Posts Tagged ‘Bald Eagle’

North of the Wall: Transients are Coming

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Today was a very exciting day. We left the dock without any reports of whales. No humpback whales, no minke whales and unfortunately no reports of orcas. We started to steam North keeping our eyes out for any signs of marine mammals. We had the most amazing fly-over by a mature bald eagle and enjoyed traveling up the east side of Waldron Island through Presidents Channel under clear blue skies. Suddenly our Northern bet payed off, as some tall, black dorsal fins cut through the waves around Patos Island. TRANSIENT KILLER WHALES! We were lucky enough to join two family groups as they hunted and socialized in the Strait of Georgia around Alden Bank. We were fortunate enough to witness the groups make at least a couple of kills, and watch the two females present with the group spend time teaching their young ones the ways of being an orca… everything from how to best kill a seal to how to breach and slap the surface of the water with their tails. What a treat! On the way home we got to take a closer look at some harbor seals hauled out on some rocks. These small pinnipeds are at their carrying capacity on this ecosystem, meaning that they are at their maximum population that can be supported. They are adorable to see bobbing in the water! These are the days that really make me appreciate our sighting network, and our ability to go the distance to find whales. If you board our boat and we have no report of whales do not be discouraged, a lot of the time we end up finding them… because just like winter in Westeros, the whales are always coming.

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

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

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

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

Memorable Day with the Js!

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Today Captain Mike and I headed out of Friday Harbor under a beautiful blue sky dotted with the most perfect puffy white clouds. Heading south around Cattle point we had J pod on our minds. Today we were very fortunate to have received a report from other whale watching boats before we left the dock, something that does not happen everyday! We met up with J Pod just east of Victoria, BC, well into Canadian waters… no need to pack your passports though, as long as we do not touch down on Canadian shores or touch another vessel no need for official documentation. When we met up with J Pod they were in resting formation, grouped all together and breathing in synchrony. Throughout our encounter we saw dramatic shifts in the group’s behavioral patterns. From resting, to traveling, to socializing, to fishing, J pod provided a fully range of orca behaviors today! After spending some time with J Pod, we headed to Long Island to check out a bald eagle nest, and very happily found an adult bad eagle not too far away. Bald eagles are amazing creatures, reaching a height of 3 feet tall with a 6 foot wingspan, and building nests that are around 6 feet deep and that can weigh over 2000 pounds! We finished off the day by observing some harbor seals sunning themselves on Whale Rocks.

What an amazing day observing so much wildlife in their natural habitats!

Naturalist Sarah, M/V Sealion, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

L Pod Joins the Mix on the West Side

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Today Captain Pete and Naturalist Mike (along with some other seasoned naturalists) crewed the M/V Sea Lion as we left the dock in search of wildlife. The crew and the passengers were all anticipating a great trip because we had reports of L pod, a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, on the west side of San Juan Island.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale population is made up of three populations that inhabit the waters of Southern British Columbia and the Salish Sea, all of whom only eat fish and especially love Chinook Salmon. They spend the summer following these salmon from the open ocean into the Salish Sea, through the San Juan Islands as they migrate up into the Frasier river in British Columbia to spawn. Where as J pod can be seen throughout the year in these waters, K and L pod tend to spend the winters out at sea or along the coast continuing to feed on salmon as they mature in open water. So you can see why it is so exciting to see L pod for the first time this season: it means Summer is here!

We cruised down San Juan Channel around Cattle Point and up into Haro Strait, where we caught up with them at False Bay. We began to see dorsal fins popping up here and there. About 15 Orcas were cruising in a very mellow fashion, interspersed with tail slapping and some dives to snack on salmon, first to the north and then they turned and began heading south. We watched several different groups for a while as they meandered along the coast and got some great looks at these magnificent animals before we decided to let them be and see what else we could find. We cruised over to Long Island to see a bald eagle and its huge nest, and checked out some harbor seals (safe from the Residents) before returning to Friday Harbor.

Always a treat to see the Southern Residents, another Whale of a day on the water!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Excited Transients in Boundary Pass!

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

What a trip! Today the Sea Lion left the dock crewed by Captain Mike and Naturalists Mike and Alex. Despite a few clouds, our full boat of passengers was super excited to see some wildlife! Fortunately for everyone on board, a group of Transient Orcas was spotted up north in Canadian waters. Eager to see them, we sped north! Along the way we saw a few harbor seals watching our progress as well as a bald eagle flying overhead, but we only slowed down when we began looking for a Humpback whale (Big Mama) that was also reported in the area. With no luck on the Mysticete (Baleen Whales) front, we continued on to our very evident pod of Transients.

Transients, unlike their fish-eating cousins the Resident killer whales, spend their time actively hunting marine mammals including seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and even large whales like Minke’s and Humpbacks. Because these animals have exceptional hearing underwater, Transients need to be very sneaky and quiet while they are hunting in order to surprise their prey. To this end, pods will be made up of small numbers and they will travel very close together without vocalizing. Instead of actively using echolocation (sending out a beam of sound and listening for an echo in order to perceive their environment) like other dolphins, Transients typically use “Passive Sonar”, or listening for key sounds like splashing and breathing in the water to locate their prey.

As we approached the exceptionally large group of 9 Orcas, including the T065 and T125 matrilines, just after they had eaten because they were being anything but sneaky! Everybody on the boat was beside themselves as we witnessed T127, a large male with a badly scarred dorsal fin, repeatedly slapping the water with his flukes (“tailslapping”) and repeated breaches, tail lobs, spy hops, and headstands by all of the pod members. One male even alerted everyone watching to his particular level of excitement by showing off a certain piece of anatomy that is usually tucked away in order to maintain a hydrodynamic body shape. And if you didn’t think Killer Whales were cool before; this 6 to 8 foot appendage is actually prehensile in order to make mating a bit easier for these animals that can weigh up to 12,000 pounds!

Aaaanyway, another notable member of this pod was a mother with a new calf, who was trying its best to mimic all the behaviors that it’s mom was demonstrating including tail slapping, porpoising and breaching. It is great to see this example of how mothers and other pod members teach the new calves everything from hunting techniques to socializing behavior. In this way, each population of Orcas around the globe is unique in it’s learned behavior, which is dictated by available resources and passed down over generations. In humans we call this culture, and we refer to the Orcas’ unique behaviors in this way as well.

After watching this spectacle for a while longer, we decided to say goodbye to the transients and cruise along John’s Pass and the Cacrus Isles where we saw more bald eagles, including one that was busy eating a fish, and lots of harbor seals who were safely hauled out on the rocks. We also got to see some Fallow Deer and Mouflan Sheep grazing on Spieden island; the feral result of a game farm that previously existed on the island.

Upon returning to Friday Harbor, we were all still giddy from seeing all the incredible wildlife. We had another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris