Posts Tagged ‘friday harbor’

Residents up and down the West side

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Today we embarked from Friday Harbor without having decided which report we were going to pursue, having heard that there were whales North of East Point, as well as on the west side. We turned south in San Juan Channel to try our luck on the West side. On our way out there, we passed Goose Island. Unfortunately, Goose Island caught on the fire the other day, and a large portion of the nests (of 4 bird species) burned up in the flames. The smell of smoke is evident if you are downwind.

Just as we passed South Beach, we came across our first pod of Southern resident killer whales. There, we were able to get some good looks at a few females and an adult male. They were surfacing very infrequently, which led us to believe that they may have been pursuing some salmon.

We then shot off a mile or so North, to observe a second pod of residents, which appeared to be a number of different family groups. They were much mores surface active, with a few tails slaps and pectoral fin slaps on the water. We also saw two adult males in very close contact, which is not typical. We were able to identify them as male, because of the size and shape of their dorsal fin. Males, with a straight triangular shaped dorsal fin, up to 6 feet tall. The dorsal fin of a female is more of a crescent shape and won’t get more than 2-3 feet in height. However, it is easy to mistake a young male for a female, because they don’t begin to really lengthen that dorsal fin until about 15 years of age.

After getting in a good dose of resident orca sightings, we headed back down the island and around Cattle Point to get back to Friday Harbor.

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

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

Residents off South Pender

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with a report of orcas traveling south at a fast past around East Point.  We headed towards boundary pass in order to meet the whales as they traveled south.  When we came upon the whales they were very spread out through the northern end of boundary pass.  It is very common to see the whales spread out over wide distances in order to cover the most distance to find salmon.  We watched the J16′s which consists of the matriarch J16  (Slick) and her four offspring J26 (Mike), J36 (Alki), J42 (Echo) and J50, her newest offspring.  J36 also had a new calf this winter, J52 who will be named at the end of this upcoming summer.  We then got to see the L47′s which consists of L47 (Marina) and her three offspring L83 (Moonlight), L91 (Muncher) and L115 (Mystic).  Also with the L47′s is L83s offspring L110 (Midnight).  The L47′s were traveling as a tight knit group at a faster pace then the J16′s were traveling.  After watching the L47′s we then got to see J16 eating a salmon!  We watched the J16′s traveling and socializing together which included some behaviors such as breaching and spyhopping!  On our way home we got to see some seals sun bathing on the rocks and a bald eagle in flight.  Below is a picture of J36 (Alki) and her offspring J52 taken by Rachel on the trip today.  It was a great day out on the water and we hope our guests enjoyed it as much as we did!

 

 

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

Active Orcas in Active Pass

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion was crewed by Captain Mike and naturalists Mike and Alex. We were joined by Captain Jim and naturalist Rachel on the Kittiwake out on the water today! We had lots of happy, adventurous and curious passengers and reports of whales! J Pod had been spotted in Canadian waters so we headed North out of Friday Harbor up toward boundary pass. We made our way up through Plumper Sound to Active pass, which connects Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia.

J Pod is a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the only pipulation that is federally recognized as endangered. Their diet consists mainly of Chinook salmon that return to the Salish Sea from the open ocean in order to spawn in the Frasier river. They enter through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and get pushed up against the west side of San Juan Island as they head north towards Boundary Pass and Georgia Strait up into the Frasier river, where they will exert the remaining energy of their life to spawn. The resident Orcas tend to swim along this same path towards the estuary, eating salmon as they go.

Today was no different, we caught up with most of J Pod in Active Pass including the J17, J19 and J22 matrilines. We got some great views of J27 (Blackberry) and J51, a new calf of J19. It’s always incredible to see the imposing 6 foot tall dorsal fin of a mature male and always fun to see a baby whale porpoising along behind its mom.

We followed these whales all the way through the pass out into the Strait of Georgia where they became extremely happy and began spyhopping and breaching! After they calmed down a bit we headed off to let them be whales. Just when we thought we were out of whales, we came up on a Humpback just as it was blowing! it came up for a few more breaths before sounding and showing its flukes. We took that as a wave goodbye and began the journey back to Friday Harbor.

Along the way we saw lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise, the former hauled out and enjoying the sun and the latter appearing above the water briefly to breathe before slipping back beneath the surface.

A really nice, beautiful day on the water with fantastic wildlife sightings in the San Juans!

 

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Active Orcas in Active Pass

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion was crewed by Captain Mike and naturalists Mike and Alex. We were joined by Captain Jim and naturalist Rachel on the Kittiwake out on the water today! We had lots of happy, adventurous and curious passengers and reports of whales! J Pod had been spotted in Canadian waters so we headed North out of Friday Harbor up toward boundary pass. We made our way up through Plumper Sound to Active pass, which connects Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia.

J Pod is a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the only pipulation that is federally recognized as endangered. Their diet consists mainly of Chinook salmon that return to the Salish Sea from the open ocean in order to spawn in the Frasier river. They enter through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and get pushed up against the west side of San Juan Island as they head north towards Boundary Pass and Georgia Strait up into the Frasier river, where they will exert the remaining energy of their life to spawn. The resident Orcas tend to swim along this same path towards the estuary, eating salmon as they go.

Today was no different, we caught up with most of J Pod in Active Pass including the J17, J19 and J22 matrilines. We got some great views of J27 (Blackberry) and J51, a new calf of J19. It’s always incredible to see the imposing 6 foot tall dorsal fin of a mature male and always fun to see a baby whale porpoising along behind its mom.

We followed these whales all the way through the pass out into the Strait of Georgia where they became extremely happy and began spyhopping and breaching! After they calmed down a bit we headed off to let them be whales. Just when we thought we were out of whales, we came up on a Humpback just as it was blowing! it came up for a few more breaths before aounding and ahowing its flukes. We took that as a wave goodbye and began the journey back to Friday Harbor.

Along the way we saw lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise, the former hauled out and enjoying the sun and the latter appearing above the water briefly to breaths before slipping back beneath the surface.

A really nice, beautiful day on the water with fantastic wildlife sightings in the San Juans!

 

Naturalist Mike J

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

East side transients, West side residents

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

We boarded the Sea Lion today with no orca reports and prepared ourselves to go in search of other wildlife in the area. Just as we were about to depart from the dock, Captain Pete was informed that there were some transient orcas just outside the harbor! So, we made our way out to San Juan Channel and sure enough, there they were.

The Pacific Northwest is an incredibly unique area. One of the reasons I say that, is that we regularly have the opportunity to see TWO different ecotypes of orcas here. An ecotype is a genetically distinct population within a single species, and there are 10 ecotypes across the planet within the species, Orcinus orca, (that’s the scientific name for killer whale–try throwing that one out at the next social event you attend, everyone’s sure to be impressed and you’ll be the hit of the party). Basically, you can think of each ecotype as a subspecies. The two ecotypes that we get to see on our whale watch tours are transient killer whales, and Southern resident killer whales, and there are a number of differences between the two.

Transient killer whales are slightly larger than residents, they are also slightly less vocal, and have more fluid social structures. Perhaps the biggest difference between these two populations though, is their diet. Resident orcas eat fish (primarily Chinook Salmon), while transient orcas are marine mammal eaters. They can prey on animals like seals, porpoises, dolphins, sea lions, and even some of the larger whales. Today, we believe they may have been hunting (successfully) based on the fact that they exhibited some rapid direction changes and erratic movements. This led us to think that they may have caught something small beneath the surface, such as a harbor seal of harbor porpoise. The best part of our transient viewing today was that one of them spyhopped. A spyhop is when a whale comes head first out of the water (usually almost up to their pectoral fins). This behavior is believed to be used for getting a better visual sense of what’s happening above the surface–probably checking out the whale watching boats!

It was incredibly lucky to have seen the transients so close to Friday Harbor, but shortly after arriving on scene, we got an additional report. This one however, was for some resident orcas heading south on the Northwest side of the San Juan Island. What?! Transients and residents in the same day?! Yes. This doesn’t happen often, but this was going to be our lucky day. So after a while, we left out transient friends and headed over to where the residents had been spotted. Within the southern resident killer whale population, there are three distinct pods; J pod, K pod, and L pod. The resident orcas we had the chance to see today was J pod. We even got to see some awesome surface behaviors such as breaches (especially from the youngsters).

We wrapped up the trip by going to check out the transients one more time on the way back, as well as stopped by Speiden Island to see some harbor seals and some Bald Eagles. All in all, it was a great day (as usual) to be out on the Sea Lion.

 

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris