Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

Transient Orcas and Rainbows

Monday, September 30th, 2013

When the M/V Sea Lion departed from the docks today it was down-pouring rain. We all stayed inside the cabin, where the heat was on to keep us warm while we weathered the storm. That however, didn’t last long as we soon came upon a group of playful harbor porpoise to look at! They were all around our boat and were foraging in the San Juan Channel. And, as we continued on, we were able to see about forty steller sea lions! It was great, these guys are about 2,000 pounds of sheer fat! Quite impressive…

As we circumnavigated San Juan Island, braving the wind and rain in search of Orcasin Harro Strait, spirits never lowered. Everyone was very positive throughout an otherwise very black trip! And, when we all thought we finally weren’t going to see any whales today, guess what showed up!? Yep, we had a group of five trasient (mammal hunting) killer whales spotted about a mile away from where we were! Captain Brian quickly turned the boat around and we were off! When I saw the first blow, I lit up, telling everyone the good news. It always makes me happy to see their excited faces when I break the news that we’ll get to see killer whales after all!

As if seeing the killer whales after a trip of rain, wind and more rain wasn’t good enough, the remainder of the trip gave way to numerous rainbows. It ended up being a beautiful trip. You can’t go wrong with Orcas and rainbows!!

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

Once in a Lifetime Transient Orca Behavior!

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Today was one of those days that only happens once in a season- sunny September skies, flat calm ocean water, wildlife everywhere, great guests… oh, and did I mention orca whales that seemed to be breaching out of the water every thirty seconds?!

Let’s start at the beginning! Today the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor and headed north into Canadian waters once again. Today however, we were in search of the mammal hunting orcas known as transients, or Biggs Killer Whales. We really couldn’t have had better timing! When we got on seen with the orcas, they surfaced once and stayed submerged for a very long time. I surmised that they were probably hunting something underwater. My suspicions were confirmed when they surfaced in a tight circle trying to kill the harbor seal that they had found. It was incredible to watch the hole thing unfold before our eyes!

Suddenly, the whales took off and were seen far in the distance porpoising out of the water, a behavior they do to conserve energy when they are traveling at high speeds. The chase was on. Next, they came right back to where they were. The large male in the group, T12a then displayed some very aggressive behavior, flipping though the water and cartwheeling repeatedly. After that, all was silent above water. Below water, there were probably many vocalizations going on and sharing of the food. It is likely that the large male finished off the seal and then shared with the two mothers and three calf’s in the group!

After that, then the fun began! It seemed like just when you thought the orcas would be done celebrating, another would jump out of the water, or do a head stand, or cartwheel, or spyhop! Even the babies were getting in on the action! At one point, many people, myself included, snapped a picture of two orcas breaching at the very same time- one going one way, and the other the opposite direction. That’s something everyone will remember their entire life. It really was an incredible display of orca behavior. I can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow!

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

Wildlife and Whales Everywhere You Look!

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Today was a beautiful day all around with sunny sky’s, nice people, L-Pod, and lot’s of wildlife! The M/V Sea Lion headed North today towards Turn Point (the most Northwestern part of the continental U.S.) where we had reports of some Southern Resident Orcas. I couldn’t contain my delight when I told guests we had reports of these Orcas especially since it is rather late in September and they are still around!

On our way out we say some steller sea lions surfaced right in front of our boat, our Captain, Craig, about had a heart attack while everyone on board was enthused! We spent some time with the stellers and harbor seals then continued heading north into Canadian waters. We had reports of the leaders of the pod by Pender Bulffs. However, there were no boats around so we weren’t quite sure where the whales were. The water was pretty rolly in Boundary Pass, but I quickly spotted some blows in my binoculars and we headed that way. As it turned out, we were the only boat the entire time to watch the some 15 L-Pod Orcas- I didn’t mind the private show!

Many of the orphan whales of L-Pod were there today including L-84 Nissa and L-88 Wave Walker, both of whom lost their entire family and were adopted by the other L-Pod members. L-54 and her calf born in 2010 were also there. We watched as the 15 whales spread out length-wise side by side and herded salmon right towards Pender Bluffs for about a half mile, and then headed north along the shoreline continuing to surface in synchronicity. With the evergreens in the background and the puff, puff, puff of the whales spouts in the air, it truly was beautiful.

The day get’s better though, on our way home Captain Craig found us some dalls porpoise to play with! We engaged them with our boat (carefully), and they began happily playing in our boat wake. You could see them gliding effortlessly and very quickly though the water right next to and under our boat! These porpoises are so much fun!! Probably one of the top 3 days of the month! Great guests, great whales, and great wildlife. I love my job :)

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

Humpbacks and Orcas?!?!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

On  this unusually sunny afternoon (for fall at least), M/V Sea Lion left San Juan Island and prepared to go the distance. We were on our way to Victoria, BC where there were reports of some whales! On our way out we came across some dalls porpoise in the San Juan Channel. The dalls were playing in our wake then, as quickly as they surfaced, disappeared. It was a nice surprise, and we also got to spend some time with steller sea lions!

When we got on seen in the Straight of Juan de Fuca with two humpback whales with Port Angelas in the distance they were surfacing quite a bit. We got to see their large bodies roll though the water and guests were very impressed when I told them the whales were about the same size of our boat! However, it wasn’t long before we were on to Trial Island off of Victoria, BC to check out three transient (mammal hunting) orcas. The T10 group were hunting for harbor seals. At one point, I saw a seal head right above the orcas and healed my breath! I figured the whales would have a tasty snack right in front of our eyes! But, they let the little harbor seal live to tell the tail! It was a great day, flat water, somewhat sunny skys, and two kinds of whales!!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Visits with KPod

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

We left Friday Harbor today and motored out towards Salmon Bank. The rain had quit for most of the duration of our trip and the sun was starting to shine through. As we went through Cattle Pass and by Whale Rocks we got some great looks at steller sea lions and harbor seals. They were foraging in the water as well as hauled out on the rocks giving us some great looks.

As we got out to Salmon Bank we soon came upon members of KPod. The whales were spread out for miles foraging for salmon. They prefer to eat King or Chinook Salmon, the need to eat about 300-400 lbs per day! These guys were all making sporadic movements and trying to round up the salmon. All in all it was a great day, I never complain when we have whales everywhere!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Saffaris

Sea Lion Goes North

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

The M/V Sea Lion went North today in hot pursuit of a Transient Orca. What’s funny is that we started out heading south, but as Captain Mike pulled a U-Turn in the San Juan Channel we knew something was up! He informed us that there was a report of T-21 heading north in Canada and we were in reach of seeing her! A lot of times, we head out with no Orca reports then change our course throughout the trip because Transient- mammal hunting Orcas- popped up!

As we headed into Canada, guests got to see some great porpoise activity and lots of harbor seals! They always look so endearing with their large eyes and whiskers! When we got on seen T-21 was going down on deep dives and foraging, trying to hunt harbor seals or porpoise.

This is the first time in a very long time she has been without T-20 by her side (her probable son). She’s likely getting used to foraging by herself again. Transient Orcas aren’t like Resident Orcas in that they can travel solitary and will split from one another at times for reasons scientist are still unsure of. It was very interesting to see this happen to T-20 and T-21. This is the first time this year that I have just watched one Orca. None the less, it was a great day!

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

Magic All Around

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Today the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor with good reports of black and whites on the west side of San Juan Island. As a naturalist, I always like it when there is a high probability of seeing not only whales, but more specifically, Orcas. It was also naturalist, Andrew’, last time on the water for the season. So, with hopes set high by myself and the guests on board we headed out towards Salmon Bank where the whales were reported to be foraging. Our hopes would be met throughout the entire trip.

As soon as we got to Whale Rocks, we saw some incredible behavior from our steller sea lion friends. They were hauled out, roaring, flippering, playing in the water, and just giving us a great demonstration of how huge they really are. These guys are all of 2,000 pounds! Really impressive… and somewhat intimidating when they pop up right next to our boat with open mouths full of teeth!

On to our Orcas! We motored out from Whale Rocks and were pretty much instantly surrounded by foraging Orcas. They were everywhere you looked stretching across the horizon. Whales were breaching, tail slapping, and vocalizing like crazy! One of our guests was actually brought to tears because she was so engulfed by the magic that these Orcas poses. They really have a way of sparking all sorts of emotion in us, they are incredible beings that have no comparison. I identified J27- Blackberry and L44- Mega.

Mega was traveling with his usual harem of females and their young. Mega has been known to “babysit” the little ones, giving the mothers a chance to take a break and relax! Babysitting is very important in Southern Resident Orca culture, enough so that some scientist speculate females will have more male offspring first, then later have female calves. Male Resident Orcas will stay with their mother for their entire life, taking care of their little sister or niece is just something they were born to do. It’s not surprising some people are brought to tears by the kind actions of our whales.

I almost forgot to mention, the magic didn’t stop there either, on our way home we were all in for a treat because popping up right in front of our boat were dalls porpoise!!! This is only the second time I have seen dalls porpoise and was just as excited as the guests to encounter them. Our Captain, Craig seems to be a magnet for them. For some reason, if they are anywhere in the Salish Sea, they will find Craig! We engaged them and they road our bow and stern waves. It was pretty cool!

Yep… it was one magical day indeed! Over and out!

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

Minke Mayhem!

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Today we headed south out the San Juan Channel, into Cattle Pass and out to Salmon Bank. It was sunny and beautiful for fall! Along the way we had some great looks at harbor porpoise, harbor seals and even some steller sea lions. The marine mammals were all foraging in the strong tidal currants that stirred the fish making it easier for them to catch them! When we got out to Salmon Bank we came across a mike whale. We spent a while with this guy who was taking us in every which direction! Mine whales forage sporadically, often times they are hard to spot and even harder to keep track of. This guy however, surfaced numerous times right next to our boat giving our guests amazing views! On our way back we even saw the steller sea lions hauled out. In this way, we can really get a great appreciation for all two thousand pounds of them!

 

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

 

Playful Resident Orcas Make For A Perfect Day!

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

M/V Kittiwake departed with positive reports of Resident Orcas! Our 13 guests and myself were very excited due to the fact they have been gone for a few days. Captain Mike headed straight to the Orcas that were heading north in Boundary Pass. Once we got on scene we could see all the blows and lots of splashing, right away I knew we had a playful group. We were right in the middle of Boundary Pass when the Orcas decided to split. At that moment we had a large adult male surface near our boat! Guests were very impressed with how large his dorsal fin was! We saw a lot of tail slaps, cartwheels, pectoral fin slaps, spyhops, and breaches!

The water was calm and when we shut down all you heard were the sounds of tail slaps, pectoral fin slaps, and blows! With such great weather, Mount Baker in the distance, playful Orcas, and calm water, it was really a picture perfect day! On our way home we were able to see Bald Eagles perched on Evergreen branches and Harbor Seals hauled out on rocks. Our guests were very happy to have such beautiful weather and wildlife!

 

Aimee-Naturalist, M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris

Southern Resident Killer Whales Get Down!

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

When I heard the vocalizations of orcas at the Lime Kiln hydrophone this morning, I knew it would be an entertaining day. The whale chatter seemed excited and endless!

Several hours later when we were viewing the same animals from the M/V Sea Lion, they were still partying hard. We watched a large group of Southern Resident Killer Whales begin to disperse as they entered Boundary Pass from Turn Point, heading toward the Pender Island bluffs. Soon small socializing groups of whales were spread across the horizon. Lob-tailing seemed to be the most popular form of expression, but we also watched several spyhops, and some full body breaching as well. I also saw a few “Pink Floyds”…if you will…indicating the amorous state of some of the large bulls. A mere seventeen months from now, a new mother may recount the whole tale to her new born calf.

Andrew
Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris