Archive for the ‘orca whale watching by seattle’ Category

The K Pod Channel – August 10

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Days are shortening here as they are everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, and sometimes you can feel a cool, fall breeze as evening approaches. This is good since our summer here has been pretty warm and dry. Since the orcas live in the water, they experience a little bit different than we do. The water of the Salish Sea though has been experiencing weird temperatures as well. Weather reports are pointing to this being an El Niño year and we also faced what scientists call “The Warm Blob” which is a warm mass of water moving about, and it sometimes makes us wonder how the wether is down there where the orcas live.

We set off on a beautiful, cool, and sunny day over glassy waters with Capt. Pete, Mike, and myself. We headed east which isn’t a usual thing and ended up just a little west of Eastsound off of Orcas Island. It was K pod! Well most of K pod and it looked like they were checking out Harney Channel and the waters in between the islands, which isn’t an sight we often see. They seemed to choose this time to socialize. Orcas are extremely social and have tight knit family groups. A part of their day is spent in socializing where they just simply play with each other. This involves a lot of spirals in the water, going belly up, and splashing about with their flukes and pectoral fins. We watched two families socialize together for an amazingly long while and we managed to follow then east a little bit more with all the islands on either side of us. We eventually had to head out but had an amazing view of the sunset over San Juan Island.


Whale folks until next time,


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

K’ in Canada!

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Yesterday we headed up North towards a report of K pod in Canadian waters.  It was a beautiful sunny day and on our transit to the whale reports we saw many harbor seals and harbor porpoise.  We made it up to Point Roberts and met up with the K12′s and the K13′s.  The K13′s consist of seven individual whales and the K12′s consist of 5 whales, including a sprouter named Tika.  You can tell the sex of the whale based on the dorsal fin size but up until sexual maturity all of the whales have small fins and look like females.  Once they hit sexual maturity, usually between the ages of 10 and 12, the males will then begin to grow their big 6 foot tall dorsal fin.  Usually by the time the males are 17 they will have their full sized dorsal fin. Tika was born in 2001 so he is still working on his full sized dorsal fin.  The whales were grouped up in their families surfacing together and displaying a variety of social communication behaviors including tail slapping and pectoral slapping.  After watching the whales we headed back towards Friday Harbor with a beautiful whale watch checked off the list.  All of the guests seemed to enjoy the transit to and from the whales allowing them to see a large portion of the beautiful San Juan Islands.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Cookie Squad! – August 5, 2015

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

On Wednesday, we had a wonderful afternoon trip on the M/V Sea Lion! We went in search of our southern resident killer whales and found a couple members of J pod on the west side of San Juan Island. These members were a part of what we call the cookie squad. We call them the cookie squad because of their names given by the Whale Museum here in Friday Harbor.

Each whale receives an identification number from the Center of Whale Research when they are first spotted. The numbers signify when they were spotted in the pod. After surviving a full year, the Whale Museum collects names and the community votes on the names for the whales. So today we were able to identify J-34, Doublestuf. Doublestuf was the 34th whale to be identified in J pod. Doublestuf is always seen traveling with his mother, J-22 Oreo and his sister, J-38 Cookie.

On our trip, the cookie squad spent most of their time hunting for the local Chinook salmon. They eat about 300 to 400 pounds of salmon a day! Doublestuf did end our time together with a beautiful breach!

What a great time with the cookie squad! We soon returned to Friday Harbor with smiling faces after a fun afternoon on the water!

Naturalist Amanda

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transients Do What Transients Do

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

When our reliable Residents aren’t around, Naturalists and Captains alike are always hopeful Transients will be found somewhere. Our sunset departure left with mixed reports of a group of Transients that might be coming within range of our trip. The inestimable Captain Pete decided to go for it and our guests, my fellow Naturalist Alex, and our guests couldn’t be more grateful.

We caught up the group of at least eight animals out in the Haro Strait. Transients are more difficult to recognize immediately because there’s over 200 that can show up on any given day in the San Juans. As a result, it takes some work to figure out what group you are looking at, but it’s aided by the individualized scars that their favorite foods, marine mammals, give them in pursuit. Ultimately we were less concerned about who we were looking at because of the show they put on.

Not long after passing Limekiln State Park the group diverged and started actively hunting. With a couple our thrashings and some epic breaches and cartwheels, we knew they were on top of food and before long they slowed the pace and milled, obviously eating. A couple red blobs appeared on the surface, that I took as loose floats, but what turned out to be floating lungs presumably from a harbor porpoise they had recently eaten. It was slightly gruesome to watch them float by, but it was a good teaching moment: Orca’s are selective in what they like to eat and discard what they don’t want.

Before leaving we also got to see an interesting and uncommon behavior. For several minutes we watched a younger animal in the group repeatedly grasp and pull down a Pigeon Guilemot (a common nearshore seabird in the Puffin family) below the surface. The bird screamed but apparently was unable to escape on wing because it made no move to do so. Last we saw it, as we headed North for a circumnavigation of San Juan Island, it appeared to have survived this cat and mouse game with Transient Killer whales.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Salmon, Cetaceans and Sea Lions, Oh My!-July 30th 2015

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Today Captain Jim and I left the dock with a boat full of excited passengers, no wind, sun in the sky and several whale reports. We decided to head to the West side to check out J Pod who was in town feeding on Chinook salmon.

As we headed South out of Friday Harbor into San Juan Channel we were greeted by a flock of rhinoceros auklets, small black, diving puffin-like birds with a horny protrusion on their bill, plunging into the water to distance themselves from the boat. These “Rhinauks” will dive up to fifty feet to catch their favorite meal: herring! We will occasionally see then suddenly appear from underwater wearing what looks like a collection of silver moustaches, but is actually two or three herring hanging from their bills.

As we continued South the passengers learned a bit more about the Southern Resident Killer Whales (what/who they are, what they eat, how they behave, if they are at all in danger, etc.) In preparation for meeting them face to face. Nobody was nervous for this interview, however. We were all excited.

After rounding Cattle Point at the Southern tip of San Juan Island we headed North and offshore a bit into the Haro Strait to began to scan for signs of life. The first thing we saw was a Pink, or Humpy, salmon jumping out of the water again and again and again! This is a common sight this time of year as pinks prepare to run up the Frasier River to spawn. When they began this odd behavior in late June, they had all the characteristics of a salt-water ocean fish including silver coloring and not entirely impressive jumps. Their bodies have been changing to adapt to the impending freshwater march to their one opportunity to spawn and their inevitable doom (they will die moments after they spawn). Some changes that we can see are that their bodies are turning green, males are developing large humps on their backs and sharper, more formidable teeth, and they can jump higher, perhaps three or four feet into the air! I am sure they are all just as excited as a salmon can be, they definitely appear to be ready.

As mesmerized as we were by the salmon, we soon became fully aware of the huge, six foot dorsal fin that appeared above the water. It was Blackberry! J27, or Blackberry, is one of the most distinctive males in the Southern Resident community. He has a massive dorsal fin and a very unique saddle patch with a line of black separating the white blotch. He was soon joined by his sister J31, or Tsuchi, and we were able to watch them zig and zag as they fished together for Chinook salmon.

We also got great looks at the J22s, or the Cookie clan. This family is made up of J22 (Oreo), J34 (Doublestuff) and J38 (Cookie). While they were feeding they got a bit playful and we even saw a breach!

Watching Orcas during any activity is always a huge joy, and it is always over far too soon. This experience was no different. We decided to let them eat their whaley hearts out while we meandered back home.

Along the way we stopped at Whale Rocks, some exposed reefs that are usually covered in Harbor seals. Today along with a plethora of the awkward seals coating the shoreline, we were able to catch a glimpse of a group (or “raft”) of Stellar Sea lions in the water!

Stellars are massive creatures. The largest of the sea lions, males can meaaure twelve feet long and weigh in at a hefty 2500lbs! Mid summer is their breeding time, and most adults head north to give birth and mate. Their duries done, this group at least decided to head back through the incredible waters of the Salish Sea.

Adter spending some time oggling our otariid friends, we made our way back to Friday Harbor. Whenever wildlife is involved, it is a good day. With our encounter with birds, salmon, whales, seals AND sea lions, I’d call this a Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris

The J way

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Today was another typical summer Friday in Friday Harbor – sunny skies, cool breezes, and smooth waters. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I headed north! to see if we could meet up with our Southern Resident Killer Whales heading south from Canada. We sailed through some beautiful waters and stopped to look at a bait ball that gulls, rhinoceros auklets, and some common murres had found when, splash! a wild Steller Sea Lion appeared! These hunks of furry blubber are heading back to the Salish Sea from their rookeries that they were just at in the far north. They are the largest species of sea lions in the world and they do sometimes through their weight around. It is good to see them again, but it’s also a sure sign of summer quickly closing. After watching him for awhile as he also feasted on the bait ball, a harbor seal popped up, and… and a harbor porpoise. These cuties have flat faces and are super speedy! As we moved northward we passed into Canada and around Eastpoint. The waters around here are amazing causing the currents to go wild, crisscross, and upwell, making it live up to its name – Boiling Reef. It’s one of my favorite places on the water and it soon got better as two families of J pod came past us. The J-2′s  – Granny’s family – swam by with their adopted son Onyx and the new calf. The Cookie Clan was also there too! They approached Eastpoint with us as the roiling waters ran like a white water river around the point. They stopped spyhopped a bunch to get a good eye on the situation, and whooossh they powered around the point and straight into the current. They pretty whale despite the hard swim and handled it like champs. The skirted the shore of some glacially pitted coastline during the hardest part and eventually spread back out as the current slowed down. It seemed like they were happy about their recent sprint swim, and they celebrated with breach after breach after cartwheel and then unexpectedly they were cartwheeling on both sides of the boat! Those final great moments made the necessity of heading back home not so hard.


Whale folks that’s all for today,

until next time

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

K pod Kartwheels – July 30, 2015

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Thursday was a great day. Sunny, calm, and we headed east which usually doesn’t happen. towards the east side of Orcas Island. When we hit the rips off of Obstruction Pass you could see the clear green-tinted water of the Salish Sea churning as currents collided and looking downward you could actually see some Chinook Salmon! And where there are Chinook is the best place to search for Southern Resident Killer Whales. K pod appeared! We first spotted Scoter (K-25) with his very wide dorsal fin and some other members of the family of K-13, Skagit. They were indeed hunting some of those Chinook Salmon we had seen earlier and they were getting into it turning left and right and making deep dives to catch their favorite food – this activity is called ‘milling’. It’s amazing to see them work together and separately as they can be so maneuverable and in sync while being so close to each other. This groups headed north a little bit and we and they eventually met up with another K pod family the K-14′s, Lea’s family. They seemed to have just caught a bunch of salmon because boy were they having fun. Tail slaps and pec slaps galore sent water flying this way and that. They seemed even a little extra curious today as many of them started spyhopping to sea what was the fuss on the surface. Then…then the cartwheels started! Cartwheeling is probably one of my favorite surface behaviors and it is when the orcas take their back half of their body and sling it to the side out of the water. This move makes a huge arch with their flukes and a gigantic splash. We were having almost as much fun as they were that soon enough we had to start heading back to home base. As one kid on the boat said, “Woooooooo!”


Whale that’s all folks,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Steller Whale Day

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Some folks call these groups of islands the “Banana Belt” because they do exist in a rain shadow and they get about half the amount of rain that Seattle is famous for. The Olympic Mountains and the peaks along Vancouver Island block a lot of the incoming rains from the Pacific Ocean. So days here, especially in the summer are usually sunny and calm and there’s many a time where one can look in every direction to see rain clouds, but the islands are in their own little hole of sunshine. Tuesday was one of those beautiful days full of sun and glassy waters, and also let us not forget about the whales! Capt. Mike and I took eleven wonderful people out on the speedy M/V Kittiwake to the west side of the San Juan Island. Then Onyx popped up! Onyx (L-87) has a cool story. His mother died early on which is rough for anyone but for male orcas that spend their entire lives with their mothers it’s especially hard. He travelled with K pod for awhile but now has found a new home with J pod swimming with the J-2′s – Granny’s family. We spent some time with this wonderful guy then moved offshore and met up with some K-podders! The family of K-13, Skagit, was traveling up and down hunting those delicious Chinook salmon that make the PNW famous for both humans and orcas alike. Watching this family with Spock (K-20), Deadhead (K-25), Cali (K-34), Ripple (K-44), and Comet (K-38) do what they are so good at in wild brought a lot of peace to everyone on the boat. I don’t think anyone cannot be amazed hearing the sound of these creatures glide through the water and their massive exhales.

We soon had to bid adieu and start our trip back to Friday Harbor but the fun was not over yet. We stopped at Whale Rocks to see some adorable adult and baby Harbor Seals and also saw a huge but very tired Steller Sea Lion looking like he could not be more comfortable than he was on those sharp rocks. These Sea Lions usually are in Alaska right now breeding but this one probably wasn’t old enough so he stayed here! These Sea Lions are the biggest in the world! We soon had to leave him as well putting a beautiful day full of great views and feelings to a close.


Whale folks that’s all

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Krazy Ks on the West Side!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Naturalist Rachel, Captain Pete and I were very excited for our day on the M/V Sea Lion. The sun was shining, our guests were chipper, and we had positive whale reports leaving the dock! A positive whale report leaving the dock does not necessarily guarantee whale sightings, but it always gives you that lucky feeling in the pit of your stomach.

We cruised south this afternoon through San Juan Channel and around Cattle Point Lighthouse at the southern tip of San Juan Island. We were treated to great views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including 14,409 foot tall Mt. Rainier a whopping 110 miles away! The water was glassy this afternoon, which made for a smooth trip up the West Side of San Juan, but I was certainly grateful to be wrapped in my fleece while we traveling at full speed.

True to our report (Man, I love it when that happens!), we ended up meeting a group of Southern Resident killer whales right outside of False Bay. Much to our delight, Rachel and I realized that we were looking at some of K Pod, one of our three Resident, fish-eating, pods in the area. K Pod is currently the smallest of the three Resident pods, made up of 19 whales in three different matrilines, or family units. To identify the whales we look at their dorsal fins (the fins on their backs) and the gray marking right behind that fin, called the saddle patch. These are as unique to the individual whales as our fingerprints are to us! We identified members of the K14 matriline as well as the K13 matriline, some of our very favorite families.

K26 Lobo surfacing

Mother-Son Pair K20 Spock and K38 Comet

K25 Scoter of the K13 matriline

After spending about and hour watching the whales fishing and traveling down island we peeled away to go have a look for some sea lions and bald eagles. We found a lone Steller’s sea lion lounging on a rock, soaking up some rays. These formidable animals can grow up to about 12 feet long and can weigh right around 2,500 pounds! We were also able to track down a bald eagle just inside of Cattle Pass on San Juan Island. They are easiest to spot when you keep an eye out for their white heads and tail feathers against the green of the evergreen trees lining the islands. We pulled back into Friday Harbor feeling giddy about the quality of wildlife viewing we had experienced. What an incredible afternoon on the water!

Naturalist Sarah

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A Whale of a Homecoming-July 27th, 2015

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Today Captain Pete, Erick and I took out the Sea Lion full of excited passengers to have a beautiful evening out on the water and check out some wildlife. We had a pretty great whale report with a bit of history behind it. The Southern Residents had all left the Salish Sea the other day and we had spent a few days seeking other wildlife like humpback whales, minke whales and transient orcas. However, our report had some good news: they were back!

The Southern Resident Killer Whales come back to the same areas each summer to feed on Chinook salmon. Much of their time is spent around the San Juan Islands while they feed on fish returning to the Frasier river to spawn, but they will periodically head out to the Pacific coast to feed on salmon returning to the Columbia and Snake rivers, among others.

Having them back in the area is great news for us, because we love seeing them of course! In our effort to see them, we left Friday Harbor and headed South through San Juan Channel. Usually when we reach Cattle Point, we begin heading North to the West side of San Juan Island, but today we headed West in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We spent a good chunk of time cruising west scanning for dorsal fins, and to our surprise saw a humpback whale fluke up for a dive in the distance! There is nothing like a surprise whale encounter. We were not ready to turn around just yet, however, so we continued on.

Just south of Victoria, BC we began to see fin after fin breaking the surface as K Pod came into view! Slowly cruising East toward the islands, they looked like they were coming home after a long journey. Upon reaching Haro Strait, they woke up a bit. We spent time with all of K Pod, especially the K12 and K13 matrilines. We got great looks at some of the large males of the group like K25 (Scoter), K26 (Lobo) and we even got to see K21 (Cappuccino)! They appeared to be happy to be back in the Salish Sea and celebrated by porpoising, spyhopping, tail slapping and even a full breach!

We enjoyed their company for a while as they escorted the Sea Lion back to San Juan Island before we decided to enjoy their homecoming in peace.

Under the setting sun that made the sky and the water come alive with color, we began to make our way back to Friday harbor. The tour wasn’t over yet, however; we came across a few harbor porpoise, and one was carrying a calf on its back! Good news for the once dwindling porpoise population in the Salish Sea.

Far too quickly, our journey came to an end as the sun dropped below the trees.

Another Whale of a Day on the Salsih Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris