Posts Tagged ‘Harbor Porpoise’

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

Whale Search!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Today we arrived at the M/V Sea Lion with a report of Resident orcas traveling quickly to the southwest. Naturalist Aimee, Captain Pete and I consulted and decided that we would try to catch up with them! Orcas can swim over 100 miles in a single day and can reach speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. We had a great group on board today who were very excited to be out on the water. We all were hoping that the orcas stayed close enough so that we could catch up with them!

On the way out to the reported orcas we took a slight detour to see a humpback whale! Humpbacks were once plentiful in this area, but were extirpated when the area was heavily whaled. It has only been within the last two decades that humpbacks have begun returning. We reached the orcas just in time to witness the most breaches I have seen on a trip yet this season. The whales definitely put on a show for the boat! Guests were certainly left extremely impressed with the whales’ acrobatics. On the way back to Friday Harbor we got to see some harbor seals and porpoises. Overall it was another amazing day on the Salish Sea!

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

Playful J Pod!

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

Today started off dark and rainy; however, as we left our Friday Harbor location in search of killer whales, the sun started to peak through the clouds. The day was starting to look beautiful, and as we rounded the corner of Cattle Pass, you could clearly see the snow-capped Olympic mountains. The only thing that could make this scenery better was a tall black dorsal fun slicing through the water.

It wasn’t too long before what we were all hoping for became a reality when members of J Pod surfaced off out port side. Naturalist Sarah and I quickly identified some of the members and family groups. Among them were L87, J34, J22, J32 and J36. The whales were foraging and being extremely playful! We saw L87 tail slapping repetitively, J34 breaching high, and many of the youngsters having a great time as well!! Nothing really gets better than watching killer whales off the beautiful San Juan Island and seeing all of the wildlife in the surrounding area. As well as killer whales, we saw a variety of birds, seals, and porpoises!
Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

Transients in Rosario Strait

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Another lovely day out on the water here in the San Juan’s! Today we got to head a bit of a different direction from our normal jaunt along the westside of San Juan Island, and headed through Obstruction Pass, between Orcas Island and Blakely Island. Waiting just outside Obstruction pass, in the Rosario Strait, Captain Mike, Naturalist Chelsea, and passengers aboard the M/V Sea Lion, we’re rewarded with a few blows off in the distance. Upon closer inspection, it was none other than the T-65A’s with their little 3 month old calf in tow! These Transient Orcas have been spotted around the area in the past few weeks and are always on the prowl for some yummy treats in the form of marine mammals. Their favorites being harbor seals and harbor porpoises. It takes a lot of energy to survive in these cold waters, and these Transients are being awesome parents and supplying their young with lots of food to stay warm in these frigid waters.

With few boats on the water, we were able to enjoy these animals work their magic in complete silence. They definitely captured the attention of all our guests on board, and solidified their position as my favorite type of whale to watch! Can’t wait to get out on the water tomorrow and hopefully we’ll see ya out there!

 

-Caitlin, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

 

Transient Orcas and Rainbows

Monday, September 30th, 2013

When the M/V Sea Lion departed from the docks today it was down-pouring rain. We all stayed inside the cabin, where the heat was on to keep us warm while we weathered the storm. That however, didn’t last long as we soon came upon a group of playful harbor porpoise to look at! They were all around our boat and were foraging in the San Juan Channel. And, as we continued on, we were able to see about forty steller sea lions! It was great, these guys are about 2,000 pounds of sheer fat! Quite impressive…

As we circumnavigated San Juan Island, braving the wind and rain in search of Orcasin Harro Strait, spirits never lowered. Everyone was very positive throughout an otherwise very black trip! And, when we all thought we finally weren’t going to see any whales today, guess what showed up!? Yep, we had a group of five trasient (mammal hunting) killer whales spotted about a mile away from where we were! Captain Brian quickly turned the boat around and we were off! When I saw the first blow, I lit up, telling everyone the good news. It always makes me happy to see their excited faces when I break the news that we’ll get to see killer whales after all!

As if seeing the killer whales after a trip of rain, wind and more rain wasn’t good enough, the remainder of the trip gave way to numerous rainbows. It ended up being a beautiful trip. You can’t go wrong with Orcas and rainbows!!

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