Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Humpys in the Strait of Georgia

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

The Sea Lion left the dock today crewed by Captain Pete and Naturalists Mike and Alex.  We had clear skies, a fantastic group of passengers and reports of a humpback whale to the North. We began to see wildlife right outside the harbor with a bald eagle regally perched in a tree and a pod of harbor porpoise close behind the boat. As we motored north we passed several more groups of the little porpoises, which are the most common and smallest cetacean found in the Salish Sea. Unlike their active and exuberant cousins the Dall’s porpoise, harbor porpoise are shy, reserved and most active at night when they feed on small fish that make a nightly migration to surface waters.

Once we were in view of Patos island, we began to look out for the spout of our humpback. This spout, or blow, is actually the result of several gallons of seawater that gets trapped above their blowholes. The whales clear this water by exhaling at 300 miles per hour! this massive sneeze vaporizes the trapped water to form the ten to twenty foot “spout” that we typically see.

Despite our knowledge and expertise on what to look for, none of us were expecting what we saw next. I looked out to see a massive tail flailing in the air, coming down with a huge splash! Captain Pete took us toward this spectacle and we realized that there were actually two humpbacks lobbing their tails, or flukes, around in the middle of Georgia Strait. These animals are so massive (up to 45 feet) that barnacles regularly grow on them, especially on the edges of their flukes. Tail lobbing behavior might be a way to try and knock some of those hitchhikers off.

We caught the “tail” end of that show, as after the excitement things settled down. We got to watch and listen to them take some deep breaths and then raise their enormous flukes as they both dove to feed. Humpbacks regularly feed on herring and sandlance (same as the harbor porpoise) and will take several hundred pounds of fish in a single mouthful during a feeding dive!

After a while of watching, we decided to say goodbye to the Humpbacks and make our way back home. We stopped to look at some harbor seals hauled out near East Point, and they looked right back at us!

All in all a great day, had a Whale of a time! (the jokes just get worse from there)

 

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transients and Dall’s and hybrids, Oh my!

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

We started this trip with smiles on our faces because of the warm weather, and ended it the same way because of the spectacular wildlife we encountered. With no orca reports when we left the dock, we headed North to try our luck. On the way, we spotted an abundance of harbor porpoises, their tiny dorsal fins rolling at the surface as an indication of their presence.

Much to our delight, we soon received notice of two transient orcas between Saturna and South Pender island near the Java islets. There, everyone on board was able to get a great look at the individuals. Remember that transient orcas are mammal eaters, and we suspect that some of the erratic, sudden movements that we observed today may have been them making a kill! Based on their distinct dorsal fins, we were able to ID them as T077A and T124C, two unrelated males. This was a great example of the more fluid social structure that transient orcas are known to have, as compared to residents which stay in their maternal family group throughout life. It would be very unlikely to see two unrelated resident males both without their mother. However, we have no doubt that these boys that were hanging out today will eventually regroup with their more immediate family.

As if everyone on the boat wasn’t excited enough to have seen the transients, we then came across some Dall’s porpoises off of Stuart Island. These porpoises can swim up to 36 miles per hour, thanks to their streamlined shape and incredibly powerful peduncle muscles. They also move so fast and breath so powerfully, that they barely break the surface to breath, and therefore create what’s called a “rooster tail,” which is a big spout of water and air (that resembles the extravagant tail of a rooster). AND as if THAT wasn’t enough, Captain Mike spotted and pointed out a hybrid porpoise–the offspring of a Dall’s porpoise and harbor porpoise. It has the shape of a Dall’s, but coloration that more resembles harbor porpoises. This is a fairly new discovery in the scientific community, so the fact that everyone got a good look at one had me almost in tears!

We also got a great look at some harbor seals, a Stellar sea lion, and even some mating Bald Eagles–which are known for mating in very synchronous flight. All of this combined with the great weather made for an awesome day on the Sea Lion.

 

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Trifecta!

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with reports of transient orcas near Victoria, BC.  We headed West and traveled for a distance until we met the transients a little ways past Race Rocks.  We were lucky enough to see T18 and her family heading out towards the open pacific ocean.  After looking at the transient family for a while we went looking for a humpback nearby which we ended up getting a great look at.  Orcas, which are toothed cetaceans, live in family groups called pods in comparison to humpback whales, a type of baleen cetacean, which are generally solitary.  After seeing the humpback surface a few times we headed back towards Friday Harbor.  On our trip back we came across a Minke Whale, another type of baleen cetacean, making a trifecta of our whale watching trip! We stopped by whale rocks on our way back to the dock and watch a group of curious and playful Stellar sea lions socializing in the water.  Also on whale rocks, we saw a pair of bald eagles feeding on a salmon that they had caught.  We had an absolutely amazing day for wildlife viewing and hope that our guests enjoyed the trip as much as the rest of us did!

 

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

San Juan T Party!

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Much like the infamous night in Boston Harbor, the waters around San Juan Island were full of Ts…. transient orcas that is! Also known as Bigg’s killer whales these impressive creatures eat other marine mammals, with harbor seals making up 60% of their diet. This afternoon and evening we were treated to two amazing transient-filled trips! This afternoon at 12:00 we found the T65A matriline with the T75B matriline, as well as the HUGE male T51 (born 1981). The most exciting sighting of the day was of the new calf in the T65A matriline. This new little one joins a whole host of new orca calves, both resident and transient, here in the Salish Sea!

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

J Pod on the West Side

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

Today the M/V Sea Lion left the dock with Captain Mike, naturalists Mike and Tyler, and a boat full of excited passengers. We had reports of Orcas traveling up the west side of San Juan Island so despite a few clouds, we were all smiling. On our way around the south end of the island, we stopped at Whale Rocks off of Cattle Point to check out some pinniped action! We were able to see harbor seals and Stellar’s sea lions hauled out on the rocks while a bald eagle perched on top. It is always nice to see both the diminutive harbor seal and the impressive Stellar’s Sea lion in the same area because we are able to point out some of the differences between seals and sea lions. In addition to sheer size (harbor seals weigh in at around 300lbs while Stellar’s sea lions take the cake at a whopping 2,500lbs!), Sea lions have external ear flaps and are able to bring their hind flippers underneath their bodies in order to “walk” on land. Seals, after evolving to life in the water, lost those ear flaps in favor of a hydrodynamic body form and use their hind flippers only while swimming. Seeing both of these animals at the same time usually helps avoid confusion!

After taking a look at our flippered friends, we began heading north on the west side towards False Bay, where we got our first looks at huge black dorsal fins slicing through the water. After counting about 14 whales spread out in discreet groups, we determined that we were watching members of J pod including the matriline of J2 or Granny. Granny, at an estimated 104 years old, is the oldest known killer whale in the world! Her pod was very active while swimming along the coast, gracing us with awesome views of tail lobbing, spy hops, and even a few breaches! We also got some fantastic looks at J27, Blackberry, as he slowly raised his massive dorsal fin and showed off his distinct saddle patch.

After watching mesmerized for what seemed like forever, but was really far too short a time, we said goodbye to J pod and began our journey back to Friday Harbor. We stopped to witness a large pod of harbor porpoise feeding on a school of fish along with some seals and a lone sea lion before making our way home. All in all a great trip full of incredible wildlife!

Naturalist Mike

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

 

Orcas at East Point

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Today Captain Mike left the dock with rumors of Orcas from J pod near Saturna Island. As we made our way north out of Friday Harbor, we had calm water and awesome views of bald eagles, harbor seals and even a few harbor porpoise. After cruising in gorgeous weather with views of the San Juan Islands, we arrived at Java rocks to see Killer whales from J pod! after seeing several females and the dorsal fin of a tiny calf, we realized that it was the J 16 matriline. The whole crew was present, including the matriarch J 16 (slick), her daughters J 36 (Alki) and J 42 (Echo) and her very recognizable son J 26 (Mike). In addition we saw J 50 and J 52, two of the newest additions to J pod! Both of these calves are descendants of Slick, J 50 is her daughter (making Slick, at age 42, the oldest female to have a calf) and J 52 is the daughter of Alki. Slick must still be excited about being a new mother and grandmother, because we saw her perform a series of very impressive breaches! There is nothing like seeing a full grown, black and white killer whale completely out of the water.

At first the pod was quite spread out, but we did get to see them come together, some great breaching, some very cute calf swimming, and some tail in the air as some pod members did some synchronous diving. That was our cue to say goodbye and begin heading back down south. On our return journey, we got to see some more bald eagles on Spieden island and lots of seals hanging out on some exposed rocks near the Cactus Islands. All in all a great trip with some wonderful weather, fantastic whale sightings and good times had by all!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

www.sanjuansafaris.com

Orcas at Point Roberts

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Today we left the dock on the M/V Sea Lion with a gorgeous day on our hands.  We had reports of J Pod up North heading South towards Point Roberts.  We headed in that direction and had a nice cruise through the San Juans towards the whale reports.  On our way we stopped at East Point and got to see some harbor seals as well as some Stellar sea lions.  We got to see first hand some of the main differences between the sea lions and seals.  One of those differences is the sea lions ability to rotate their long flippers allowing them to walk on all fours.  Compared to seals which have short flippers and basically flop around on land.  Once we reached Point Roberts we got to see the J16 matriline which includes J16 (Slick) Her four offspring J26 (Mike), J42 (Echo), J50 (New baby!), and J36 (Alki) as well as J36′s new baby J52.  We watched the two new calves, which are about two months old, tail slapping and breaching while keeping up with the foraging family.  After looking at all the females we then went and saw J26, who was doing his own thing a little ways a way from the females.  After watching the whales feed for some time we decided to head back towards Friday Harbor through President Channel.  We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day out on the water today!

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Dall’s Porpoise at Play in Boundary Pass

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

When a Captain decides to take the Sea Lion up North into Boundary Pass and beyond, I’m always hopeful. We left with reports of a Humpback near East Point on Saturna Island, which is what we aimed for leaving the dock. We got to see a lot more.

 

Meandering up North our guests were treated to Steller Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, and a lot of Harbor Porpoise en-route to where other companies are currently watching the Humpback. When we arrived on scene, we quickly determined this individual whale was Big Mamma, otherwise known as BCY0324. This ID code is in reference to where the individual was identified, BC for British Columbia. X,Y, or Z for the amount of white on the flukes. And, the number for the individual.

 

While watching the Humpback heading West across the coast of Saturna, we heard reports of a group of Dall’s Porpoise nearby. Leaving the Humpback we met up with a large group of Dall’s Porpoise who were incredibly friendly and rambunctious. They played in the wake of the boats in the area and even went out to rush through the huge waves a tanker made as it passed by to the West.

 

After getting our heart rates going, watching the Dall’s zipping around, we eased into some wildlife viewing before heading back into Port. Between the Cactus Islands and Speiden we saw lots of Harbor Seals lounging and Bald Eagles posted up on Douglas Firs. But I’ll be honest, all we could think about were the Dall’s we’d seen out on Boundary Pass all the way home.

Naturalist Brendan
M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Breaching Whales and Bonuses

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

I saw the first splash from a quarter mile away; a great backwards leap that sent water twenty feet in the air. Hoping for some repetition I crossed my fingers as we motored closer to the scene, deep in the middle of the Strait of Georgia. We’d finally made it to J Pod.

 

Many people don’t realize why whales breach. Be they Killer Whales or Humpbacks, breach we may not know the meaning of every individual action, but we do know these are social displays meant to send a message. J Pod was clearly saying something, because as we got closer and strafed the animals we saw multiple breaches, pectoral slaps, and flukes. As these Southern Resident Killer whales cooled down and started to travel we were able to stretch out alongside them and see all the pod, traveling close in their respective matrilines, but moving as a cohesive group.

As if this wasn’t enough on a gorgeous day, as we headed back after a great show on the water, we stumbled upon a Humpback Whale off of Saturna Island. You know it’s a good day when you leave Killer Whales to head home and find yourself watching a Humpback diving for food. With a last wave of it’s tail, the whale took a deep dive, and we left it to continue feeding and headed home, happy with a great day of sights on the Salish Sea.

Naturalist Brendan
M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Humpbacks, Minke, and More

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

One of my favorite things about Humpback Whales is that they are far less illusive and hard to track down than Killer Whales. Particularly this time of year the Southern Resident pods are farther afield in search of Salmon but some Transients tend to stay near shore year-round hunting marine mammals. The challenge is finding them, in their small groups, is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Thankfully Humpacks are a little different, 40 ton, 50 plus foot long needles, with 30 foot tall blows!

It didn’t take long for Captain Mike to pick up reports of two Humpack Whales along the South Coast of Saturna Island after we left Friday Harbor. Under a beautiful blue sky we met up with them and enjoyed seeing the pair surface and dive in unison for almost an hour. While it was obvious they were actively foraging, we were treated to some nice fluke slaps as the animals went down for deeper dives.

The day is always great when we have time to check out other wildlife in the San Juans, so with plenty of time to spare, we headed off to the Cactus Islands and Speiden. Harbor Seals and Bald Eagles were everywhere and we found a group of Steller Sea Lions resting off Green Point on Speiden. This in particular was a treat because we managed to sit and silently along side them as they snorted breaths and rolled about near the surface.

You never know when plans will change, and just as we were about to head down San Juan Channel, a call came in of a Minke Whale North of Flattop Island. Minke are in the same family as Humpacks but are much quicker when they surface and harder to see, so it was a delight to get some excellent moments with a more cooperative animal. We left it hunting off Waldron Island and headed back into port, recounting the great sightings of the day.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris