocks

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

This afternoon, we set out from Friday Harbor with a full boat. In just a short trip, we arrived at Bird Rocks, where we had received a report of transient orcas. Sure enough, there they were, the T65As and T77s, along with all of the other whale watching boats from the islands. Shortly after catching our first glimpse of the whales, we spotted a harbor porpoise, maybe 100 yards in front of the pod. Harbor porpoises are one of the favorite prey for transient orcas, as they strictly eat marine mammals, and we assumed that this group was pursuing the lone porpoise. Adult male orcas, weighing in at upwards of 10,000 pounds, can eat 400 pounds of food in a single day. When orcas hunt, they work together to make a kill, and then share their prize amongst the pod.

Because were weren’t far from Friday Harbor, and they were moving in the direction of Friday Harbor, we were able to hang out with the whales for quite a long time, before wrapping up our awesome trip.


Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

North of the Wall: Transients are Coming

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Today was a very exciting day. We left the dock without any reports of whales. No humpback whales, no minke whales and unfortunately no reports of orcas. We started to steam North keeping our eyes out for any signs of marine mammals. We had the most amazing fly-over by a mature bald eagle and enjoyed traveling up the east side of Waldron Island through Presidents Channel under clear blue skies. Suddenly our Northern bet payed off, as some tall, black dorsal fins cut through the waves around Patos Island. TRANSIENT KILLER WHALES! We were lucky enough to join two family groups as they hunted and socialized in the Strait of Georgia around Alden Bank. We were fortunate enough to witness the groups make at least a couple of kills, and watch the two females present with the group spend time teaching their young ones the ways of being an orca… everything from how to best kill a seal to how to breach and slap the surface of the water with their tails. What a treat! On the way home we got to take a closer look at some harbor seals hauled out on some rocks. These small pinnipeds are at their carrying capacity on this ecosystem, meaning that they are at their maximum population that can be supported. They are adorable to see bobbing in the water! These are the days that really make me appreciate our sighting network, and our ability to go the distance to find whales. If you board our boat and we have no report of whales do not be discouraged, a lot of the time we end up finding them… because just like winter in Westeros, the whales are always coming.

Orca in the Mist

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

This evening Captain Pete and I left the dock on the ol’ Sea Lion in classic Pacific Northwest misty weather with a boat full of good natured passengers and reports of a male Killer Whale traveling on his own in Canadian waters.

After meeting everyone, we took off in search of wildlife. Right off the bat we spotted first one than a second Bald Eagle on San Juan Island. As we headed west through Spieden Channel we saw some harbor seals and harbor porpoise appearing breifly and then disappearing beneath the steely grey waters.

Boating through the San Juan Islands in the mist brings a slightly mystical dimension to our adventure and to me makes the entire atmosphere seem a bit more primordial.

As we left American waters crossing Haro Strait into the Canadian Gulf Islands, we began to see lots of seabirds and then suddenly a lone six-foot-tall black fin broke the surface and rose slowly into the mist before the Orca exhaled and returned beneath the waves. The solemn aspect of the mist and rain, especially with the evening sun in the West attempting to break through the clouds, added a special kind of beauty to this experience.

We identified the male as a Transient, or mammal-eating killer whale, number T049C. He is 17 years old and has two very distinct notches near the bottom of his dorsal fin. Transient Orcas have a much more fluid social structure than Resident whales, and it is not uncommon to see mature males traveling on their own.

This male was very mellow while traveling and even ignored a seal that surfaced near our boat. He maintained a slow and determined course through the evening fog as we were struck with awe each time his dorsal fin came into view against the backdrop of green islands, golden sunset and silvery clouds.

After sticking with T049C (really rolls off the tongue, right?) For a while, we decided to let him continue his lonesome journey while we made our way back to Friday Harbor, thus ending our magical evening out in the Salish Sea.


Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris