Posts Tagged ‘Harbor Porpoise’

Transients at Bird Rocks

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

This afternoon, we set out from Friday Harbor with a full boat. In just a short trip, we arrived at Bird Rocks, where we had received a report of transient orcas. Sure enough, there they were, the T65As and T77s, along with all of the other whale watching boats from the islands. Shortly after catching our first glimpse of the whales, we spotted a harbor porpoise, maybe 100 yards in front of the pod. Harbor porpoises are one of the favorite prey for transient orcas, as they strictly eat marine mammals, and we assumed that this group was pursuing the lone porpoise. Adult male orcas, weighing in at upwards of 10,000 pounds, can eat 400 pounds of food in a single day. When orcas hunt, they work together to make a kill, and then share their prize amongst the pod.

Because were weren’t far from Friday Harbor, and they were moving in the direction of Friday Harbor, we were able to hang out with the whales for quite a long time, before wrapping up our awesome trip.

 

Naturalist Alex

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

Superpod!

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

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

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

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

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

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