Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

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

Residents in the Straight of Georgia

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

This afternoon we left Friday Harbor with a report of orcas on the west side of SJI, as well as some way up north, heading south. In favor of avoiding choppy seas, we opted for the group that was further north. We stumbled across the whales a few miles north of East Point. There, we were able to identify Granny (J-2) and her group, as well as the J-19s. Everyone was delighted to see baby J-51 swimming close along Eclipse’s (J-41) side. Young calves spend a lot of their time in their mother’s slip stream, or the current generated by swimming (generally just behind her dorsal fin on either side.) This pod appeared to be mostly just traveling, and not hunting, as they surfaced often and did not change direction. Orcas can travel up to 100 miles per day. We were however, able to catch a glimpse of a few tail slaps and pectoral fin slaps at the surface. These behaviors are social, but no one knows exactly what they mean. Lucky for us, the pod was heading south all the way to East Point, so we were able to spend a good bit of time with them (since we were also headed south back to Friday Harbor). We ended the trip with a good Bald Eagle sighting, and a boat full of happy guests.


Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

JK in Haro Strait

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Today Captain Mike along with Sarah and myself took off from the dock in Friday Harbor with a warm sun in the sky, a boat full of excited passengers, and reports of resident killer whales in Haro Strait, on the west side of San Juan Island. I had a feeling it was going to be an awesome trip because before we left there was a “Sundog” in the sky, a full rainbow around the sun. We headed south toward Cattle Point where we saw lots of seals with their heads bobbing up and down in the water like a game of whak-a-mole. At low tide, we will typically see tens of seals hauled out on exposed rocks to sun themselves and enjoy a respite from the chilly water of the Salish Sea. We rounded Cattle Point and began to head north and as the Lime Kiln lighthouse came into view so did black dorsal fins breaking the surface of the water. As we got a bit closer, we saw first one then another huge dorsal fin break the surface, the sign of two large males.  Killer whales, like many animals, exhibit “sexual dimorphism”, meaning that males and females have different physical characteristics. This can sometimes be a result of sexual selection, for example females choosing the crab with the largest fin or male elephant seals becoming larger than females to battle one another for mating rights. In Orcas, mature females retain a short and curved fin after reaching maturity while males dorsal fins sprout skyward to reach an impressive height of six feet when fully grown! The role of the dimorphism in Killer whales is not very well understood.

The whales we saw were a smattering of groups from J pod and K pod including the K12 matriline, from which we saw multiple breaches, spyhops and tail lobs from Sekiu and Tika and the J22 matriline or “cookie clan” including Cookie and her offspring Prep and Doublestuff.

We stayed with them for quite a while as they all were very active and happy while fishing and swimming along the west side. They graced us with all sorts of happy whale activity until we had to head back to friday harbor.

On the way back we saw bald eagles a’plenty as well as some harbor seals and harbor porpoise. Another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!


Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Residents and Transients

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with reports of residents orcas near East Point.  As we traveled towards the reports of resident orcas we received a separate report of transient orcas near by.  We first went to see the transient orcas which were specifically the T124A’s consisting of T124A, an adult female born in 1984, and her four offspring.  The orcas were first seen at the entrance of the strait of Georgia near boiling reef.  The waterway got its name because it is an area with strong current exchange giving the appearance of boiling water.  We watched the family of orcas traveling southwest at a relaxed pace.  After watching the transients we were lucky enough to go see the resident orcas, specifically parts of J and K pod.  The residents were spread out and participating in a lot of surface activity.  We were lucky enough to see a big male K26 (Lobo) breach twice in a row.  We don’t get to see big males breach like that very often so that was a great treat!  Not only are males larger in body size but they also have abnormally large pectoral and dorsal fins in comparison to the females.  A fully grown adult male can have dorsal fin that reaches 6 feet in height.  Our guests were fortunate to get to see the two ecotypes of orcas that we see in this area.  We had a wonderful day out on the water!

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transients, Birds, Humpback and Seals

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Today Captain Mike, Brendan and I spent a bright and warm day out on the water. We left the dock with no reports of orcas, but some Transients were reported just as we pulled out of Friday Harbor. There are two ecotypes of killer whales that swim in the waters of the Salish Sea: Residents and Transients. The Residents are the famous three pods of salmon-eaters, while the Transients are marine mammal eaters focusing most of their attention on harbor seals. We met up with the group of Transients right off of Sidney Island, BC, and it turned out to be my absolutely favorite family of Ts….. The T65As!!!! T65A is a female who has a very pronounced nick out of the trailing tip of her dorsal fin. Sh travels with her four kiddos, T65A2, A3, A4, & A5. We spent some quality time with the family as they leisurely made a kill and started to get a bit surface-active, splashing around and generally celebrating having full bellies. We left them as they started to settle down so that we could check out some nearby seabird colonies. We were treated to views of cormorants and various gull species as well as a VERY nice look at a bald eagle. As we finished looking at the birds yet another report came over the radio, this time of a humpback whale near Spieden Island. We got some very nice looks at the young humpback whale, and continued on our way to check out some harbor seals hauled out on a rock. These little critters can be 4-5 feet long and weigh right around 200-250 pounds. On land they flop around and are no so graceful, but in the water they can be described as acrobatic. We motored back to Friday Harbor with the sun shining on our backs and smiles on our faces. Yet another great day on the water.

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

Humpbacks in the Georgia Strait

Friday, June 12th, 2015

This evening Captain Mike and I left the dock with excited passengers, warm breeze on the water and a report of humpbacks in Canadian waters. We headed north out of Friday Harbor and up the San Juan Channel toward East Point on Saturna Island, the easternmost point of the Canadian Gulf Islands. We stopped here to check out a haul out of harbor seals (or as we call them Pacific Northwest Rock Sausages) and some pairs of black oystercatchers feeding on intertidal invertebrates. After our brief visit with our pinniped friends, we continued to the Northwest in the Strait of Georgia towards the lowering sun and TWO tall columns of steam on the horizon. Could it be humpbacks?

As we neared where we saw the blows we slowed down and heard a massive WHOOSH as first one then the other humpback blew as we saw their massive black backs emerge from the water. Despite what we all may have seen in Finding Nemo, humpback whales do not actually swallow any water that then emerges from their blowhole, in fact their mouths are not connected to their respiratory system at all. Their “blowholes” are actually a huge pair of nostrils that have migrated to the top of their head over evolutionary time. Each one is contained by a splash guard that traps about three gallons of water when they come to the surface. To clear this water, a humpback will exhale at about 300 miles per hour from its monstrous lungs, vaporizing this water  into the ten to twenty foot plume of steam that we see above the water.

We hung out and watched these magnificent animals for a while in the waning sunlight and got some great looks at their flukes as they dove to feed on herring. In what seemed like much too short of a time, it was time for us to wave goodbye as we saw their flukes disappear under the water for the last time.

Even though we left the humpys, we had a great scenic ride ahead of us through Georgensun Pass and Plumper Sound where we saw numerous eagles, an occupied osprey nest, and more seals. We finally made our way back through San Juan Channel back to Friday Harbor where our passengers disembarked with smiles on their faces after a magical evening on the water.

another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris


Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Today we left Friday harbor with reports of orcas off the west side of San Juan Island.  We heard reports of K pod in the area for the first time this season.  As we headed out our anticipation grew for the possibility of exciting whale viewing.  We got west of Henry Island and came upon the leading group of orcas.  We let them pass by and got to see a large group of orcas that consisted of about 20 individuals.  This group included members of J and K pod.  We then saw a few whales from L pod as well and at that point we knew that we had encountered a superpod.  Superpod is when all 81 whales in the southern resident community come together and socialize in one area.  We watched the amazing sight of all of the orcas breaching, tail slapping, pectoral slapping, rolling and social touching.  We had an absolutely superb day out on the water with the whales!  As we headed back to Friday Harbor we stopped by to see a bald eagles nest and we were lucky enough to see a chick in the nest.  Luckily it was large enough that was visible from the water.  We then got some great looks at a pod of harbor porpoise swimming through San Juan Channel.  Today was an absolutely amazing day out on the water!  First picture taken by Naturalist Sarah.  Second picture taken by naturalist Rachel.  Both pictures were taken on our tour today.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Residents off South Pender

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with a report of orcas traveling south at a fast past around East Point.  We headed towards boundary pass in order to meet the whales as they traveled south.  When we came upon the whales they were very spread out through the northern end of boundary pass.  It is very common to see the whales spread out over wide distances in order to cover the most distance to find salmon.  We watched the J16′s which consists of the matriarch J16  (Slick) and her four offspring J26 (Mike), J36 (Alki), J42 (Echo) and J50, her newest offspring.  J36 also had a new calf this winter, J52 who will be named at the end of this upcoming summer.  We then got to see the L47′s which consists of L47 (Marina) and her three offspring L83 (Moonlight), L91 (Muncher) and L115 (Mystic).  Also with the L47′s is L83s offspring L110 (Midnight).  The L47′s were traveling as a tight knit group at a faster pace then the J16′s were traveling.  After watching the L47′s we then got to see J16 eating a salmon!  We watched the J16′s traveling and socializing together which included some behaviors such as breaching and spyhopping!  On our way home we got to see some seals sun bathing on the rocks and a bald eagle in flight.  Below is a picture of J36 (Alki) and her offspring J52 taken by Rachel on the trip today.  It was a great day out on the water and we hope our guests enjoyed it as much as we did!



Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Day with two HBs and a some Js!

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Today the M/V Sea Lion set out with some very excited passengers who had spotted orcas from the ferry! A sighting from the ferry definitely does not happen everyday, but it is so exciting when it does……. it’s always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife no matter where you are! We headed east towards Rosario Strait in the far side of Orcas Island from San Juan. We were treated to a bald eagle fly-over and some beautiful views of the islands and mountains as we cruised by. While underway, captain Mike got a report of two humpback whales in close proximity to the orcas, so of course we needed to check them out! The whales were on the move and we got to spend some quality time with them, and as out last look the whales rose, exhaled, took a breath, and dove together. After spending some time with the humpbacks we motored over to Cypress Island where J pod had been reported. We got to spend some blissful time with all 27 members of J pod as they lazily made their way up the coast. The highlight of the day was a TRIPLE spyhop, when three whales simultaneously vertically raised their heads above the water. It as a behavior I have never seen before, and it was amazing! After some quality time with the Js, we started to meander our way back to Friday Harbor, while taking some time to see some harbor seals and a bald eagle. The weather was amazing and the wildlife was even better. Another day for the books!

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

Active Orcas in Active Pass

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion was crewed by Captain Mike and naturalists Mike and Alex. We were joined by Captain Jim and naturalist Rachel on the Kittiwake out on the water today! We had lots of happy, adventurous and curious passengers and reports of whales! J Pod had been spotted in Canadian waters so we headed North out of Friday Harbor up toward boundary pass. We made our way up through Plumper Sound to Active pass, which connects Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia.

J Pod is a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the only pipulation that is federally recognized as endangered. Their diet consists mainly of Chinook salmon that return to the Salish Sea from the open ocean in order to spawn in the Frasier river. They enter through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and get pushed up against the west side of San Juan Island as they head north towards Boundary Pass and Georgia Strait up into the Frasier river, where they will exert the remaining energy of their life to spawn. The resident Orcas tend to swim along this same path towards the estuary, eating salmon as they go.

Today was no different, we caught up with most of J Pod in Active Pass including the J17, J19 and J22 matrilines. We got some great views of J27 (Blackberry) and J51, a new calf of J19. It’s always incredible to see the imposing 6 foot tall dorsal fin of a mature male and always fun to see a baby whale porpoising along behind its mom.

We followed these whales all the way through the pass out into the Strait of Georgia where they became extremely happy and began spyhopping and breaching! After they calmed down a bit we headed off to let them be whales. Just when we thought we were out of whales, we came up on a Humpback just as it was blowing! it came up for a few more breaths before sounding and showing its flukes. We took that as a wave goodbye and began the journey back to Friday Harbor.

Along the way we saw lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise, the former hauled out and enjoying the sun and the latter appearing above the water briefly to breathe before slipping back beneath the surface.

A really nice, beautiful day on the water with fantastic wildlife sightings in the San Juans!


Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris