Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Gulf Islands and J Pod

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

We often tell guests that Killer Whales can travel 100 miles in a day, a point of reference for the potential for viewing them in this immense archipelago. As we left Friday Harbor we were witness to how far a group can travel. The morning reports had the J2 Matriline somewhere on the South end of San Juan Island but we were headed for the East entrance to Active Pass, about 50 miles away from where they’d started.

Personally heading up through the similar, but just slightly different island chain of the Canadian Gulf Islands is always a treat. While we’ll happily cross the border, going through Georgenson Pass is a serious endeavor but a beautiful trip, slipping between narrow islands the fan out between Plummer Sound and the Strait of Georgia. The long slog was worth it though, because not long after getting into the strait of Georgia we found the whales!

The J2 Matriline has been traveling with the J19s lately, which meant we had cute overload with this year’s calf J50 in tow. The animals were traveling in a tight cluster when we arrived but that didn’t stop J2 from showing us her belly while slapping the water with her tail. This appeared to have a great effect on the others because soon afterwards we had a handful of breaches and a few spy hops. As we left them traveling slowly East, we took a moment to enjoy the big bull, J27 who was following nearby but not with the rest of the group.

No day with breaching whales ends poorly!

Naturalist Brendan
M/V Sea Lion   San Juan Safaris

Flying Whales in Haro Strait!

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Today was (as usual) a fantastic day! My co-natty Erik, captain Mike and myself had a boat full of excited passengers, sunny skies and great whale reports ahead of us. We left the dock and headed south out of Friday Harbor towards Cattle Point. On our way through San Juan Channel we stopped to check out some cormorants and some harbor seals enjoying the sunshine on some rocks. Its currently pupping season for harbor seals! We saw a few little ones learning “banana pose” from the adults.

Harbor Seals are at Carrying capacity in this area, meaning that the ecosystem cannot handle many more seals than already exist. As an unfortunate result, there is about a 50% mortality rate for young seals or “weeners” as they are affectionately called. The good news is that more seals means more happy Transient Orcas!

We were not on our way to see Transients. As we rounded Cattle Point into Haro strait, we began to see fins! We were looking at members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, fish-eaters that follow salmon into the Salish Sea each summer. This summer is no different, we saw lots of big salmon jumping for joy out of the water, which is a clue as to what the whales were doing as we were watching them.

We identified a group as the K12 matriline and watched K22 (Seiku) and her son K33 (Tika) lazily feeding for a while. We then decided to head to another group further north near Lime Kiln Lighthouse where we ran into the K13 matriline! K13 (Skagit), her four children and 2 grandchildren were beinf particularly active and we got some great looks of K20 (Spock) and her son K38 (Comet). The whole pod spent time tailslapping, pec clapping and even cartwheeling (throwing tails up in the air) but the crown jewel was when Skagit breached! The first one was exciting enough, but then she breached again, and again! Hard to miss that shot. Watching a 9,000 pound carnivore propelling itself into the air is a spectacle that seems to happen in slow motion (when you arefortunate enough to not miss it) and is over far too quickly.

After watching the K13′s play around a bit more, we headed south to visit with the K12′s once more before embarking on the journey home. On our way back we crossed paths with a few more harbor seals in the water as well as a great blue heron fishing in a kelp bed. After that amazing whale experience it was like waking up from a dream as we came back to the dock in Friday Harbor.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Breaching orcas and a baby Bald Eagle

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

For the past few days, we’ve been meeting up with the residents on the west side of SJI, so today, when we had a report for Boundary Pass, we were excited to be able to switch things up. So, we left Friday Harbor and headed North. We met up with the K13s just between Saturna and South Pender Island. They were fairly spread out, but we got a good look at all 7 pod members and a good amount of breaches! We were lucky enough to hang out with them from there, all the way past Turn point and a little way down Stuart Island.

On our way back home, we went through Speiden channel with hopes of seeing one of the Bald Eagles that nests on Speiden, and we were not disappointed. We were able to see a nestling (almost turned fledgling) sitting just outside the nest. It was moving it’s wings around but did not fly. Young Bald Eagles often get confused for Golden Eagles (which we do not have here) because of their coloration. While they’ll grow to adult size in the first year, it takes 4-5 years for a Bald Eagle to get adult plumage, or a white head and white tail. Until then, they are a mottled brown color. We were able to spot 3 more (adult) Bald Eagles, as well as many deer, as we moved down Speiden. Overall, a successful whale watch and wildlife tour.

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

The Dorchestra

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

We left on the M/V Sea Lion for one of our spectacular sunset tours. Earlier that day we had seen a mixture of J and K pod heading north on the west side of San Juan Island. So, we headed north to see if we could meet up with them on the north side of the island. We first met up with a large group of J and K pod traveling really close to each other close to shore along Henry Island. We got some great looks as they calmly cruised northward. We soon broke off of this group and went to go see a smaller group of K pod a little bit more northward. Three orcas were circling in one area and probably hunting some salmon, and we even saw of medium sized salmon jumping as the sun was getting lower in the sky. One of these orcas was Cappuccino (K-21) a very big male in K pod who are a little bit easier to identify due to their large 6-foot tall dorsal fins. These three eventually met up with the other group and we got an amazing final view as the boat got quite and all surfaced one after the other and we could hear each one of them breathe loudly as the sunset gleamed on their black dorsal fins.


Until next time,


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Superpod, Super Day

Monday, July 6th, 2015

This trip was one of the best whale watches of my life. We motored off to the southwest side of San Juan Island, where we met up with the Southern residents, (and a minke whale!) At first, we could just see one or two whales here and there, surfacing sporadically. In time, however, they began to surface more often, and more predictably, more seemed to appear, and before we knew it, we were watching a greeting ceremony. Whales joined up to form larger and larger pods, and then each larger pod came together from different directions to form superpod! This year, the residents have been more fragmented than usual, meaning that you’re more likely to see just one or a few matrilines at a time, as opposed to all of J pod, for example, or all of the residents traveling together. This looser social structure seems to follow a pattern of low food availability, so to see them all come together like we did today is both super cool, and good news. It is also believed that superpod is a breeding event, members of J pod mating with members of K pod, and L pod, but never within pods. This joining of the residents was followed by ample surface activity, breaches, tail slaps, pec slaps, rolls, and spyhops. We spent our entire trip (excluding travel time) watching the whales, and I don’t think guests could have been happier.


Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Star Spangled Breaching

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Today was amazing. We left Friday Harbor (both at 1:30 and 5:30) with confirmed whale reports for the west side of the island. We made our way and soon enough were among dozens of Southern resident killer whales. This included the K13s, the J19s, and many other matrilines. Although they were fairly spread out at times, we are confident that they were traveling together because orcas can communicate from a few miles away from each other. Nonetheless, if I didn’t know any better, I would say that they knew it was Independence Day, and showed it with breach after breach after breach, in a way that was reminiscent of a firework display. But alas, it was just social behavior, one that seems to often follow a successful hunt–STILL AWESOME!

On the way out, we got a great look at about 20 harbor seals poking their heads out of the water just beyond Griffin Bay. If the tide is low enough, you’re more likely to see harbor seals laying almost motionlessly on a rock, so it was quite a treat to see them in the water where they are so much more agile. A big difference between seals and see lions is the way they move both on land and in the water. On land, seals must inch along kind of like clumsy, chubby inch worms, but sea lions can tuck their back flippers underneath their hips, and use those and their front flippers to walk on all fours. In the water however, seals and sea lions are a much more even match, although still move differently. Sea lions will use their giant front flippers to propel themselves, while seals rely on their back flippers moving side to side to propel them through the water.


Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Oh, Orcas Celebrate Canada Day

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

First of all Happy Canada Day Everyone! Woo and what a Canada Day it has been. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I left Friday Harbor with a super fun group and a very sunny day. There were some reports of Killer Whales a little south of Discovery Island, which is just off the southern tip of Vancouver Island. So despite what people tell you it the temperature doesn’t immediately drop ten degrees when we cross into Canadian waters, but I so try to start saying units in  metric though. We soon caught up with a group of J pod and K pod that were spreading out pretty wide and showing a variety of behaviours. The first family group we looked at was the J-2′s, we saw J-2, Granny, along with Onyx, L-87. Both of these individuals have fantastic stories. Granny is the oldest living orca on record at 104 years old this year! Onyx’s (L-87) mother died and so has been traveling with other pods it looks like he’s been adopted into J pod. This group had about 8 swimming together and was in a pretty tight swimming pattern. It was so amazing to see all of their dorsal fins rise and fall in the water in sync. Next we went a little bit further south and saw the J-16 family group with Slick, J-16, and the two new members of J pod J-50 and J-52. These two aren’t even a year old yet and we saw one of the young ones practice porpoising (where they swim really fast at the water’s surface to get an extra kick of speed). We then moved south and watched an adult male, Blackberry (J-27), swim for awhile with his hug dorsal fin! The male orcas start to develop their tall dorsal fins when they are around 12-15 years old. At full height this dorsal fin can reach 6 feet tall! We once again bid farewell to our Southern Resident Killer Whales friends and started to make our way back to Friday Harbor, but little did we know that our awesome Canada Day was far from over! Close to Cattle Point we came across three Minke Whales! These are about the same size as an orca but are the resident baleen whales! Where orcas have teeth, Minkes have baleen with are keratin strands that they use to filter out all the small fish they feed on. One of the Minkes looked pretty young and it was very peaceful to watch these relatives to the Blue Whale surface and dive for awhile. After that we caught a glimpse of a Bald Eagle swooping to attack a floating and unsuspecting seabird! Last,but certainly not least we saw a mother Harbor Seal swimming with her new pup off of San Juan Island. Woah, that was a fun and exhausting day, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Canada Day than with orcas in Canadian waters, eh?


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Residents up and down the West side

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Today we embarked from Friday Harbor without having decided which report we were going to pursue, having heard that there were whales North of East Point, as well as on the west side. We turned south in San Juan Channel to try our luck on the West side. On our way out there, we passed Goose Island. Unfortunately, Goose Island caught on the fire the other day, and a large portion of the nests (of 4 bird species) burned up in the flames. The smell of smoke is evident if you are downwind.

Just as we passed South Beach, we came across our first pod of Southern resident killer whales. There, we were able to get some good looks at a few females and an adult male. They were surfacing very infrequently, which led us to believe that they may have been pursuing some salmon.

We then shot off a mile or so North, to observe a second pod of residents, which appeared to be a number of different family groups. They were much mores surface active, with a few tails slaps and pectoral fin slaps on the water. We also saw two adult males in very close contact, which is not typical. We were able to identify them as male, because of the size and shape of their dorsal fin. Males, with a straight triangular shaped dorsal fin, up to 6 feet tall. The dorsal fin of a female is more of a crescent shape and won’t get more than 2-3 feet in height. However, it is easy to mistake a young male for a female, because they don’t begin to really lengthen that dorsal fin until about 15 years of age.

After getting in a good dose of resident orca sightings, we headed back down the island and around Cattle Point to get back to Friday Harbor.

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

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