Posts Tagged ‘Bald Eagle’

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

J Pod off Turn Point

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with reports of Jpod heading up the west side of San Juan Island.  On our way to the whales we stopped by a group of foraging bald eagles.  There were about 9 bald eagles grouped together by Ripple Island.  There was a combination of adult and juvenile bald eagles.  Until about the age of 5 bald eagles will be completely brown with light spots throughout their body, causing them to be commonly mistaken for golden eagles.  After leaving the bald eagles we headed towards Turn Point where we were planning on meeting the whales during their travels.  We first came upon the J19′s including the new baby J51.  As we watched the J19′s we realized that all of the 27 whales in J pod were present in the area.  We watched a great deal of social behavior such as spy hopping and  kelping!  Kelping is when the whales drape the bull kelp stems and leaves across their body as they swim through the water.  We also got some great looks at J35 (Tahlequah) and her son J47 (Notch).  We enjoyed watching the whales this afternoon and think that our guests enjoyed themselves as well!

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Humpback in Canada

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with a report of a humpback near East Point.  On our way to the humpback whale we spotted a Stellar sea lion feeding in San Juan Channel.  We then headed through President channel towards the humpback which was slowly heading North towards Vancouver.  We got a little North of East Point, located in the Strait of Georgia, when we came across the humpback whale.  The whale we were watching was the female known as “Big Mama”, a whale that frequents these waters during the early summer season.  We watched her sporadically surfacing to breath while traveling slowly North.  Humpback whales can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes but generally surface every 5-17 minutes.  We were also lucky enough to see some surface behavior including a cartwheel and a few lunges!  We then started to head back towards Friday Harbor.  On our way we saw some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks soaking up the wonderful sunshine we had today.  We also saw a bald eagle on one of the rock islands and got to see it take off in flight.  We had a wonderful day out on the water today enjoying the wildlife of the San Juan Islands.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A Great day for Js!

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

After shooting to the North last Saturday night, J Pod had disappeared. The whale watching fleet had gotten no reports and all of the hydrophones in the Salish Sea had been silent to the melodious calls of the Js…. UNTIL THIS MORNING! We got to the M/V Sea Lion and had a flurry of reports of all 28 members of J Pod traveling south down the West Side of San Juan Island. And were they ever! It was like watching whale popcorn out on the water today, everywhere you looked there was a whale breaching out of the water, pec slapping, tail lobbing, or cartwheeling. We got looks at all three of the new J Pod calves (J50, J51, J52), awesome views of the J22 matriline (J22 Oreo, J34 Doublestuf, J38 Cookie), as well as crowd favorites J27 Blackberry, J31 Tsuchi and J39 Mako. After leaving the whales we headed to Whale Rocks right off the Southern Tip of San Juan to view some Steller’s sea lions. These guys can grow to be about 12 feet long and right around 2000 pounds! We rounded off the day with a great view of a bald eagle! It was an absolutely amazing day that none of us will soon forget!

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

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