Posts Tagged ‘Harbor Seal’

Transient Orcas at Henry Island

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Another fabulous day on San Juan Island! Our Owner and Captain Brian was out on the water today and spotted transient orcas near Henry Island late this morning.  T18 was out with the T19 group hunting in Open Bay and off Battleship Island.  We often see these transient orcas in the summer months as well.  Harbor seals were the main course this morning, a favorite of transient orcas.  Brian observed lots a vocalizations after the hunt was over.  Transients are often seen “celebrating” after a kill, the sign of a happy and full orca.

Battleship Island is a nature preserve and heavily populated with harbor seals.  The harbor seals enjoy the large kelp bed that surrounds the small rock island.  In the summer time harbor seal pups are often seen laying on top of the kelp.  It is not wonder that it is also a favorite diner for transient orcas!


Reservations Manager, 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

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

Humpbacks and Orcas?!?!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

On  this unusually sunny afternoon (for fall at least), M/V Sea Lion left San Juan Island and prepared to go the distance. We were on our way to Victoria, BC where there were reports of some whales! On our way out we came across some dalls porpoise in the San Juan Channel. The dalls were playing in our wake then, as quickly as they surfaced, disappeared. It was a nice surprise, and we also got to spend some time with steller sea lions!

When we got on seen in the Straight of Juan de Fuca with two humpback whales with Port Angelas in the distance they were surfacing quite a bit. We got to see their large bodies roll though the water and guests were very impressed when I told them the whales were about the same size of our boat! However, it wasn’t long before we were on to Trial Island off of Victoria, BC to check out three transient (mammal hunting) orcas. The T10 group were hunting for harbor seals. At one point, I saw a seal head right above the orcas and healed my breath! I figured the whales would have a tasty snack right in front of our eyes! But, they let the little harbor seal live to tell the tail! It was a great day, flat water, somewhat sunny skys, and two kinds of whales!!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Minke Mayhem!

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Today we headed south out the San Juan Channel, into Cattle Pass and out to Salmon Bank. It was sunny and beautiful for fall! Along the way we had some great looks at harbor porpoise, harbor seals and even some steller sea lions. The marine mammals were all foraging in the strong tidal currants that stirred the fish making it easier for them to catch them! When we got out to Salmon Bank we came across a mike whale. We spent a while with this guy who was taking us in every which direction! Mine whales forage sporadically, often times they are hard to spot and even harder to keep track of. This guy however, surfaced numerous times right next to our boat giving our guests amazing views! On our way back we even saw the steller sea lions hauled out. In this way, we can really get a great appreciation for all two thousand pounds of them!


Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris


Transients on the Move!

Friday, August 30th, 2013

It’s been that kind of summer… Transient Orcas have been everywhere-surfacing in the distance, hunting for seals and porpoise, and giving us close encounters. It’s been a little while since we saw Transients out on Middle Bank off the West side of San Juan Island. The M/V Kittiwake and guests went out to find them!

Transient Orcas have been seen much more than any other and we are certainly getting to know their habits and cultures more. The transients we saw today surprised us all by surfacing just next to our floating boat! Their exhalation sound actually startled me! From that close, we could clearly see the nicks in their dorsal fins that makes them easily distinguishable from one-another. Transients are always fun to watch. Just the other day, we all watched as another pod fished a Harbor Seal out of a kelp mat, tracked, killed and fed on it. They are just incredible mammals! Everyday is a good day when we have Orcas around.

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

Minke Whale Goes Off the Beaten Path

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

The fog bank to the west and north of San Juan Island has been challenging the whale watching fleet recently. Shortly after departing the Friday Harbor dock, Captain Craig learned of a minke whale sighting north of Waldron Island. When we caught up with the cetacean it was executing long dives, 5-6 minutes in duration, followed by 3-5 short dives. We finished the trip off by cruising by a national wildlife refuge and the Cactus Islands, where we observed bald eagles and harbor seals at close range.

Naturalist, M/V “Sea Lion”
San Juan Safaris

“Spirited” Whales and Wildlife of All Sorts!

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Today was a beautiful day to be on the water with plenty of action, and Caitlin, Captain Mike and I were out to experience it all! We left the dock and headed out to the south end of San Juan Island. As we went through Cattle Pass, there was a plethora of wildlife to be scene. A mated pair of Bald Eagles flew above the water in front of us and landed on Goose Island. Also on Goose Island were lots of hatchings! Fluff balls of down feathers and young, disoriented, hungry baby Galls covered the island! Now, normally I’m not particularity fond of Galls… but seeing all of the adorable hatchings bring a new side of “cuteness” to these terribly misunderstood creatures!

It’s also “pupping” season, and we saw many Harbor Seal pups with their mothers swimming and up on the rocks! Harbor Seal pups can swim within minuets of birth, but have been known to ride on Mom’s back holding on with their tiny flippers! This may seem well and good, but in 3-4 weeks that mother is going to abruptly wean and leave her pup, so he/she had better be paying attention and not catching too many free piggy-backs off Mom!

After we spent time with the Eagles and Seals, Mike slowed the boat down once more for something else; Harbor Porpoise surrounded our boat, and one even breached! There is nothing like seeing a 150lb Porpoise jump out of the water! That was a first for me! It’s actually unusual for Harbor Porpoise to spend that much time near a motor vessel, usually their very shy and disappear when large boasts are near; we were all very happy!

When we finally caught up with the L-22′s (Spirit, Skanna, and Solstice), and it was as if they were welcoming us. Right off, Solstice lept into the air in a full breach! From then on, lots of cartwheeling, breaching, spyhoping, rolling and tail slapping that occurred from all three of the L-Pod members! They just love the attention! Watching these three whales never gets old. They’ve been the only three killer whales in the Puget Sound for a while now, but they certainly know how to put on a show! I’ll visit these whales any day! They’ve really becoming quite partial to me.

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

Summer is Here in the San Juans!

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

It was a beautiful day today as Captain Chris, Captain Brian, the guests, and I headed out on of Friday Harbor on the Kittiwake. With not a breath of wind, and a robins egg blue sky, summer is finally here! We found a Minke Hein Bank and had some great views as it surfaced. After spending time with the Minke, we headed closer to shore to find some Bald Eagles and Harbor Seals, and we were not disappointed! We had a great look at the eagle nest on Long Island, near the south end of Lopez Island, and the nesting pair of Bald Eagles that the nest belongs to! Bald Eagles mate for life and will return the the same next every year! Eagles will also build a back up nest in case anything should happen to their main nest. The largest nest on record was 9ft wide, 20ft deep, and weighed in at over 1 ton! That’s a lot of sticks! As always, it was another beautiful day on the water, and now that summer is here, get your marshmallow sticks ready, because it is sure to be a great one!

Emily, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris, MV Kittiwake

Minke + Humpback + Sunset = A Wonderful Evening

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

As Captain Craig, the guests, and I left Friday Harbor and headed south through San Juan Channel it was grey and the water was swirling with whirlpools from the tidal currents. However, as soon as we rounded Cattle Point on San Juan Island the clouds parted and the water was like glass! With the sun on our backs, we encountered a Minke near Salmon Bank. We had marvelous views of the solo Minke all the way up to Eagle Point.

Captain Craig heard that there might be a Humpback on the west side of San Juan Island, so we started to motor up the west side. We first encountered the Humpback at Kellet Bluff on Henry Island. The Humpback was being very docile tonight as it chugged north.

As we parted ways with the Humpback, the sunset really got going! With tons of yellows and golds it was one of the best sunsets I have seen on the water! We got to see two members the Rorqual Family (Humpback and Minke whales), Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and a spectacular sunset. I call that a success!

Emily, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris, MV Sea Lion