Posts Tagged ‘Dall\’s Porpoise’

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

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

Humpbacks on Kelp Reef

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

We left Friday Harbor yesterday, like many fall day, with no whale reports! However, as we headed out through Cattle Pass we heard of a humpback whale on Kelp Reef! The one humpback soon became two and the M/V Sea Lion headed straight there! Along the way we came across some great dall porpoise activity! They are so much fun, you can tell where they will be because they swim so fast that they leave a trail on the surface of the water! They spent probably ten minuets playing alongside the bow of the Lion!

When we got to the humpbacks they were traveling at a slow speed, surfacing many times. They were resting. It seemed very tranquil to see these large, gentle giants close up and not in a hurry to get anywhere. When they surface so close to our boat, you really get an appreciate for their size! They are actually bigger (longer) than our boat! Super cool!

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

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

Dall’s Porpoise on the Move through the San Juan Channel!

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Today we headed to the south end of San Juan Island with some fabulous guests, many from foreign countries such as Japan, Germany, and even Australia! We were happy to see such diversity on board today. As we headed through the San Juan Channel, we were all excited to see our Dall’s Porpoise having a grand old time ridding the waves off of our stern and bow! Both myself and Emily (the other naturalist on board) had never seen these small mammals and were equally excited to witness this display of fun behavior! We spent about fifteen minuets with them, watching as they played in our waves, swam around and under our boat, and popped up everywhere! Dall’s Porpoise and Harbor Porpoise are actually two of the six species of Porpoise that inhabit the worlds oceans and we happen to have both here in the Salish Sea; the two have actually begun to hybridize! After seeing the Dall’s Proposes behavior today, I’d have to say that they are my favorite!

After we parted ways with our Porpoise friends, we headed out to Hein Bank to catch some Minke action. Hein Bank is a great spot to catch these small whales, because of its underwater topography. There are many upwelling zones here that Minke whales love to forage in due to their shallow waters and large surplus of food. The Minkes we saw were definitely taking advantage of this food!

On our way home, we saw some Bald Eagles, Harbor Seals, and even another Minke right in the San Juan Channel! What great day of wildlife viewing!

Heather, Naturalist, Sea Lion

Steller’s Sea Lions Perform Full Breaches

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Another busy day on the water with all the familiar faces of the Salish Sea. In addition to watching Transient Killer Whales south of D’arcy Island, British Columbia (48°30.86N, 123°16.48W), we also came across a lone California Sea Lion (a rarity in the Salish Sea). He was floating with just his head, hind flippers, and one pectoral flipper out of the water, a strategy sea lions use to regulate their body temperature in these frigid 48°F waters. On our way home we picked up a large pod of Dall’s Porpoises. When Captain Craig slowed the boat to 7 knots, we watched their “rooster tail” splashes as they turned to converge on our bow. We were all in awe as we watched their chunky bodies of solid muscle zig zag around our bow and then breach to the side for a quick breath before taking another pass across our wake. I could watch those critters all day!

There were fewer Steller’s Sea Lions hauled out on Whale Rocks today, but more were milling in the water. We were impressed by a few individuals that were breaching completely out of the water.

As was the case for yesterday, the Transients we observed stayed in a tight, slow-moving formation as they performed approximately 5 minute foraging dives. We tried our best to parallel the group as they made their way in a southerly direction toward Victoria; however, after one long dive they popped up right alongside our boat. We shut down and listened to them breath and prepare for their next stealth dive. There were quite a few sport fisherman out on Salmon Bank today and we saw a few Harbor Seals emerge with fat salmon in their mouths. If the salmon are running, the Southern Residents Orcas may be close behind!

Naturalist Andrew
San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

Tara’s Final Report

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Well whale watchers, it’s been a great season! Today was my final tour and a memorable one. We started off with a Minke Whale sighting in the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Salmon Bank. This whale couldn’t seem to get enough of the crowd, surfacing more times than I’ve ever seen a Minke Whale do so. After traveling with him for a while, we decided to head further west in search of more critters. We soon found 15+ Dall’s Porpoise just a couple miles offshore of Eagle Point. This was only the second time I’ve seen these animals in all the 5 months I’ve spent on the water here, so I was running around the boat squealing and pointing like a little kid at Disneyland. They eventually began to play with us, riding with the water of our bow and also in the wake of our stern. Simply awesome! We then headed for home, stopping by the eagles nest on Long Island where a mature Bald Eagle sat perched near the top of a tree just afore the nest and swung by Whale Rocks to see the massive mumbling and grumbling Steller Sea Lions.

It’s been a whale of a season to say the least, and I will deeply miss the water, the animals, the adventure, and most importantly the crew! But until next time my friends… 

Signing off,

Naturalist Tara, San Juan Safaris

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

The Salish Sea was once again teeming with marine mammals and seabirds.  September is definitely proving to be my favorite month of the season; the scenery is breathtaking, the weather is gorgeous, and there seems to be a superabundance of wildlife taking advantage of these very productive waters. 

As we cruised through the San Juan Channel and Cattle Pass we saw a number of Harbor Seals and Steller Sea Lions.  The Steller Sea Lions seemed especially curious, pausing to take long looks at us before they continued their foraging efforts. 

Roughly 1.5 miles offshore of San Juan Island near Salmon Bank we found a Minke Whale (48°25.39N, 122°59.35W).  The Minke Whale was busy foraging, zigzagging over the bank in search for its next gulp of small schooling fish.  The whale even surprised us by surfacing 100 yards from the stern of the vessel!

Having heard reports of Dall’s Porpoise in the area we next motored towards Middle Bank where we saw over a dozen Dall’s Porpoise working the rip tides.  As we cruised by the Dall’s Porpoise, several of them decided to take a short break from foraging to surf the bow wave.  We were all mesmerized as their black and white bodies darted and zipped back and forth across our bow only surfacing for a split second to catch a breath of air. 

As we began our return to Friday Harbor, Captain Mike spotted 3 Humpback Whales near Eagle Point (48°27.40N, 123°02.59W).  We initially only saw what we thought was 1 Humpback Whale then we saw 2 surface at the same time; a mother and a calf.  Then, the next thing we knew a third individual was at the surface!  We turned off our engines to watch these majestic beasties and listen to their powerful exhales.  The whales were initially traveling east before they dove and changed direction turning south and heading right for us.  With our engines already off and the animals within 100 yards we waited for the Humpback Whales to travel by.  I later apologized to all of our guests who were videotaping the whales because my squeals and giggles of delight could be heard echoing throughout the vessel.   :D

One final stop at Whale Rocks concluded our trip.  Here we saw over 30 Steller Sea Lions sprawled out over the island.  Most of these bachelors seemed to be enjoying their afternoon siestas but several others were causing a raucous that resulted in very vocal, verbal disagreements. 

Naturalist Amy, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours


Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

We had reports of Transient Killer Whales near Victoria, B.C. today.  When the animals are reported this far away we do have to do a bit of traveling but fortunately the Killer Whales were traveling east and headed our direction. 

As we were motoring through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to reach the whales we saw 5 Dall’s Porpoise.  The Dall’s Porpoise were actively foraging in the highly productive region.  After a few minutes of viewing these animals we continued on our way when we spotted a Minke Whale!  The Minke Whale surfaced twice before diving.  We knew the whale would be down for several minutes so again we continued on our journey but, it was only a matter of minutes when we came across a number of Harbor Porpoise.  The Harbor Porpoise were also taking advantage of the abundance of prey and were actively foraging.  Then, it wasn’t much further before we spotted the Transient Killer Whales! 

There were 8-9 whales headed north between Middle Bank and Discovery Island (48°23.02N, 123°12.54W).  This was a rather large group for the Transient Killer Whales who are known to be very stealthy and elusive.  Initially the whales were traveling in a tight group but as we continued watching them they began to spread out and form two smaller groups.  They were still traveling within close range of each other; one group of whales was only a few body lengths ahead of the other group.  On two different occasions we saw several of the whales circling and diving in a small area while several seagulls were swooping in from above…it turns out the Killer Whales were having a late lunch evident by the remains of what we suspect were Harbor Porpoise, based on our earlier sightings, floating at the surface.  When it was time to head back to Friday Harbor the Transient Killer Whales had once again formed a tighter group and were traveling in close proximity of one another.

Then it was time to return to Friday Harbor but just because we were leaving the whales didn’t mean the tour was over.  On the way back we saw several more Harbor Porpoise and a number of Harbor Seals.  At Whale Rocks over 30 Steller Sea Lions were littering the island, sprawled out and resting or walking about and grumbling at each other.  While another 6 Steller Sea Lions had decided to take a dip in the frigid, 48 F waters. 

Naturalist Amy, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours