Posts Tagged ‘Harbor Seal’

A Very J16 Tuesday

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Today myself, Brendan and Captain Pete got out on the Sea Lion to a beautiful day, hopeful whale reports, and a boat full of excited passengers. Word of the day was West side, so we went South out of Friday Harbor through the San Juan Channel. On our way down we began to see lots of wildlife feeding on a herring baitball.

Baitballs are great signs in the Salish Sea that indicate a healthy bottom layer of our rich food web. While feeding, small fish including herring and sandlance swarm into a school in defence of underwater predators including porpoise, minke whales, seals, salmon and diving birds. These predators drive the ball up towards the surface where arial predators like seagulls can take advantage of the smorgasbord. This roch bounty is a great opportunity to see a diverse collection of animals and that we did. After passing by seals, harbor porpoise, gulls, cormorants, auklets and murres eagerly feasting, we rounded cattle point and headed north into the Haro Strait on the West side of San Juan Island.

As we neared False Bay, we saw a large black dorsal fin casually rise from the water followed by the body of J26, or Mike! He has an exceptionally distonguoshed saddle patch making him easy to recognize. Because male resident killer whales will not leave their matriline (matriarchial group of Orca including a female and all of her offspring ), we inferred that the rest of the nearby whales were the J16 matriline! An interesting group, the J16′s are comprised of J16 (Slick), her son J26 (Mike), her daughters J36 (Alki), J42 (Echo) and her newest calf J50, as well as Alki’s new calf J52. This unique family has two out of three new calves in J pod. These youngsters are especially fun to see when they are practicing spyhopping and splashing as much as they were today.

The acrobatics were framed with manestic views of the Olympic peninsula topped with clouds. The day was so clear that Mt. Reiner even showed up in the distance! After getting some great looks at J26, watching moms and calfs swim and splash together, and the breathtaking beauty of the Haro Strait, we decided to let the pod fish in peace as we began our treck back to Friday Harbor.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Flying Whales in Haro Strait!

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Today was (as usual) a fantastic day! My co-natty Erik, captain Mike and myself had a boat full of excited passengers, sunny skies and great whale reports ahead of us. We left the dock and headed south out of Friday Harbor towards Cattle Point. On our way through San Juan Channel we stopped to check out some cormorants and some harbor seals enjoying the sunshine on some rocks. Its currently pupping season for harbor seals! We saw a few little ones learning “banana pose” from the adults.

Harbor Seals are at Carrying capacity in this area, meaning that the ecosystem cannot handle many more seals than already exist. As an unfortunate result, there is about a 50% mortality rate for young seals or “weeners” as they are affectionately called. The good news is that more seals means more happy Transient Orcas!

We were not on our way to see Transients. As we rounded Cattle Point into Haro strait, we began to see fins! We were looking at members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, fish-eaters that follow salmon into the Salish Sea each summer. This summer is no different, we saw lots of big salmon jumping for joy out of the water, which is a clue as to what the whales were doing as we were watching them.

We identified a group as the K12 matriline and watched K22 (Seiku) and her son K33 (Tika) lazily feeding for a while. We then decided to head to another group further north near Lime Kiln Lighthouse where we ran into the K13 matriline! K13 (Skagit), her four children and 2 grandchildren were beinf particularly active and we got some great looks of K20 (Spock) and her son K38 (Comet). The whole pod spent time tailslapping, pec clapping and even cartwheeling (throwing tails up in the air) but the crown jewel was when Skagit breached! The first one was exciting enough, but then she breached again, and again! Hard to miss that shot. Watching a 9,000 pound carnivore propelling itself into the air is a spectacle that seems to happen in slow motion (when you arefortunate enough to not miss it) and is over far too quickly.

After watching the K13′s play around a bit more, we headed south to visit with the K12′s once more before embarking on the journey home. On our way back we crossed paths with a few more harbor seals in the water as well as a great blue heron fishing in a kelp bed. After that amazing whale experience it was like waking up from a dream as we came back to the dock in Friday Harbor.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Oh, Orcas Celebrate Canada Day

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

First of all Happy Canada Day Everyone! Woo and what a Canada Day it has been. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I left Friday Harbor with a super fun group and a very sunny day. There were some reports of Killer Whales a little south of Discovery Island, which is just off the southern tip of Vancouver Island. So despite what people tell you it the temperature doesn’t immediately drop ten degrees when we cross into Canadian waters, but I so try to start saying units in  metric though. We soon caught up with a group of J pod and K pod that were spreading out pretty wide and showing a variety of behaviours. The first family group we looked at was the J-2′s, we saw J-2, Granny, along with Onyx, L-87. Both of these individuals have fantastic stories. Granny is the oldest living orca on record at 104 years old this year! Onyx’s (L-87) mother died and so has been traveling with other pods it looks like he’s been adopted into J pod. This group had about 8 swimming together and was in a pretty tight swimming pattern. It was so amazing to see all of their dorsal fins rise and fall in the water in sync. Next we went a little bit further south and saw the J-16 family group with Slick, J-16, and the two new members of J pod J-50 and J-52. These two aren’t even a year old yet and we saw one of the young ones practice porpoising (where they swim really fast at the water’s surface to get an extra kick of speed). We then moved south and watched an adult male, Blackberry (J-27), swim for awhile with his hug dorsal fin! The male orcas start to develop their tall dorsal fins when they are around 12-15 years old. At full height this dorsal fin can reach 6 feet tall! We once again bid farewell to our Southern Resident Killer Whales friends and started to make our way back to Friday Harbor, but little did we know that our awesome Canada Day was far from over! Close to Cattle Point we came across three Minke Whales! These are about the same size as an orca but are the resident baleen whales! Where orcas have teeth, Minkes have baleen with are keratin strands that they use to filter out all the small fish they feed on. One of the Minkes looked pretty young and it was very peaceful to watch these relatives to the Blue Whale surface and dive for awhile. After that we caught a glimpse of a Bald Eagle swooping to attack a floating and unsuspecting seabird! Last,but certainly not least we saw a mother Harbor Seal swimming with her new pup off of San Juan Island. Woah, that was a fun and exhausting day, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Canada Day than with orcas in Canadian waters, eh?


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Welcome back J Pod!

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

All three Resident Orca pods were away from the islands for a few days but returned to the area yesterday evening! This afternoon we met up with part of J pod, the J-16s, off of Henry Island. Slick (J-16) is the matriarch of this family and she was hunting with her adult son, Mike (J-26), her adult daughters, Alki (J-36) and Echo (J-42). There are two brand new members to this family as well! The new members are Slick’s daughter, J-50 who was born in December and Alki’s calf, J-52, who was born this March. These two were especially fun to watch as they almost fully come out of the water when they are breathing since they still have not fully mastered surfacing and breathing. This was a great family to watch as they moved together for a while and then separated to continue hunting. As Mike surfaced with his 6-foot tall dorsal fin one child on the boat exclaimed, “This is the best day ever!” and I have to say that I completely agree. After hanging with the J-16s we stopped by Gooch Island to look at some Harbor Seals and a wide array of our local sea bird population and a solitary bald eagle. We even got to stop by the J-16s again and they seemed to be having as much fun as we were when they started to porpoise a little (that’s when they swim really fast and gain speed by coming right to surface of the water to gain some lift as they travel at more than 20 mph!)

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

North of the Wall: Transients are Coming

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Today was a very exciting day. We left the dock without any reports of whales. No humpback whales, no minke whales and unfortunately no reports of orcas. We started to steam North keeping our eyes out for any signs of marine mammals. We had the most amazing fly-over by a mature bald eagle and enjoyed traveling up the east side of Waldron Island through Presidents Channel under clear blue skies. Suddenly our Northern bet payed off, as some tall, black dorsal fins cut through the waves around Patos Island. TRANSIENT KILLER WHALES! We were lucky enough to join two family groups as they hunted and socialized in the Strait of Georgia around Alden Bank. We were fortunate enough to witness the groups make at least a couple of kills, and watch the two females present with the group spend time teaching their young ones the ways of being an orca… everything from how to best kill a seal to how to breach and slap the surface of the water with their tails. What a treat! On the way home we got to take a closer look at some harbor seals hauled out on some rocks. These small pinnipeds are at their carrying capacity on this ecosystem, meaning that they are at their maximum population that can be supported. They are adorable to see bobbing in the water! These are the days that really make me appreciate our sighting network, and our ability to go the distance to find whales. If you board our boat and we have no report of whales do not be discouraged, a lot of the time we end up finding them… because just like winter in Westeros, the whales are always coming.

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

Transients, Birds, Humpback and Seals

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Today Captain Mike, Brendan and I spent a bright and warm day out on the water. We left the dock with no reports of orcas, but some Transients were reported just as we pulled out of Friday Harbor. There are two ecotypes of killer whales that swim in the waters of the Salish Sea: Residents and Transients. The Residents are the famous three pods of salmon-eaters, while the Transients are marine mammal eaters focusing most of their attention on harbor seals. We met up with the group of Transients right off of Sidney Island, BC, and it turned out to be my absolutely favorite family of Ts….. The T65As!!!! T65A is a female who has a very pronounced nick out of the trailing tip of her dorsal fin. Sh travels with her four kiddos, T65A2, A3, A4, & A5. We spent some quality time with the family as they leisurely made a kill and started to get a bit surface-active, splashing around and generally celebrating having full bellies. We left them as they started to settle down so that we could check out some nearby seabird colonies. We were treated to views of cormorants and various gull species as well as a VERY nice look at a bald eagle. As we finished looking at the birds yet another report came over the radio, this time of a humpback whale near Spieden Island. We got some very nice looks at the young humpback whale, and continued on our way to check out some harbor seals hauled out on a rock. These little critters can be 4-5 feet long and weigh right around 200-250 pounds. On land they flop around and are no so graceful, but in the water they can be described as acrobatic. We motored back to Friday Harbor with the sun shining on our backs and smiles on our faces. Yet another great day on the water.

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

Humpbacks in the Georgia Strait

Friday, June 12th, 2015

This evening Captain Mike and I left the dock with excited passengers, warm breeze on the water and a report of humpbacks in Canadian waters. We headed north out of Friday Harbor and up the San Juan Channel toward East Point on Saturna Island, the easternmost point of the Canadian Gulf Islands. We stopped here to check out a haul out of harbor seals (or as we call them Pacific Northwest Rock Sausages) and some pairs of black oystercatchers feeding on intertidal invertebrates. After our brief visit with our pinniped friends, we continued to the Northwest in the Strait of Georgia towards the lowering sun and TWO tall columns of steam on the horizon. Could it be humpbacks?

As we neared where we saw the blows we slowed down and heard a massive WHOOSH as first one then the other humpback blew as we saw their massive black backs emerge from the water. Despite what we all may have seen in Finding Nemo, humpback whales do not actually swallow any water that then emerges from their blowhole, in fact their mouths are not connected to their respiratory system at all. Their “blowholes” are actually a huge pair of nostrils that have migrated to the top of their head over evolutionary time. Each one is contained by a splash guard that traps about three gallons of water when they come to the surface. To clear this water, a humpback will exhale at about 300 miles per hour from its monstrous lungs, vaporizing this water  into the ten to twenty foot plume of steam that we see above the water.

We hung out and watched these magnificent animals for a while in the waning sunlight and got some great looks at their flukes as they dove to feed on herring. In what seemed like much too short of a time, it was time for us to wave goodbye as we saw their flukes disappear under the water for the last time.

Even though we left the humpys, we had a great scenic ride ahead of us through Georgensun Pass and Plumper Sound where we saw numerous eagles, an occupied osprey nest, and more seals. We finally made our way back through San Juan Channel back to Friday Harbor where our passengers disembarked with smiles on their faces after a magical evening on the water.

another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Excited Transients in Boundary Pass!

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

What a trip! Today the Sea Lion left the dock crewed by Captain Mike and Naturalists Mike and Alex. Despite a few clouds, our full boat of passengers was super excited to see some wildlife! Fortunately for everyone on board, a group of Transient Orcas was spotted up north in Canadian waters. Eager to see them, we sped north! Along the way we saw a few harbor seals watching our progress as well as a bald eagle flying overhead, but we only slowed down when we began looking for a Humpback whale (Big Mama) that was also reported in the area. With no luck on the Mysticete (Baleen Whales) front, we continued on to our very evident pod of Transients.

Transients, unlike their fish-eating cousins the Resident killer whales, spend their time actively hunting marine mammals including seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and even large whales like Minke’s and Humpbacks. Because these animals have exceptional hearing underwater, Transients need to be very sneaky and quiet while they are hunting in order to surprise their prey. To this end, pods will be made up of small numbers and they will travel very close together without vocalizing. Instead of actively using echolocation (sending out a beam of sound and listening for an echo in order to perceive their environment) like other dolphins, Transients typically use “Passive Sonar”, or listening for key sounds like splashing and breathing in the water to locate their prey.

As we approached the exceptionally large group of 9 Orcas, including the T065 and T125 matrilines, just after they had eaten because they were being anything but sneaky! Everybody on the boat was beside themselves as we witnessed T127, a large male with a badly scarred dorsal fin, repeatedly slapping the water with his flukes (“tailslapping”) and repeated breaches, tail lobs, spy hops, and headstands by all of the pod members. One male even alerted everyone watching to his particular level of excitement by showing off a certain piece of anatomy that is usually tucked away in order to maintain a hydrodynamic body shape. And if you didn’t think Killer Whales were cool before; this 6 to 8 foot appendage is actually prehensile in order to make mating a bit easier for these animals that can weigh up to 12,000 pounds!

Aaaanyway, another notable member of this pod was a mother with a new calf, who was trying its best to mimic all the behaviors that it’s mom was demonstrating including tail slapping, porpoising and breaching. It is great to see this example of how mothers and other pod members teach the new calves everything from hunting techniques to socializing behavior. In this way, each population of Orcas around the globe is unique in it’s learned behavior, which is dictated by available resources and passed down over generations. In humans we call this culture, and we refer to the Orcas’ unique behaviors in this way as well.

After watching this spectacle for a while longer, we decided to say goodbye to the transients and cruise along John’s Pass and the Cacrus Isles where we saw more bald eagles, including one that was busy eating a fish, and lots of harbor seals who were safely hauled out on the rocks. We also got to see some Fallow Deer and Mouflan Sheep grazing on Spieden island; the feral result of a game farm that previously existed on the island.

Upon returning to Friday Harbor, we were all still giddy from seeing all the incredible wildlife. We had another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Humpbacks in Boundary Pass

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion ventured north under a sunny sky full of happy people and some happy naturalists: Mike and Tyler. We had some reports of Humpback whales up in Canadian waters so that is where we headed! Just outside the harbor we saw our first bald eagle fly overhead along with some rhinoceros auklets in the water. We headed towards White Rock, on which there were upwards of 20 harbor seals hauled out. Our harbor seals come in many colors: from white to black and all combinations of colors in between. After watching these yoga masters performing “Banana Pose” for a bit, we continued our journey to Java Rocks where we encountered a pair of young humpbacks blowing before showing off their sleek black backs.

These animals spend all summer long in the Pacific North West feeding on small fish like herring, capelin and sandlance by engorging their accordion-like mouths full of several thousand gallons of seawater and fish, then straining the seawater out through comb-like plates called baleen. This baleen, acting like a big strainer, allows the seawater to flow out of the mouth while the fish are retained. Humpback whales have been using this feeding method for so long that they are only able to swallow small fish as their throat is about the size of a grapefruit!

We observed these mighty yet gentle creatures as they swam west, dove, and surfaced several hundred yards to the east and repeated this pattern. This might have indicated a feeding technique that includes doing a loop under the water through a large school of fish. What a life to live!

After watching for a while, we began to meander back to Friday Harbor. We took the scenic route through the Cactus Isles and along the east side of Spiden Island to see some more harbor seals and watch an eagle circling right over the Sea Lion!

we returned to port not only with the same number of passengers as when we left, but a very happy group.

Another beautiful day full of wildlife in the San Juans!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris