Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Humpback in Haro

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Departing Roche Harbor Captain Mike, the guests, and I headed towards Spieden Island.  As is common for this time of year, we did not have any whale reports when leaving the dock, but this did not dampen our spirits!  After enjoying the green hill side and many hoofed animals, we received a call on the radio that a humpback had been spotted!

Big Mama, a local female humpback was swimming in Haro Strait headed north.  We were able to watch and enjoy her surfacing slowly and many tail flukes as we accompanied her.  Humpback whales can reach lengths of 60ft and 90,000 lbs!

After visiting Big Mama, we viewed Steller Sea Lions and many Bald Eagles before returning to home port.

While it was a chilly day on the water, the sights were breathtaking and we cannot wait for more humpback encounters!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transient Orcas on the West Side

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

With guests aboard and the sun on our backs, we were feeling lucky just being out on the water.   To make the day even better, a call came in that there were transient orcas on the west side of San Juan  Island!  We motored around the north end of San Juan and caught up with two of the members of the T137s near Lime Kiln State Park  We followed the pair north to Henry Island where they made a kill, which was likely a harbor seal.  After the commotion of the hunt, the other two members of the group came out of no where to enjoy the meal!  These orcas were spotted over a hundred miles north in Nanaimo BC just yesterday!

On the way home we saw many Bald Eagles and Steller Sea Lions hanging out on Spieden Island.  We cannot wait to be back on the water next week!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

New Baby Orca Joins L Pod

Friday, February 27th, 2015

We had more great news yesterday when NOAA reported a new member of L Pod!  NOAA, who has been conducting research on the Southern Resident Orcas located L Pod off of Westport WA.  Westport is located on the Pacific Coast near the Columbia River.  L94 appears to be the mother to young L121.  This is the second calf for L94, Calypso, who had L113 in 2009.  L119, born in 2012, is the last calf that has survived in L Pod.  In the fall of 2014 L120, born to L86, only survived the first months of life.  Unfortunately, there is a very high mortality rate for orca calves.  Luckily, L121 seems spunky and healthy.

L121 marks the 3rd calf in just 2 months.  J50 and J51 have both been spotted regularly looking happy and healthy.  We certainly hope the 3 newest members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales continue to grow and become lasting member of the community.   Now at 80 individuals, the SRKW community seems to be on the rise, something we could not be more excited about!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris


Another Baby Orca for 2015!

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Late last week another baby orca was spotted in the Salish Sea and confirmed by the Center for Whale Research.  The newest member belongs to J Pod and is designated J51.  The calf of 36 year old J19 seemed to be happy and healthy as it swam alongside its mother.  It is estimated that the calf is about a week and a half old.  J50, born at the end of 2014, was also spotted looking healthy and energetic.  J50 has even been confirmed a female, which is great news for J Pod.  The first year of life for baby orcas can be very difficult and we certainly hope these two little ones make it!  The birth of J51 brings the population up to 79 animals and we are very excited at the upward trend.  We can only hope there are more baby orcas to come!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

Almost Back on the Water!

Friday, February 6th, 2015

A week from tomorrow, we are finally getting back on the water!  We are running a special Valentine’s Day Wildlife Tour and cannot wait to feel the cool breeze aboard the M/V Sea Lion.  Even though we are not in Southern Resident Killer Whale season, we hope that transients will be in the waters around San Juan Island.  While the SRKWs do sometimes enter the sound in the winter months, it is transient orcas that are spotted the most during this time of year.  Transient orcas do not migrate or have a set travel path, so it is always possible that they are traveling in our waters.   A single transient has been spotted in Alaska, then Washington, and continuing down the west coast of North America.  Wherever the food is plentiful, the orcas will go.  Thankfully, our harbor seal population is thriving here in the Salish Sea.  Harbor Seals are the preferred food source for transient orcas consisting of 60% of their diet.  We cannot wait to enjoy seals, sea lions, eagles, and all the sea birds and we  hope orcas make an appearance next weekend!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

Orcas of the PNW

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Across all the worlds oceans there are at least 10 ecotypes of orcas, and possibly even more.  An ecotype is a distinct population of animals separated by diets, region, or social factors from the whole species.  Currently there is only one Orcinus Orca, but some argue that is it time to give separate species names to some of these ecotypes.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have what are known as resident orcas.   Resident orcas diverged genetically about 13,000 years ago.  This means that their genes are completely different from that of other orca ecotype!  In the wild, different ecotypes do not cross bread and often avoid each other.  Resident orcas are separated by diet, which consists of 90% salmon here in the San Juans, and family grouping.  Resident orcas travel is large family groups made up of matrilines.  These family groups, or pods, can consist more than 40 members!

Another ecotype often spotted in the San Juans, are transient orcas.  Transient orcas are marine mammal eaters and tend to travel in smaller groups.  Since their prey is harder to catch, it is advantageous to travel in a group of 3-6 animals, but sometimes transient orcas will travel solo or in groups of 15 or more!  Researchers think that we are starting to see the transient orca population become prey specific.  Since hunting is passed down from mother to offspring, if the mother does not know how to hunt a minke whale, then neither will the offspring.  It is possible that we will start seeing specialized hunting tactics by transient orcas, and only some will hunt minke whales, and others porpoises, and still other seals.

Offshore orcas also inhabit the waters of the PNW, but very little is know about this ecotype of orca.  Since they travel off shore, hence the name, they are hard to spot.  It is believed that this group feeds mostly on pelagic sharks and large schooling, fish such as tuna.

The more we are able to observe these creatures in the wild, the more we understand what makes each group different and unique.  Only time will tell if there are more ecotypes to be discovered!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

San Juan Island’s Rain Shadow

Friday, January 16th, 2015

The Pacific Northwest is known for its rainfall.  And we are not complaining.  The rainfall here means full rivers, green grass, and a wonderful temperate summer.   While places like the Olympic Peninsula get up to 60 inches of rain a year and Seattle close to 40 inches, San Juan Island receives as little as 15 inches of annual rain fall.  Why the difference?  San Juan Island is in a rain shadow, which acts as a kind of umbrella for the islands.  Here in the San Juans we are surrounded by mountains.  With the Cascades to the east, the Olympic Peninsula to the south, and Vancouver Island to the west, San Juan is protected from many storms.  Rain clouds are low and heavy, making it easy for them to get “stuck” on the surrounding mountains.  This phenomenon makes San Juan Island relatively dry in the winter.  There are plenty of gray days, and this year plenty of sunny ones too, here on San Juan Island, but it can be an escape for the down pours of the surrounding areas.

With a mild winter and an amazing summer, San Juan Island is a wonderful place to visit and call home.

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

New Orca Calf is a Girl!

Friday, January 9th, 2015

There is a lot of mystery surrounding new baby orca J50, but one thing is now clear.  It’s a girl!  The telling photograph was snapped and everyone could not be happier with the results.  A healthy population needs females in order to continue matrilines and produce more offspring.  Currently the Southern Resident Killer Whale population has more breeding age males than females, which does not bode well for future offspring.  We can only hope that little J50 survives this first crucial year and then continues to grow and thrive into adulthood.  Females typically become sexually mature around 13 years of age and will typically have 4 calves in a lifetime.  Orcas travel in matrilines, which means that the group is defined by the mothers, so it is very exciting that the J16 matriline continues to grow.

Speaking of J16, researchers are now unclear if she is indeed the mother or grandmother.  J50 has rake marks on her dorsal fin, and researches think that another orca helped with the birth of the new orca calf.  Orcas are very social and intelligent creatures, making an orca midwife not too far fetched.  J36, J16′s daughter, is another possible candidate for being J50′s mother. J16, at 43 years of age, would be the oldest known orca to give birth to a healthy calf.  At 16 years of age, J36, has yet to have a calf and everyone has been eagerly awaiting the day.  J16 was not on scene with the rest of her family when J50 was first observed and it is possible she was recovering from a tough delivery and letting grandma do a little baby sitting.  J50 has been observed leaving J16′s side, which leads some to believe that she is not the mother, as typically calves never leave mom’s side.  Through further encounters and observation, we hope to figure out the mystery surrounding J50′s birth.  For now, we are just happy that the little orca seems happy, healthy, and playful!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

A New Baby for a New Year!

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Well, it’s official!  A new calf has been confirmed in the Southern Resident Killer Whales, bringing their numbers to 78 animals.  It is believed that J16 gave birth to the new calf just a few days ago as the calf was first spotted near San Juan Island today.  42 year old J16, or Slick, is a seasoned mother, having already raised 5 other calves.  We hope that with her knowledge the newest member of J Pod survives the first crucial year of life.  The sex of the baby orca will take time to determine, as we have to wait for the little one to breach and a perfectly timed photo to happen.  Often, whales are not sexed for the first year or so of life.

The birth of J50 comes at a crucial time having just lost J32 due to complications during pregnancy and L120 just a month after being born.  A new SRKW is a high note to end 2014 and hopefully signals many more wonderful things to come in 2015!

Congrats to J16 and welcome to the Salish Sea J50!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

Happy Winter Solstice!

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Well Folks, the shortest day of the year has arrived are we are ready for the sun to stay up past 4:15! These cold northwest nights have us dreaming of kayaking on blue bird days and enjoying campfire cooking.  With 2015 just around the corner, it is an excellent time to start looking ahead to summer vacation plans.  Overnight Kayak Tours are an excellent way to spend a weekend – or even a week! We run full service tours that provide all the gear and food so all you need to do is bring clothes and be ready for a trip you won’t soon forget!  Overnight Kayak Tours are great for all ages and can be customized to fit your group’s needs.  Doing a multi day tour also means that your chances of seeing orcas from a kayak increase!

Speaking of orcas, Southern Resident Killer Whales and Transient Killer Whales have been spotted in the Salish Sea throughout December.  Today there are reports of a large group of orcas, which sound like our SRKWs! During the winter months, resident orcas will travel as far south as Monterey Bay, California and up the West Coast of Vancouver Island in search of salmon.  J Pod tends to hang out in the Salish Sea more often than either K or L pod and is periodically spotted during these winter months.  While the resident orcas are fishing out at sea, transient orcas will be seen more regularly as there is a very healthy supply of their favorite meal: harbor seal.

We hope everyone is enjoying a nice cup of tea around a fire!

Naturalist Emily