Posts Tagged ‘friday harbor’

Tansient Orcas Outside Friday Harbor!

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Although the day started out grey, the sunshine quickly took over in the San Juan Islands.  Captain Mike lead Naturalist Emily, Naturalist Kevin, and the guests on board the M/V Sea Lion north out of Friday Harbor in the pursuit of orcas.  We started the morning with no orca reports, which is common in the early season, so we went to look in areas that orcas frequent in the San Juans. As we were headed around the north side of Spieden Island two dorsal fins were spotted and moments later the call came over the radio!  Two transient males, T49C and T77A were traveling in Spieden Channel.  Many transients orcas have been spotted recently in the area; there have been over 50 individuals in our waters in the last week!  The two male orcas passed many a harbor seal, but luckily for the seals, it did not seem to be lunch time.  With great surfaces and a few rolls these tranient orcas were a treat.

After viewing the tranient orcas for a while, guests were also treated to a large group of Stellar Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks soaking up the rays.  A solo California Sea Lion was also spotted sunning himself!  Guests also saw several Bald Eagles and plenty of Harbor Seals.

As we motored back to Friday Harbor, we found the same two transient orcas!  Just outside Friday Harbor, it seemed like the orcas possibly found an afternoon snack, as there were many quick dives and circling in the water.  The two male orcas briefly split apart, but were seen swimming together again inside Friday Harbor!

Great wildlife and orca sightings along with ample sunshine made this spring tour one for the books!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Last Trip of the Season!

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The whale watching season is coming to an end here on San Juan Island, and in the Salish Sea. The weather is getting colder, the days shorter, but that doesn’t seem to have an effect on the transient orcas! When we left Friday Harbor, we headed south then west traveling off the shores of Victoria to catch a glimpse of some transient orcas. When we arrived on scene, the T46b group of five orcas were traveling close together. After waiting in anticipation for over an hour to see orcas, our guests were thrilled! We had definitely gone the extra mile!

It was more of an emotional trip for everyone on board because we all knew this was our last trip out for the 2013 season and were lucky enough to see the orcas. Everyone seemed to have a deep appreciation for what they were watching. The transients were traveling in their typical zigzag type of pattern, speeding up and slowing down. They were on the hunt for any marine mammals in the area. We got to spend about an hour with the whales then headed home, checking out some steller sea lions along the way! What a great way to end the season, but Captain Brian and I were simply determined to see Orcas today no matter the cost!

This is our last blog for the 2013 season and I will leave you with this: these orcas are some of the most intellectual, thoughtful, and compassionate beings that I’ve ever had the pleasure of observing. They have culture, tradition, and language. They are simply magical. I hope to see you all in the next spring and summer to whiteness the beauty that I have seen throughout the 2013 season here in the San Juans.

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

Transients Snack on Rock Sausage II

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Yesterdays trip turned out to be pretty great! Lots of whales, wildlife and rare findings! We left Friday Harbor and headed for the west side of San Juan Island to catch up with the T-120 group of mammal hunting transient orcas, stoping along the way to see harbor seals and steller sea lions.

When we got to the orcas they were traveling at a very fast speed, probably chasing their prey. Just as I was telling guests how orcas hunt cooperatively and come together in a tight group when they begin to initiate the kill, they began to do that. It happened very quickly and subtly, but when we all saw the pair of harbor seal lungs floating on the surface, almost surgically removed from the body, we all knew what had happened! Orca whales have very dexterous tongs and use their large cone shaped teeth with precision. It was incredible to see how carefully, yet speedily they disarticulated the lungs from the body of the seal. Transients are actually known to leave the lungs. I guess they are just not as good as the rest of the meat!

We also saw a mother and calf pair of humpback whales on Kelp Reef! It was a great day!

Heather, Naturalist, 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

Once in a Lifetime Transient Orca Behavior!

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Today was one of those days that only happens once in a season- sunny September skies, flat calm ocean water, wildlife everywhere, great guests… oh, and did I mention orca whales that seemed to be breaching out of the water every thirty seconds?!

Let’s start at the beginning! Today the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor and headed north into Canadian waters once again. Today however, we were in search of the mammal hunting orcas known as transients, or Biggs Killer Whales. We really couldn’t have had better timing! When we got on seen with the orcas, they surfaced once and stayed submerged for a very long time. I surmised that they were probably hunting something underwater. My suspicions were confirmed when they surfaced in a tight circle trying to kill the harbor seal that they had found. It was incredible to watch the hole thing unfold before our eyes!

Suddenly, the whales took off and were seen far in the distance porpoising out of the water, a behavior they do to conserve energy when they are traveling at high speeds. The chase was on. Next, they came right back to where they were. The large male in the group, T12a then displayed some very aggressive behavior, flipping though the water and cartwheeling repeatedly. After that, all was silent above water. Below water, there were probably many vocalizations going on and sharing of the food. It is likely that the large male finished off the seal and then shared with the two mothers and three calf’s in the group!

After that, then the fun began! It seemed like just when you thought the orcas would be done celebrating, another would jump out of the water, or do a head stand, or cartwheel, or spyhop! Even the babies were getting in on the action! At one point, many people, myself included, snapped a picture of two orcas breaching at the very same time- one going one way, and the other the opposite direction. That’s something everyone will remember their entire life. It really was an incredible display of orca behavior. I can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow!

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

Visits with KPod

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

We left Friday Harbor today and motored out towards Salmon Bank. The rain had quit for most of the duration of our trip and the sun was starting to shine through. As we went through Cattle Pass and by Whale Rocks we got some great looks at steller sea lions and harbor seals. They were foraging in the water as well as hauled out on the rocks giving us some great looks.

As we got out to Salmon Bank we soon came upon members of KPod. The whales were spread out for miles foraging for salmon. They prefer to eat King or Chinook Salmon, the need to eat about 300-400 lbs per day! These guys were all making sporadic movements and trying to round up the salmon. All in all it was a great day, I never complain when we have whales everywhere!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Saffaris

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

Mr.Floppy and Resident Orcas!

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

The M/V Sea Lion motored out of Friday Harbor today and headed north! With September comes the fall weather, guests on board braved the misty, chilly weather to watch some Orcas. It was certainly worth it because as soon as we got north of Stewart Island we caught up with the T-19 group of mammal hunting whales! I was particularly excited because I hadn’t seen the infamous “Mr.Floppy” yet this summer. He is an 18 year old male and his dorsal fin has almost reached maturity. It looks different from every angle and is so large that it curved down to the left slightly! Super cool! These guy’s were hunting, tail slapping and trying to fish harbor seals out of the kelp beds!

After spending some time with the Transient Orcas, we headed south about a mile and caught up with our Southern Resident Orcas around Turn Point (the most Northwesterly part of the continental U.S.). First to “mug” (or come extremely close to the boat) was K33, Tika (born 2001) who we have been seeing up close and personal often throughout the last couple weeks. He came super close, and people had a hard time zooming out their camera lenses to capture it in time! We also saw K25, Scooter (born 1991), who I haven’t seen much of this summer and was, therefore, very happy to see him!

Along the list of whales we saw came some LPod members as well! We got a nice glimpse of L94, Calypso and her four year old calf Joy following directly behind her. I couldn’t have asked for a better day! Guest were able to pick out morphological differences between the two species of whale on their own, and really got to see first hand how the two species differ. Learning from experience… that’s what I like as a naturalist!

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

Transient Orcas Snack on Rock Sausage

Friday, September 13th, 2013

It’s not often that we get to choose between viewing Bigg’s Killer Whales or Southern Resident Killer Whales on the same trip. That was the case today. I wish we could spread out this luck for the guests who didn’t get to see any killer whales on their trip. For a time during peak summer, we were striking out trip after trip, at a time when killer whale sightings should have been at their peak. That unpredictability is part of the fun of viewing killer whales in the wild.

So what did Captain Mike choose? Transients, because they were right around the corner from our Friday Harbor docks! The first group of transients were porpoising north at a high speed from Yellow Island toward another group milling off of Flattop Island. We paralleled this first group and then moved on to observe Steller’s sea lions at Green Point on Spieden Island. When we turned to catch up with the second group of transient orcas, we realized they were headed right for us and the sea lions. Suddenly there was a boil of white water with the faint outline of a seal flipper in the center. It appeared that the transients had found a tasty morsel. The group continued toward the sea lions and we wondered if the orcas had finished their appetizer and were now moving on to the entrée. But no, after lingering at Green Point, the gang continued west, tight along the shore of Spieden, playing and breaching.

Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

K Pod on the Horizon

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

The M/V Sea Lion left our Friday Harbor location and headed south today, out through Cattle Pass and out to Hein Bank. It had turned into a gorgeous day with sunny skys and calm water. Everyone was happy to be on a boat rather than on land! Along our way to Hein Bank, we came across many steller sea lions! These guy’s are just huge, and never cease to amaze me with their size! They were on and along whale rocks fighting, roaring, and some that were just laying in the sun. Yep, they’ve got it rough…

When we left the sea lions and got out to Hein Bank, we saw nothing but dorsal fins along the horizon. Those fins happened to belong to our resident K Pod. These orcas were forging for fish in their normal spread out pattern. Family members, however, were close together traveling in small groups of two or three. These Orcas have matrilines where their mother (or grandmother) is dominant, they will behave in accordance to what she wants to do; male orcas will not leave their mothers side their entire life while female offspring will stray some when she has her own caves around the age of 14. We saw K12, Sequim, her daughter, K-22 Sekiu (1987) and her grandson, K33 Tika a “sprouting” male born in 2001. Family is everything to these gentle giants.

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris