Posts Tagged ‘Harbor Porpoise’

Weekend Update: October 9-11

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Our legendary 2015 late season whale watching continues to impress, with this weekends sightings including resident killer whales, humpback whales, as well as transient killer whales.

On Friday the Sea Lion went out on a high seas adventure, looking to find some of our Southern Resident killer whales just to the south end of the San Juan. We marveled at some members of L Pod including L72 Racer and her son L105 Fluke as they surfed in the waves around our vessel. We also enjoyed views of some bald eagles as we made our way back to Friday Harbor.

On Saturday we headed north into the waters around Spieden Island searching for humpback whales, the fifth largest whale in the world, here in the North Pacific growing up to 50 feet long! These whales, members of a group known as the mysticetes (translates to “mustached whales”), have baleen in their mouths instead of teeth. Baleen is made out of keratin, the same stuff that our fingernails and hair is made out of. The whales use these baleen plates as filters, taking giant mouthfuls of water containing tiny fish and shrimp-like creatures called krill, and then, using their tongues, pressing the water out through their baleen leaving a giant mouthful of food. We enjoyed watching the humpback surfacing through the classic Pacific Northwest mist.

On Sunday we again headed north, but this time to the Strait of Georgia in search of some reported transient killer whales. These orcas are marine mammal eaters, hunting seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, and whales. Because their prey is incredibly aware of their surroundings, these whales tend to be very quiet at the surface and usually travel in small groups of about 5-6 animals. Never say usually with transients!! We were treated to watch a group of about 9 animals as they leisurely traveled south, playing in the currents and resting.

Another great weekend for the books, October continues to be just incredible!

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

Granny Makes a Splash!

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Spring ended with a glorious day out on the water. After the fog rolled out, the sun shined through the clouds as the M/V Sea Lion headed north out of Friday Harbor. Captained by Mike, Naturalist Sarah and I led a full boat on what would be a wonderful day towards Canadian waters following reports of wildlife in the area.

We didn’t need to travel far- as soon as we turned into San Juan Channel dozens of harbor porpoise appeared, playing in the swirling waters. Dorsal fin after dorsal fin rose out of the water as the large group traveled through the channel. We continued motoring north, when lo and behold we encountered three large Steller sea lions just off of Spieden Island.  These animals are massive with males growing up to weigh over 900 pounds! But we were determined to see an even larger marine mammal that day.

Finally, as we rounded the north side of Stuart Island at Turn Point we found the orca whale jackpot. We had found the entirety of K-pod, lazily swimming north towards Canada with other members of J-pod including the infamous Granny (J-2). Though they were spread out across the channel, guests got good looks of over 30 whales, some even tail slapping and breaching. Though Granny has been seen in the San Juan’s many times over the summer, I had yet to get a good glimpse of her in the recent months. Not one to disappoint a good reunion, the J-pod matriarch put on a spectacular display, and showed us that being 104 meant little as she propelled herself into the air for a fantastic breach.

Another fantastic day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Danna, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

“Watch this you salmon eating weirdos” – Transient Orcas everywhere

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Yesterday Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I set out on one of the calmest evenings we’ve had on the water. We were looking for some of the local Transient Orcas. There are three main communities of Transient Orcas that live on the west coast of North America. They all belong to the same ecotype but form different communities that usually remain in one general area, but each small pod can travel from Baja California up to Alaska. The community here is called the Washington – British Columbia community and guess what they live off the coast of Washington and British Columbia!! These Transients separated from our more well known Resident Orcas around 10,000 – 13,000 years ago. So although they look very similar they are genetically distinct and have two very different cultures. The transients usually travel in smaller pods, have a looser social structure, and hunt marine mammals! Yes, everything that looks cute and cuddly in the ocean, they are going to nom on them.

We headed north to some of the outer islands of the San Juans. We had our first sightings of the trip right of the east side of Johns Island. We saw their blows unbelievably close to shore as we approached, and sure enough they were in hunt mode. Do get excited, this is sort of what the folks at the Discovery Channel live for, but usually from the top of water their is little to no blood floating in the currents. It seems that orcas are not as messy of eaters as we believe them to be. They also drown their prey so little is done in the way of killing above the surface. We continued to see them as they moved south along Johns Island. Transients always offer surprises since they do a lot of direction changes underneath the water where you can’t see them, so they can pop up…anywhere. When we got to the south end of Johns Island they skirted through a very narrow channel and started to check around a few massive kelp beds – where many of their prey like to hide.

Now things were starting to get even cooler they kept popping up all around us, looking like they were hunting something else. We were in a small channel now surrounded by islands, kelp, and now…silent orcas. As a Bald Eagle swooped by the orcas showed us a profile and we could tell there were 5 of them and by their markings they looked like the T36A’s along with a few family friends we were unable to identify. This family has two really young orcas who were extremely playful. As they went in between the Wasp Islands we respectfully followed and they disappeared again. Only to reappear in full force as a synchronous breath and then back under again, then one of the calves did a perfect backflip to nosedive combo! This was finished off with the mother and the other adult female bursting out of the water and doing two body slams!


That. was. amazing! Maybe they did that to have fun or maybe to show up those fish eating Resident Orcas, because I have never seen a full back flip from an orca before. They continued to play as they ate more and more (probably Harbor Porpoises). We watched for a few more moments as they happily played in the road of shimmering light cast by the sunsetting over Spieden Island, then bid farewell once more.

Whale folks until next time,

Naturlist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

K’ in Canada!

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Yesterday we headed up North towards a report of K pod in Canadian waters.  It was a beautiful sunny day and on our transit to the whale reports we saw many harbor seals and harbor porpoise.  We made it up to Point Roberts and met up with the K12′s and the K13′s.  The K13′s consist of seven individual whales and the K12′s consist of 5 whales, including a sprouter named Tika.  You can tell the sex of the whale based on the dorsal fin size but up until sexual maturity all of the whales have small fins and look like females.  Once they hit sexual maturity, usually between the ages of 10 and 12, the males will then begin to grow their big 6 foot tall dorsal fin.  Usually by the time the males are 17 they will have their full sized dorsal fin. Tika was born in 2001 so he is still working on his full sized dorsal fin.  The whales were grouped up in their families surfacing together and displaying a variety of social communication behaviors including tail slapping and pectoral slapping.  After watching the whales we headed back towards Friday Harbor with a beautiful whale watch checked off the list.  All of the guests seemed to enjoy the transit to and from the whales allowing them to see a large portion of the beautiful San Juan Islands.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

The J way

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Today was another typical summer Friday in Friday Harbor – sunny skies, cool breezes, and smooth waters. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I headed north! to see if we could meet up with our Southern Resident Killer Whales heading south from Canada. We sailed through some beautiful waters and stopped to look at a bait ball that gulls, rhinoceros auklets, and some common murres had found when, splash! a wild Steller Sea Lion appeared! These hunks of furry blubber are heading back to the Salish Sea from their rookeries that they were just at in the far north. They are the largest species of sea lions in the world and they do sometimes through their weight around. It is good to see them again, but it’s also a sure sign of summer quickly closing. After watching him for awhile as he also feasted on the bait ball, a harbor seal popped up, and… and a harbor porpoise. These cuties have flat faces and are super speedy! As we moved northward we passed into Canada and around Eastpoint. The waters around here are amazing causing the currents to go wild, crisscross, and upwell, making it live up to its name – Boiling Reef. It’s one of my favorite places on the water and it soon got better as two families of J pod came past us. The J-2′s  – Granny’s family – swam by with their adopted son Onyx and the new calf. The Cookie Clan was also there too! They approached Eastpoint with us as the roiling waters ran like a white water river around the point. They stopped spyhopped a bunch to get a good eye on the situation, and whooossh they powered around the point and straight into the current. They pretty whale despite the hard swim and handled it like champs. The skirted the shore of some glacially pitted coastline during the hardest part and eventually spread back out as the current slowed down. It seemed like they were happy about their recent sprint swim, and they celebrated with breach after breach after cartwheel and then unexpectedly they were cartwheeling on both sides of the boat! Those final great moments made the necessity of heading back home not so hard.


Whale folks that’s all for today,

until next time

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A Whale of a Homecoming-July 27th, 2015

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Today Captain Pete, Erick and I took out the Sea Lion full of excited passengers to have a beautiful evening out on the water and check out some wildlife. We had a pretty great whale report with a bit of history behind it. The Southern Residents had all left the Salish Sea the other day and we had spent a few days seeking other wildlife like humpback whales, minke whales and transient orcas. However, our report had some good news: they were back!

The Southern Resident Killer Whales come back to the same areas each summer to feed on Chinook salmon. Much of their time is spent around the San Juan Islands while they feed on fish returning to the Frasier river to spawn, but they will periodically head out to the Pacific coast to feed on salmon returning to the Columbia and Snake rivers, among others.

Having them back in the area is great news for us, because we love seeing them of course! In our effort to see them, we left Friday Harbor and headed South through San Juan Channel. Usually when we reach Cattle Point, we begin heading North to the West side of San Juan Island, but today we headed West in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We spent a good chunk of time cruising west scanning for dorsal fins, and to our surprise saw a humpback whale fluke up for a dive in the distance! There is nothing like a surprise whale encounter. We were not ready to turn around just yet, however, so we continued on.

Just south of Victoria, BC we began to see fin after fin breaking the surface as K Pod came into view! Slowly cruising East toward the islands, they looked like they were coming home after a long journey. Upon reaching Haro Strait, they woke up a bit. We spent time with all of K Pod, especially the K12 and K13 matrilines. We got great looks at some of the large males of the group like K25 (Scoter), K26 (Lobo) and we even got to see K21 (Cappuccino)! They appeared to be happy to be back in the Salish Sea and celebrated by porpoising, spyhopping, tail slapping and even a full breach!

We enjoyed their company for a while as they escorted the Sea Lion back to San Juan Island before we decided to enjoy their homecoming in peace.

Under the setting sun that made the sky and the water come alive with color, we began to make our way back to Friday harbor. The tour wasn’t over yet, however; we came across a few harbor porpoise, and one was carrying a calf on its back! Good news for the once dwindling porpoise population in the Salish Sea.

Far too quickly, our journey came to an end as the sun dropped below the trees.

Another Whale of a Day on the Salsih Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Mystical Mysticetes

Friday, July 17th, 2015

On Thursday y’all, we got a rare treat. Usually out here in the summer we have many orca encounters, but there are many other cetaceans (aka whales) that also share the waters of the Salish Sea. One of our visitors is the enormous Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). We went looking for this particular one on a beautiful cool and sunny Thursday afternoon, and finally caught up to him or her (harder to tell with these, folks) around Pole Pass in between Orcas Island and Crane Island. This was surprising since This not a very large pass and as you know Humpbacks are very, very big, around 40 – 50 ft. long as adults – woah! that’s a lot of whale. But this whale looked as happy as a clam probably because these tight quarters left no escape for his minuscule prey. As Finding Nemo taught us all, Humpbacks eat krill, “Swim Away!” As well as small bait fish and other tiny organisms that get caught in their mouths. This is a major difference between Orcas and Humpbacks. Orcas and all other cetaceans that have teeth belong to the classification Odontocetes meaning toothed whales, but Humpbacks and other whales that prey on krill and other plankton belong to the Mysticetes meaning mustache whales. This means that instead of teeth they have something called baleen. Hold on, let me finish I didn’t just say mustache whales to check to see if you were still reading that is actually the truth. This baleen is like a bristly row of think hair in their mouths so they can suck in a lot of water then force it out through the baleen thereby catching all those tiny organisms, and if you’ve ever had a mustache you know that they are great at that process mouth full of water or not. Anyway this guy was amazing to see as he placidly kept heading northeast and nomming on all the tiny things in the ocean. Just listening to the sound of his breathing you could tell the size difference between this Humpback and the Orcas. After awhile we travelled north to the rips near Spieden Island to see some other cetaceans – Harbor Porpoises! These are one of my favorites because they are so cute. We saw five swimming in and out of the strong currents trying to catch fish. We don’t know too much about this species because they are so shy. They belong to the porpoises which are distinct from the orcas which are part of the dolphins and the humpbacks which are baleen whales. It was fun to see how fast these guys were as they swim in and out and even did their porpoising charges to pick up speed. After them with circumnavigated Flattop Island to visit all the Harbor Seals and their adorable pups, but also got a super good show by some Bald Eagles and their young too! Wooh, what an unexpected day! And just remember flukes aren’t always a bad thing.



Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris





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


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