Posts Tagged ‘Haro Strait’

Ks & Ls in Haro!

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Today under grey skies the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor with positive reports of our local celebrities: the Southern Resident killer whales! Traveling south we encountered a number of very playful harbor seals and enjoyed the presence of some of our numerous seabirds. We also took a few minutes to stop at Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass to look at about a dozen Steller’s sea lions sprawled on the rocks. These large pinnipeds are about the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow and can weigh upwards of 2500 pond, while achieving a length of 12 feet. THEY ARE MASSIVE! We moved on from the sea lions, heading north up the west side of San Juan Island. We met up with the K12 matriline just off of False Bay. K33 Tika was foraging with his younger Aunt K43 Saturna, and we got awesome looks at both of them! We peeled off off the K12s to head offshore to a group of incoming L pod whales. We saw breach after breach, tail slap after tail slap as the whales¬† joyfully made their way towards San Juan Island. We were delighted to see members of the L4 matriline, L54 matriline, as well as crowd favorites L92 Crewser and his Aunt L90 Ballena. We got some awesome looks at these beautiful whales today, despite the cloudy skies. Yet another great day to whale watch in the San Juan Islands!

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

Birds and Whales and Sunset OH MY!

Friday, August 21st, 2015

As August winds down, our evening tours become more and more precious. The sun is setting earlier, which means better light for us throughout the duration of our tour. The M/V Sea Lion picked up our 26 guests, left the harbor, and headed south through San Juan channel. As we made our way through Cattle Pass, Haro Strait opened in front of us revealing almost glass-like water in the golden light. We made our way North along the West side of San Juan catching glimpses of some of the wonderful bird life that we have in the area. We started to see members of our Southern Resident killer whale population right off of False Bay, and, man, they were active!! We witnessed several full breaches, several spyhops, and inverted tail slaps. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when we dropped our hydrophone over the side of the boat. These underwater microphones let you hear, in real time, what is going on underneath the water. The vocals were out of this world: clicks, whistles, squeaks… you name it we heard it. After spending nearly an hour and 45 minutes with the whales lazily playing around us we started to head back to Friday Harbor. Looking back across the Strait the sun began to set and really paint the sky. It was a fittingly beautiful way to end the experience!

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

Transients Do What Transients Do

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

When our reliable Residents aren’t around, Naturalists and Captains alike are always hopeful Transients will be found somewhere. Our sunset departure left with mixed reports of a group of Transients that might be coming within range of our trip. The inestimable Captain Pete decided to go for it and our guests, my fellow Naturalist Alex, and our guests couldn’t be more grateful.

We caught up the group of at least eight animals out in the Haro Strait. Transients are more difficult to recognize immediately because there’s over 200 that can show up on any given day in the San Juans. As a result, it takes some work to figure out what group you are looking at, but it’s aided by the individualized scars that their favorite foods, marine mammals, give them in pursuit. Ultimately we were less concerned about who we were looking at because of the show they put on.

Not long after passing Limekiln State Park the group diverged and started actively hunting. With a couple our thrashings and some epic breaches and cartwheels, we knew they were on top of food and before long they slowed the pace and milled, obviously eating. A couple red blobs appeared on the surface, that I took as loose floats, but what turned out to be floating lungs presumably from a harbor porpoise they had recently eaten. It was slightly gruesome to watch them float by, but it was a good teaching moment: Orca’s are selective in what they like to eat and discard what they don’t want.

Before leaving we also got to see an interesting and uncommon behavior. For several minutes we watched a younger animal in the group repeatedly grasp and pull down a Pigeon Guilemot (a common nearshore seabird in the Puffin family) below the surface. The bird screamed but apparently was unable to escape on wing because it made no move to do so. Last we saw it, as we headed North for a circumnavigation of San Juan Island, it appeared to have survived this cat and mouse game with Transient Killer whales.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J Pod Soiree in the West Side-July 18, 2015

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Today myself, Alex and Captain Mike left the dock on the Sea Lion with a boat full of excited passengers, great whale reports and a beautiful evening ahead of us. As we left Friday Harbor we headed South past Griffin Bay in the San Juan Channel. We stopped near Goose Island (still on fire from 4th of July negligence and hot dry weather) to check out some seals lazily swimming in the current, popping their heads out to check on us as we passed. This time of year holds lots of curious young seal pups as their mothers go back to daily seal life and leave the weaned young, “weaners” on their own. A tumultuous time for a young seal, qeaners face many challenges like avoiding predators, finding enough food, and finding out the consequences of being TOO curious. As a result, not all of them will make it. The ones that do, however, might just pass on any genetic traits that helped them survive. We wish them luck!

As we finished contemplating the existence of seals, we rounded Cattle Point and began heading North in the Haro Strait, the body of water that makes one of the borders between the United States and Canada, Eh? The Strait was exceptionally clear both in and out of the water. We had fantastic views of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Reiner, two dormant volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain range. This was particularly exciting because, due to haze from fires in Canada over the past few weeks, we were denied these spectacular views.

Looking into the water was no less beautiful; we passed over a large swarm or “smack” of crystal jellies, silver-dollar-sized clear jellyfish that feed on minute animals in the zooplankton by stunning them with their Nematocysts, or stinging cells, then digesting them. Seeing hundreds of these living ¬†gems slowly pulsing through the turquoise water was worth the boatride in itself. We also saw numerous pink, or Humpy, salmon jumping out of the water. The water was clear enough to watch the happy fish swim away after it’s impressive leap.

However, we didn’t come out here looking for salmon and jellies, we were scanning the water for black dorsal fins, which we finally encountered near False Bay. It was J Pod (or J Squad if you’re really cool)! The first whale we encountered, easily identifiable by his massive dorsal fin and distinct saddle patch, was L87 (Onyx). A victim of hard times when he lost his matriarch, he left L Pod and began traveling with K Pod for a few years before settling in with the J2 matriline of J Pod. Knowing this, we could assume that the J2′s were present and sure enough the next dorsal fins we saw belonged to J2 (Granny) and J14 (Samish). Granny is the uncontested matriarch of J Pod. At the ripe age of 104 (oldest known killer whale), she is still spiritedly leading the squad.

We also got some great looks at the J19 group, led by J19 (Sachi). She was joined by her daughter J41 (Eclipse) and her new grandbaby J51. The new claves are always exciting to see, energetic miniature Orcas clumsily surfacing right behind mom. J27 (Blackberry), a very distinguished male, also travels with this matriline.

As all of the groups were quite spread out and swimming nowhere in general (“milling”), we assumed that they were searching for and eating Chinook salmon, their favorite food.

We excitedly watched most of J Squad feed, play, and swim for a while as colors from the impending sunset danced on the surface of the water. It was truly a beautiful moment. Although we all would have been happy staying on the West side all evening, we decided to say our goodbyes and begin heading back to Friday Harbor.

On our way back we again encountered some seals and many seabirds before arriving at the dock.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

 

Superpod, Super Day

Monday, July 6th, 2015

This trip was one of the best whale watches of my life. We motored off to the southwest side of San Juan Island, where we met up with the Southern residents, (and a minke whale!) At first, we could just see one or two whales here and there, surfacing sporadically. In time, however, they began to surface more often, and more predictably, more seemed to appear, and before we knew it, we were watching a greeting ceremony. Whales joined up to form larger and larger pods, and then each larger pod came together from different directions to form superpod! This year, the residents have been more fragmented than usual, meaning that you’re more likely to see just one or a few matrilines at a time, as opposed to all of J pod, for example, or all of the residents traveling together. This looser social structure seems to follow a pattern of low food availability, so to see them all come together like we did today is both super cool, and good news. It is also believed that superpod is a breeding event, members of J pod mating with members of K pod, and L pod, but never within pods. This joining of the residents was followed by ample surface activity, breaches, tail slaps, pec slaps, rolls, and spyhops. We spent our entire trip (excluding travel time) watching the whales, and I don’t think guests could have been happier.

 

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Star Spangled Breaching

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Today was amazing. We left Friday Harbor (both at 1:30 and 5:30) with confirmed whale reports for the west side of the island. We made our way and soon enough were among dozens of Southern resident killer whales. This included the K13s, the J19s, and many other matrilines. Although they were fairly spread out at times, we are confident that they were traveling together because orcas can communicate from a few miles away from each other. Nonetheless, if I didn’t know any better, I would say that they knew it was Independence Day, and showed it with breach after breach after breach, in a way that was reminiscent of a firework display. But alas, it was just social behavior, one that seems to often follow a successful hunt–STILL AWESOME!

On the way out, we got a great look at about 20 harbor seals poking their heads out of the water just beyond Griffin Bay. If the tide is low enough, you’re more likely to see harbor seals laying almost motionlessly on a rock, so it was quite a treat to see them in the water where they are so much more agile. A big difference between seals and see lions is the way they move both on land and in the water. On land, seals must inch along kind of like clumsy, chubby inch worms, but sea lions can tuck their back flippers underneath their hips, and use those and their front flippers to walk on all fours. In the water however, seals and sea lions are a much more even match, although still move differently. Sea lions will use their giant front flippers to propel themselves, while seals rely on their back flippers moving side to side to propel them through the water.

 

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Residents up and down the West side

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Today we embarked from Friday Harbor without having decided which report we were going to pursue, having heard that there were whales North of East Point, as well as on the west side. We turned south in San Juan Channel to try our luck on the West side. On our way out there, we passed Goose Island. Unfortunately, Goose Island caught on the fire the other day, and a large portion of the nests (of 4 bird species) burned up in the flames. The smell of smoke is evident if you are downwind.

Just as we passed South Beach, we came across our first pod of Southern resident killer whales. There, we were able to get some good looks at a few females and an adult male. They were surfacing very infrequently, which led us to believe that they may have been pursuing some salmon.

We then shot off a mile or so North, to observe a second pod of residents, which appeared to be a number of different family groups. They were much mores surface active, with a few tails slaps and pectoral fin slaps on the water. We also saw two adult males in very close contact, which is not typical. We were able to identify them as male, because of the size and shape of their dorsal fin. Males, with a straight triangular shaped dorsal fin, up to 6 feet tall. The dorsal fin of a female is more of a crescent shape and won’t get more than 2-3 feet in height. However, it is easy to mistake a young male for a female, because they don’t begin to really lengthen that dorsal fin until about 15 years of age.

After getting in a good dose of resident orca sightings, we headed back down the island and around Cattle Point to get back to Friday Harbor.

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A Great day for Js!

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

After shooting to the North last Saturday night, J Pod had disappeared. The whale watching fleet had gotten no reports and all of the hydrophones in the Salish Sea had been silent to the melodious calls of the Js…. UNTIL THIS MORNING! We got to the M/V Sea Lion and had a flurry of reports of all 28 members of J Pod traveling south down the West Side of San Juan Island. And were they ever! It was like watching whale popcorn out on the water today, everywhere you looked there was a whale breaching out of the water, pec slapping, tail lobbing, or cartwheeling. We got looks at all three of the new J Pod calves (J50, J51, J52), awesome views of the J22 matriline (J22 Oreo, J34 Doublestuf, J38 Cookie), as well as crowd favorites J27 Blackberry, J31 Tsuchi and J39 Mako. After leaving the whales we headed to Whale Rocks right off the Southern Tip of San Juan to view some Steller’s sea lions. These guys can grow to be about 12 feet long and right around 2000 pounds! We rounded off the day with a great view of a bald eagle! It was an absolutely amazing day that none of us will soon forget!

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

Southern Residents in the Haro

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Leaving Friday Harbor with reports of whales is always a great feeling and Captain Mike took us off the docks with good vibes for J Pod. We made a few stops along to the way, taking in Spieden’s open slopes, Steller Sea Lions, and Harbor Seal lounging on the rocks, but we had a destination in mind. Before too long we caught up with Orca on Open Bay on the West side of San Juan Island.

 

Being early in the year, the Southern Resident Killer whales, which are largely hunting King Salmon aren’t as predictable in their presence. The salmon that run up the Fraser River in British Columbia aren’t present in larger numbers until at least June, so seeing J Pod foraging on the West Side was a real treat. We spent the most time with the J16s, which includes the newest member of the pod, J52 who stayed close to mother J36 as they moved South.

 

The next hour was spent surrounded by the animals as they traveled South toward Cattle Point. At a certain point it became apparent that most of J Pod was around and Captain Mike took us on a tour of the Matrilines in the Haro Strait. It was a spectacularly beautiful day on the water, with the Olympics beaming in the background as we sped around through Cattle Pass, bound for Port.

 

Naturalist Brendan

 

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J Pod Time in the Haro Strait

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

The day was sunny, the guests were excited, and we had whales to see! Captain Mike and myself whisked our guests off for a day on the water that felt more June than April. With reports of J Pod on the Westside, we zipped North to catch up with them.

Knowing we had time to see these Residents Killer Whales, we worked our way there, stopping for a few Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Steller Sea Lions around Spieden Island. As the largest privately owned island in the San Juans with no permanent residents, there’s always a lot of wildlife on land and around its shores. After some nice looks, we left a group of sleeping Harbor Seals at Sentinel Rock, set off to see J Pod.

What followed was an early season show to match them all. We followed many members of J Pod, seeing big males like J27, J34, and L84, as well as the newest member of the group, J51 following mother J19 along Kellet Bluff. The rest of the afternoon was spent at a relaxed pace, letting the many whales in the Haro Strait move around us. We were lucky witnesses to spy hops, a few full breaches, and some exciting hunting behaviors. It seemed like everywhere you looked there were dorsal fins slicing through the calm water.

After almost two hours with the Js we needed to head back, but everyone was beaming from the experience. We stopped a couple times around Spieden for better looks at Steller Sea Lions, but I could tell everyone was still in a daze from our lucky encounter that afternoon. It was all smiles all the way home.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris