Posts Tagged ‘Humpback Whale’

L is for looks – August 27

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Thursday was a beautiful day filled with typical San Juan calm waters and cool breezes, and we went typically went looking for Killer Whales. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I headed to the west side of San Juan Island and soon saw an unmistakable giant, dark dorsal fin slicing through the still waters. Orcas… But who is this one specifically? Orcas, like many mammals, have distinctive markings that allow us to tell one from another. In orcas we mainly use the shape of their dorsal fins and the pattern of a whitish-grey marking directly behind their dorsal fins. We call this their saddle-patch.

First this whale was big, really big, and definitely an adult male due to his very straight and tall dorsal fin. As he passed us we could see his pretty solid saddle patch and two notches in his dorsal fin. It was L-41! aka Mega! He cruised pass with the awesome ease that one only sees while watching giants.

MEga is in L pod and we haven’t see a lot of L pod this summer. Since we know that orcas usually travel in their family groups, more of L pod must be around.

We were right and our efforts bore fruits! or whales.

More L pod!

Looking at saddle patches and dorsal fins we recognized Matia (L-77), Calypso (L-94), Calypso’s daughter Cousteau (L-119). It was wonderful to find them when we did, because it quickly turned into socialization time. This group kept swimming tight circles around each other and pushing the young Cousteau around. They love spinning underwater and rubbing up against each other, and it was so beautiful to see them playing as one big happy family.

As these whales played around and drifted by more of L pod could be heard in the distance surfacing and breathing. And before we had to head back around towards Friday Harbor, another adult male, Crewser (L-92) passed by giving us a great view of his sprouting dorsal fin which has an extra curve right at the top.

 

But that’s not all! We passed by Whale rocks near Cattle Point and saw a slew of Steller Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks. They just returned from their rookeries in Alaska and they are so much fun to look at as they stick their heads straight up in the air and look suspiciously back at you. But don’t get too close these can weigh up to 2,500 lbs. and they are the largest Sea Lion in the world! It’s great to see them laying next to all the Harbor Seal too just to get the great size difference! We watched them slugging around and swimming around in the kelp forests for a little bit then onward until… two Bald Eagles Appeared on a rock! ONe had just caught a fish and they were having a mid afternoon snack! We thought our excitement was over until in the middle of Griffen Bay on our way back we saw two Humpback Whales. Now these are the the creatures that bring about images of stories of leviathans. They are as long as our boat – around 50 ft. – and can weigh around 50 tons. The stop here on their migration to rest and fuel up on tiny plankton. so they were up and down a lot showing their massive flukes as they dove deep to scoop up krill and fish.

 

Well I don’t know how the day could get any better.

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick,

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Cetace-Oh-Yeah – August 13, 2015

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands are called the Salish Sea. And here we are lucky enough to have more than a few members of the Cetacean family (whales, dolphins, porpoises) stop by every once in awhile. Most folks come to see the famous and charismatic Orcas, which are the world’s largest dolphin, but we have a few more fun members that are just as wonderful to see. Going from largest to smallest there is the Humpback Whale, the Minke Whale, Dall’s Porpoise, and the Harbor Porpoise.

And on Thursday we saw all save one…

It was a cooler afternoon when Capt. Jim, me, and one family headed south on the Kittiwake. We were going to the west side of San Juan Island to look for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. We soon saw the dorsal fins in the distance and as we neared False Bay it was apparent that we had found K pod! K pod is one of the three pods in the Southern Resident community and they currently have 19 members. They were hunting for their favorite food, Chinook Salmon up and down the west side. We luckily got to spend a lot of time with two particular families, the K-16′s and K-14′s!

As I mentioned before, orcas / killer whales, are the biggest dolphin and in the world of cetaceans aka whales we like to look at their mouths a lot to see similarities and differences. The orcas have rows of sharp, cone shaped teeth, the next few whales won’t.

After visiting with the orcas, we headed south to look for some other wildlife. And soon as we were looking at a bait ball both a Minke Whale popped up and few Harbor Porpoises. Minke Whales are small baleen whales. They are about the same size as orcas but filter feed using a thick, bristly mesh in their mouths called baleen. Harbor Porpoises are tiny, swift creatures that have sharp spade-shaped teeth that swim all around eating tiny fish. They usually are solitary, but this time of year they start to form aggregations of larger groups.

After watching them for awhile we moved even further south and south spotted a full grown Humpback Whale! This is another baleen whale, but instead of being 30 ft. long like the Minke, this guy is around 50 ft. long and weighs around 50 tons! That’s definitely bigger than our boat. This guy was amazing to look at as he rose, breathed, and lifted his fluke high up in the air until he slipped deep down again to feed once again.

After really appreciating this leviathan, we slowly started to return to Friday Harbor, but got to see some Stellar Sea Lions and Harbor Seals on the way! What another amazing day on the water!

 

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, 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, 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

Day with two HBs and a some Js!

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Today the M/V Sea Lion set out with some very excited passengers who had spotted orcas from the ferry! A sighting from the ferry definitely does not happen everyday, but it is so exciting when it does……. it’s always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife no matter where you are! We headed east towards Rosario Strait in the far side of Orcas Island from San Juan. We were treated to a bald eagle fly-over and some beautiful views of the islands and mountains as we cruised by. While underway, captain Mike got a report of two humpback whales in close proximity to the orcas, so of course we needed to check them out! The whales were on the move and we got to spend some quality time with them, and as out last look the whales rose, exhaled, took a breath, and dove together. After spending some time with the humpbacks we motored over to Cypress Island where J pod had been reported. We got to spend some blissful time with all 27 members of J pod as they lazily made their way up the coast. The highlight of the day was a TRIPLE spyhop, when three whales simultaneously vertically raised their heads above the water. It as a behavior I have never seen before, and it was amazing! After some quality time with the Js, we started to meander our way back to Friday Harbor, while taking some time to see some harbor seals and a bald eagle. The weather was amazing and the wildlife was even better. Another day for the books!

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

Humpback in Canada

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with a report of a humpback near East Point.  On our way to the humpback whale we spotted a Stellar sea lion feeding in San Juan Channel.  We then headed through President channel towards the humpback which was slowly heading North towards Vancouver.  We got a little North of East Point, located in the Strait of Georgia, when we came across the humpback whale.  The whale we were watching was the female known as “Big Mama”, a whale that frequents these waters during the early summer season.  We watched her sporadically surfacing to breath while traveling slowly North.  Humpback whales can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes but generally surface every 5-17 minutes.  We were also lucky enough to see some surface behavior including a cartwheel and a few lunges!  We then started to head back towards Friday Harbor.  On our way we saw some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks soaking up the wonderful sunshine we had today.  We also saw a bald eagle on one of the rock islands and got to see it take off in flight.  We had a wonderful day out on the water today enjoying the wildlife of the San Juan Islands.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

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

Dall’s Porpoise at Play in Boundary Pass

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

When a Captain decides to take the Sea Lion up North into Boundary Pass and beyond, I’m always hopeful. We left with reports of a Humpback near East Point on Saturna Island, which is what we aimed for leaving the dock. We got to see a lot more.

 

Meandering up North our guests were treated to Steller Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, and a lot of Harbor Porpoise en-route to where other companies are currently watching the Humpback. When we arrived on scene, we quickly determined this individual whale was Big Mamma, otherwise known as BCY0324. This ID code is in reference to where the individual was identified, BC for British Columbia. X,Y, or Z for the amount of white on the flukes. And, the number for the individual.

 

While watching the Humpback heading West across the coast of Saturna, we heard reports of a group of Dall’s Porpoise nearby. Leaving the Humpback we met up with a large group of Dall’s Porpoise who were incredibly friendly and rambunctious. They played in the wake of the boats in the area and even went out to rush through the huge waves a tanker made as it passed by to the West.

 

After getting our heart rates going, watching the Dall’s zipping around, we eased into some wildlife viewing before heading back into Port. Between the Cactus Islands and Speiden we saw lots of Harbor Seals lounging and Bald Eagles posted up on Douglas Firs. But I’ll be honest, all we could think about were the Dall’s we’d seen out on Boundary Pass all the way home.

Naturalist Brendan
M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Breaching Whales and Bonuses

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

I saw the first splash from a quarter mile away; a great backwards leap that sent water twenty feet in the air. Hoping for some repetition I crossed my fingers as we motored closer to the scene, deep in the middle of the Strait of Georgia. We’d finally made it to J Pod.

 

Many people don’t realize why whales breach. Be they Killer Whales or Humpbacks, breach we may not know the meaning of every individual action, but we do know these are social displays meant to send a message. J Pod was clearly saying something, because as we got closer and strafed the animals we saw multiple breaches, pectoral slaps, and flukes. As these Southern Resident Killer whales cooled down and started to travel we were able to stretch out alongside them and see all the pod, traveling close in their respective matrilines, but moving as a cohesive group.

As if this wasn’t enough on a gorgeous day, as we headed back after a great show on the water, we stumbled upon a Humpback Whale off of Saturna Island. You know it’s a good day when you leave Killer Whales to head home and find yourself watching a Humpback diving for food. With a last wave of it’s tail, the whale took a deep dive, and we left it to continue feeding and headed home, happy with a great day of sights on the Salish Sea.

Naturalist Brendan
M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Humpback and Orcas! 2 Whale Delight!

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Captain Mike, Owner/Naturalist Brian, guests, and I left Friday Harbor headed north in the hopes of finding whales.  Even though we started the morning with no reports, we remained hopeful as we motored along Orcas Island.  And then puff it’s a humpback and her calf!  Guests aboard the M/V Sea Lion were lucky enough to be the ones to spot the pair of humpback whales!  Over the past few years, we have been encountering more and more humpbacks, and we hope this marks the start of their return to the area.

After spending some quality time with the humpbacks,  we got a call about transient orcas in Canadian waters!  The T37s were traveling south from Saturna Island and we even got to see some foraging behavior!  With a youngster of only 2 years in the group, these transient orcas are always a treat to see.

After our fill of whales, we headed towards Friday Harbor with smiles and great photos.  These days can always brighten a rainy day!

Emily

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