Posts Tagged ‘friday harbor’

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

San Juan T Party!

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Much like the infamous night in Boston Harbor, the waters around San Juan Island were full of Ts…. transient orcas that is! Also known as Bigg’s killer whales these impressive creatures eat other marine mammals, with harbor seals making up 60% of their diet. This afternoon and evening we were treated to two amazing transient-filled trips! This afternoon at 12:00 we found the T65A matriline with the T75B matriline, as well as the HUGE male T51 (born 1981). The most exciting sighting of the day was of the new calf in the T65A matriline. This new little one joins a whole host of new orca calves, both resident and transient, here in the Salish Sea!

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

J Pod on the West Side

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

Today the M/V Sea Lion left the dock with Captain Mike, naturalists Mike and Tyler, and a boat full of excited passengers. We had reports of Orcas traveling up the west side of San Juan Island so despite a few clouds, we were all smiling. On our way around the south end of the island, we stopped at Whale Rocks off of Cattle Point to check out some pinniped action! We were able to see harbor seals and Stellar’s sea lions hauled out on the rocks while a bald eagle perched on top. It is always nice to see both the diminutive harbor seal and the impressive Stellar’s Sea lion in the same area because we are able to point out some of the differences between seals and sea lions. In addition to sheer size (harbor seals weigh in at around 300lbs while Stellar’s sea lions take the cake at a whopping 2,500lbs!), Sea lions have external ear flaps and are able to bring their hind flippers underneath their bodies in order to “walk” on land. Seals, after evolving to life in the water, lost those ear flaps in favor of a hydrodynamic body form and use their hind flippers only while swimming. Seeing both of these animals at the same time usually helps avoid confusion!

After taking a look at our flippered friends, we began heading north on the west side towards False Bay, where we got our first looks at huge black dorsal fins slicing through the water. After counting about 14 whales spread out in discreet groups, we determined that we were watching members of J pod including the matriline of J2 or Granny. Granny, at an estimated 104 years old, is the oldest known killer whale in the world! Her pod was very active while swimming along the coast, gracing us with awesome views of tail lobbing, spy hops, and even a few breaches! We also got some fantastic looks at J27, Blackberry, as he slowly raised his massive dorsal fin and showed off his distinct saddle patch.

After watching mesmerized for what seemed like forever, but was really far too short a time, we said goodbye to J pod and began our journey back to Friday Harbor. We stopped to witness a large pod of harbor porpoise feeding on a school of fish along with some seals and a lone sea lion before making our way home. All in all a great trip full of incredible wildlife!

Naturalist Mike

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

 

Orcas at East Point

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Today Captain Mike left the dock with rumors of Orcas from J pod near Saturna Island. As we made our way north out of Friday Harbor, we had calm water and awesome views of bald eagles, harbor seals and even a few harbor porpoise. After cruising in gorgeous weather with views of the San Juan Islands, we arrived at Java rocks to see Killer whales from J pod! after seeing several females and the dorsal fin of a tiny calf, we realized that it was the J 16 matriline. The whole crew was present, including the matriarch J 16 (slick), her daughters J 36 (Alki) and J 42 (Echo) and her very recognizable son J 26 (Mike). In addition we saw J 50 and J 52, two of the newest additions to J pod! Both of these calves are descendants of Slick, J 50 is her daughter (making Slick, at age 42, the oldest female to have a calf) and J 52 is the daughter of Alki. Slick must still be excited about being a new mother and grandmother, because we saw her perform a series of very impressive breaches! There is nothing like seeing a full grown, black and white killer whale completely out of the water.

At first the pod was quite spread out, but we did get to see them come together, some great breaching, some very cute calf swimming, and some tail in the air as some pod members did some synchronous diving. That was our cue to say goodbye and begin heading back down south. On our return journey, we got to see some more bald eagles on Spieden island and lots of seals hanging out on some exposed rocks near the Cactus Islands. All in all a great trip with some wonderful weather, fantastic whale sightings and good times had by all!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

www.sanjuansafaris.com

New Orca Calf is a Girl!

Friday, January 9th, 2015

There is a lot of mystery surrounding new baby orca J50, but one thing is now clear.  It’s a girl!  The telling photograph was snapped and everyone could not be happier with the results.  A healthy population needs females in order to continue matrilines and produce more offspring.  Currently the Southern Resident Killer Whale population has more breeding age males than females, which does not bode well for future offspring.  We can only hope that little J50 survives this first crucial year and then continues to grow and thrive into adulthood.  Females typically become sexually mature around 13 years of age and will typically have 4 calves in a lifetime.  Orcas travel in matrilines, which means that the group is defined by the mothers, so it is very exciting that the J16 matriline continues to grow.

Speaking of J16, researchers are now unclear if she is indeed the mother or grandmother.  J50 has rake marks on her dorsal fin, and researches think that another orca helped with the birth of the new orca calf.  Orcas are very social and intelligent creatures, making an orca midwife not too far fetched.  J36, J16′s daughter, is another possible candidate for being J50′s mother. J16, at 43 years of age, would be the oldest known orca to give birth to a healthy calf.  At 16 years of age, J36, has yet to have a calf and everyone has been eagerly awaiting the day.  J16 was not on scene with the rest of her family when J50 was first observed and it is possible she was recovering from a tough delivery and letting grandma do a little baby sitting.  J50 has been observed leaving J16′s side, which leads some to believe that she is not the mother, as typically calves never leave mom’s side.  Through further encounters and observation, we hope to figure out the mystery surrounding J50′s birth.  For now, we are just happy that the little orca seems happy, healthy, and playful!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

Cetacean Madness!!!!!

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Today Captain Mike, Naturalist Caitlin and I had a trip that we all agreed was the highlight of our season. We left Friday Harbor at 12:00pm and immediately stumbled across some harbor seals hauled out on some rocks. The seals need to lay in the sun to warm up as they have a very minimal layer of insulating fat known as blubber. With another stop to check out some nesting double-crested cormorants and some gulls, we headed out to find a minke whale on a glassy Haro Strait. We caught up with a minke whale while it was feeding and enjoyed watching it surface a few times in beautiful golden light. After about 20 minutes we left the minke to catch up with some orcas! We were delighted to have a report of southern residents (the salmon-eating whales) this late in the season. Though we see transient orcas all year round, the residents are usually here only when the salmon are running June through August. With that being said, we are having an excellent September for whale watching! We were delighted to see L72 Racer and her son L105 Fluke, as well as J28 and her son J46 Star. We enjoyed many breaches and great underwater vocalizations broadcasted from our on-board hydrophone. We had some excellent looks of whale sin both L and J pods. After leaving the orcas in Haro Strait we started to meander our way back to Friday Harbor, finding some northern sea lions and a bald eagle. As we rounded a corner, nearly back to the harbor,  the water around the M/V Sea Lion started to boil with over 150 Pacific white-sided dolphins. The dolphins played in our wake, bow rode, and lept out of the water. We were all so entranced that we ended up extending our trip by about 40 minutes! Today was the most incredible day on the water I have had the pleasure of witnessing. I will be dreaming of dolphins tonight.

Sarah, M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

Sunny Day with L-pod!

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Yet another beautiful late summer day with the Southern Residents! We had a spectacular afternoon full of breaching, tail lobbing and porpoising…. generally very happy orcas! Today we enjoyed the company of a couple of different L-pod families. We spent the most time with the L54s (L54 “Ino” and her calves L108 “Coho” & L117 “Keta”) who were joined by some of my favorite males: L92 “Crewser”, L88 “Wave Walker”, and L84 “Nyssa”. Wave Walker and Nyssa are the last remaining members of their matrilineal lines, so they are often seen travelling with other families. After yesterday’s news of the new L-pod baby we all were keeping our eyes out for the newest addition to the Southern Resident Community, but alas L86 “Surprise!” and her brand new calf L120 were not with the group we saw today. After spending some time with the killer whales we found Steller’s sea lions hauled out on some rocks and were also fortunate to find two bald eagles! The water was like glass all afternoon, and the light was absolutely beautiful. Overall, a great afternoon on the water!

Sarah, M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

Whale Bliss!

Friday, August 29th, 2014

We had a wonderful day on the water with some very goofy southern resident killer whales! We saw a mixture of J and K pods playing, rolling and breaching in Haro Strait. We saw a number of spyhops today as well. Killer whales have excellent eyesight, very much like our own, but they can only see about three feet above the water when they are under. In order to survey their surroundings they will spyhop, sticking their heads out of the water. We had a wonderful time enjoying the whales’ antics. Captain Mike, Chelsea, and I loved having such a wonderful group aboard today!

Sarah, M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

Transients At Our Front Door!

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Another magical day on the water, and this was even closer to home than usual! M/V Sea Lion motored out of Friday Harbor for a mere 10 minutes before we were greeted with the sight of blows in the distance. The blows belonged to non-other than the T-65A’s, a mom and her offspring, that were combing the east side of the island for some tasty treats. It appeared that this was no problem for our marine-mammal eating orcas, since we saw a Harbor porpoise propel itself out of the water to escape it’s underwater predators. We never did see the Harbor Porpoise surface again, but we did see some tight circling behavior with loads of tail slaps, and even an adorable head stand from the youngest of the T-65A’s. The youngest was first seen March 27th, 2014! It looked like quite the feast for these transient orcas, and also a great show for guests aboard the M/V Sea Lion! Absolute success! Hope tomorrow will be just as eventful.

 

Caitlin,

Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Orca Chess Match!

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Today Captain Jim and I set out on the M/V Kittiwake with two reports of orcas: one of transients to the north, and one of residents to the south. Oftentimes we joke that deciding where to go is a like a chess match…. the whales will make one move and then we have to respond. We are a member of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, so we are in constant communication with other captains on the water getting the most current information about the whale’s movement, which aids in decision making. Today we opted for the southern route to meet up with the resident whales. On the way out to meet up with the whales we encountered some Steller’s sea lions. These pinnipeds can weigh over 2,000 pounds, and are just returning from their breeding grounds in Alaska. After observing the sea lions for a few minutes, we traveled across Haro Strait to meet up with J-pod just outside of Victoria. It was great to see the “ressies” again after a few days of watching transients! The whales were being very playful… spyhopping, breaching out of the water, and breathing all together! J2 “Granny” (She’s estimated to be 103 years old, cool, right!!!???!!!) was right in the middle of the pod having a grand old time. We spent about 45 wonderful minutes with the joyful whales, and everyone on board was absolutely enthralled! We left to head back to Friday Harbor and ended up finding a minke whale! They are the second smallest species of baleen whale, and we got to see it feeding! Overall, it was an amazing day on the water and everyone agreed that we had definitely played a good chess game!

Sarah, M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching