Posts Tagged ‘Humpback Whale’

November Wildlife at its Finest!

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Yesterday the M/V Sea Lion headed out on the water for a private charter. I love being a part of hosting these private events, as we can totally taylor the trip for whatever the groups are most interested in. Yesterday our group wanted to find as much wildlife as we possibly could, and wildlife we found! We left Friday Harbor and motored north. At Spieden Island we encountered a lively group of Steller’s sea lions, and a number of bald eagles. As we headed further north up and around Stewart Island, we were treated to sweeping views of the landscape as well as to a visit by some Dall’s porpoise bow riding! These porpoises are right around 7 feet long and can weigh up to 450lbs… I call them fat oreos due to their black and white coloration. After spending sometime with the porpoises we sped off in search of some humpback whales. We stubled upon two whales traveling together and lunge feeding: lifting their enormous heads out of the water, mouths wide open! We stayed with the humpbacks for a couple of dives, when we received word from a land-based spotter within our network of communication that he was looking at killer whales near Orcas Island! We quickly left the humpbacks in search of the orcas. This time of year killer whales are fairly hit or miss, and normally we are looking for transient, or marine mammal eating, killer whales, who tend to be a little bit wily and hard to predict. It was all hands on deck as we sought out these whales! Luckily we had Captain Brian “The Whalemaster” Goodremont at the helm and he skillfully found the needle in the haystack yet again. Arriving on scene it was immediately clear that we were looking at transients, and more specifically the T049A and the T123 family groups. We were the only boat on scene and enjoyed some quality time watching these beautiful whales romping around Skipjack Island just to the northwest of Orcas Island.

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


October Wildlife Bonanza!-October 24th, 2015

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Today Captain Brian and I left the dock under perfectly Pacific Northwest cloudy skies with a boat full of passengers who, as usual, were excited to see the wildlife of the Salish Sea.

Captain Brian and I were particularly excited as well because we had heard reports of something that has been lacking in this area for over a week now: Southern Resident Killer Wlhales! The fish-eaters were spotted heading back into the San Juan Islands after spending some time in Northern British Colombia waters.

We planned on heading South out of Friday Harbor to get to our reports on the West side of San Juan Island. Even before we got out of the harbor, we encountered several harbor seals! These critters live up to their name and are found where there is food to be eaten. Our clear Autumn waters show us that there are abundant herring underneath all the docks in the harbor, so the harbor seal buffet is open!

After leaving the harbor we headed South through San Juan Channel and began to notice the incredible water motion that is a result of our significant tidal influx. This water is concentrated into a river-like torrent in the channel. The intense water motion stirs up all the sediment and nutrients in the water which enables this water to teem with life, and makes it a great place to be a predator. The next thing we knew, we were watching a Stellar’s sea lion surfacing and taking some deep breaths. It took some time to look us over before slipping its body back into the rippling water of the channel.

We then continued south past another Stellar’s sea lion as well as a male california sea lion! The San Juan Islands make up the northernmost extent of their range. We aproached the Whale Rocks where dozens of the enormous Stellar’s, which can be as heavy as a Volkswagon, haul out to sun themselves, rest up, and be generally unpleasant toward one another.

After battling a fierce current to get out of the mouth of Cattle Pass, we began to head West and North into the Haro Strait, the age-old stompin’ grounds of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Interrupted only by the occasional howl of a common murre on our way North, we were able to take in the incredible views around us. The low Autumn sun was resting just beyond the clouds sitting atop the Olympic Peninsula to the South, producing a sunset-like glow surrounding the breathtaking silhouette of the mountains. Due West of our path we could make out the South end of Vancouver island and the buildings that make up the city of Victoria, BC. Between the two unbelievably scenic landmarks, a large bank of fog lay just over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Despite the light rain that we were beginning to feel the islands, sea, clouds, fog and the soft glow evoked the magic of the Pacific Northwest.

Before long we were on the lookout for black dorsal fins, and our search was a success! We saw the large dorsal fin of a male orca directly ahead of us. Typically, where the Southern Resident are concerned, where there is one orca there are more and this held true today. We began to see black and white everywhere we looked as K Pod materialized around us.

We got some great looks at K25 (Scoter) and K26 (Lobo), a few of the easily recognizeable males in K Pod, both with massive dorsal fins and solid saddle-patches. Having seen them, we then realized that the K13 and K14 matrilines were our whales of the hour. We got some incredible looks at these families, but the show was far from over.

Captain Brian mosied the Sea Lion out into the middle of the Strait and we began to see small splashes, or “rooster tails” erupting from the water. This could only mean one thing: Dall’s Porpoise!! These “pigfish” are a black-and-white relative of the harbor porpoise with a few notable differences. They have an extremely robust Caudal Peduncle, the muscle that powers the tail. As a result, they are the fastest marine mammal on earth and can travel more than thirty miles per hour! Another difference is that while harbor porpoises are quite shy, Dall’s enjoy surfing the bow wake of boats in the water.

As we watched mesmerized at the fast critters darting through the water something completely unexpected happened: an orca popped up! Right in the middle of the pod of Dall’s! This was L82 (Katsaka), part of the L55 matriline (yea L Pod was there too!). She was having what looked like a very playful interaction with a different species of cetacean! I have never seen anything like it. What is curious is that while THESE Dall’s were excitedly swimming about this orca, Southern Resident Orcas have been known to beat and batter harbor porpoises to death on numerous occasions.

The way these Dall’s surfed the small whitecaps and swam like torpedos around L82 was anything but brutal, and one might say that she was playing with them just as deliberately as they were chasing her around. Following this black-and-white cetacean parade were some other members of the L55 matriline, L55 (Nugget): Katsaka’s mother and the matriarch of the sub-pod as well as L116 (Finn), Katsaka’s four-year-old son. Why the Dall’s porpoise were only interacting with L82 and not the other family members we cannot say, but either way it was an unforgettable occurance. Shortly after we saw the entire matriline splashing and breaching, adding evidence that they were all having a great time.

We decided to continue cruising north where we passed group after group of black dorsal fins connected to various members of the Southern Residents. Our goal was to see as much as possible on this awesome October day, so we continued towards reports of a humpback whale further north in Haro Strait. As we scanned for the characteristic exhalation of the immense baleen whale, we saw not one, but two blows!

We were seeing a pair of humpbacks that were in the early stages of their southern migration. It is not exactly common to see two humpbacks traveling together who are not a mother and calf, and both of these whales appeared to be between twenty and thirty feet long. This means each of the giant animals may have weighed up to thirty tons!

We watched as they exhaled several times each, pushing a column of water vapor twenty feet up each time their blowholes broke the surface. Their backs would follow, exposing their diminutive dorsal fins and then one by one we saw a huge pair of flukes rise into the air as the whales took their terminal dives. It is always a breathtaking sight to see these flukes, trailing water, disappear beneath the surface and to think that a massive mammal is exploring the depths underneath our vessel somewhere.

Innevitably, our time with whales was running out so we bid our farewell to both orcas and humpbacks and headed East through Speiden channel, where we could see introduced mouflan sheep and fallow deer grazing on the grassy hillside of Spieden island among boulders leftover by receding glaciers.

From there we headed South back through San Juan channel to complete our incredibly fruitful circumnavigation of San Juan Island. Along the way we caught glimpses of a few more harbor seals and a bald eagle perched in a tree on the shoreline, but many of us were nearly overwhelmed by the incredible diversity we were fortunate enough to see today.

Another Whale of a Day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Weekend Update: October 16-18

Monday, October 19th, 2015

What a crazy end of season we have had! The wildlife lately has been amazing, everything from the migrating birds to the gorgeous cetaceans we have been seeing.

This weekend was humpback whale-filled. We had the distinct pleasure of spending time with three different humpback whales on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Humpback whales are well known for their fluke-up dives, raising their enormous tails out of the water. Each humpback has a unique black and white pattern on the underneath of their tails that researchers use to identify individuals. In addition to raising their tails out of the water humpback whales are also well known for being some of the most acrobatic of the large whale species, breaching out of the water and slapping the surface of the water with their tails and pectoral fins. On Friday we had the opportunity to see one of these magnificent mammals pec-slapping, raising its 15-foot-long fin out of the water and then slapping it down on the surface of the water.

In addition to the humpbacks in the area we have also been enjoying sightings of porpoises and  bald eagles in the recent days!

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

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

The Mighty Fin Whale-October 5th, 2015

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

Today, like most days, the Salish Sea was demonstrating the full potential of this incredibly unique ecosystem. Captain Mike, myself, and the excited passengers aboard the Sea Lion were fortunate enough to bear witness to some incredible activity that is a sure sign that Autumn is upon us.

We headed South out of Friday Harbor after leaving the dock on a hot tip that there were some large marine mammals spotted South of Lopez island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

On our way down the San Juan Channel, we stopped to admire some harbor seals hauled out on a few exposed rocks. These small pinnipeds were anything but restful as they rolled around in the surf and  splashed one another. Soon enough we took off and didn’t stop until we encountered a few hefty Stellar’s sea lions in Griffin Bay. There are some obvious differences between our Harbor Seals and these sea lions, first and foremost being size. While harbor seals max out around five or six feet long and around three hundred pounds, the largest Stellar’s can reach twelve feet long and weigh closer to twenty-five HUNDRED pounds!

After admiring this enormous pinniped swimming upside down and rolling around in the quickly moving water we edged over to the shore to see a bald eagle  before continuing South through Cattle Pass. Now was the time to start scanning for larger wildlife as we cruised toward McArthur Bank.

The Salish Sea is an incredibly dynamic environment with an immense ammount of divsersity, and we were about to see just how the open waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca differed from the water closer to the San Juan Islands. With no land but the Olympic peninsula in sight, we were able to scan for blows.

As we cruised through the open water it wasn’t just the blow that caught our eye, but a massive aggregation of seagulls, cormorants, murres, auklets, scoters and a myriad of other seabirds swirling above the water and diving below it. This phenomenon occurs over a large school of small fish under siege from a large marine predator as they are pushed toward the surface, known as a “baitball”. Suddenly the marine predator made itself known: a pair of humpback whales!!

Most humpbacks are traveling at this point in the season from their high-latitude feeding grounds in Alaska to warmer climates to mate and give birth. However, there is no place like the Salish Sea to stop and fill their bellies. We watched these behemoths blow off-beat from one another so it appeared that there was just one but as they dived, first one then the other lifted its massive flukes into the air to go deeper.

Just to the east there was another, even bigger baitball occurring so we decided to see who the culprit was this time: As the whale surfaced we first saw a pair of immense blowholes exhale and then submerge, then a dark-grey back which went on for a long time followed by a dorsal fin with a very prominent sharp tip. This was no humpback, it was the elusive fin whale that had been hanging around our waters!!

The fin whale is the second largest whale in the world, reaching lengths of seventy feet or more. This particular one was probably a sub-adult, being no more than forty feet long. Seeing a fin whale in these waters is not only special because of their immense size, but also because it marks a potential return of their population.

It is thought that there was once a healthy fin whale population in this area before they, along with humpbacks and blue whales, felt the full force of the whaling fleets in the 17th and 18th centuries. The last recorded regularly seen fin whales in the Salish Sea were seen in the 1930′s, making the appearance of our current finned friend a big deal. Hopefully this one juvenille fin whale marks the seed of a future population of the incredible creatures here in the Salish Sea.

We watched this immense creature, along with the two humpbacks, traveling between the largest baitballs that I have ever seen as the predators took advantage of the huge masses of baitfish: birds from above and whales from below. In the distance to the South we could see another huge swirling tornado of birds coupled with another humpback whale blowing.

One of the most incredible sights was to realize that the last herring of a particular baitball had been seized and as a result the thousands of birds could now relax. Gulls spread out on the water over about two square miles under the great looming presence of the outstandingly visible Mt. Baker to the Northeast. Another sign of the dissipation of the food was the steady movement of both the mighty fin whale and both humpbacks to the North towards yet another apparent baitball. Were the whales following the birds or the fish, the birds following the fish or the whales?

Either way watching this incredible demonstration of the ecosystem was to realize the importance (and misfortune) of the herring. They are hatched by the millions with what appears to be the sole purpose of being eaten, so they better reproduce while they can. Every animal that we are excited about seeing, from the common salmon (and everything that eats salmon) and harbor seals to the huge, elusive fin whales, depend directly or indirectly on these small fish. Seeing that all their predators are well fed indicates a vast herring stock. Here’s to their health!

Unfortunately our time with the great whales was coming to an end, so we wished them well in their feeding efforts and began to head North back towards Friday Harbor. Along the way we were able to stop at the Whale Rocks to see more massive, snarling yet loveable Stellar’s sea lions hauled out. We also encountered more seals, lots of common murre and even a harbor porpoise before we pulled into the dock.

Another Whale of a Day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris


A tale of two ecotypes! Weekend of October 3rd & 4th

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

We have had an absolutely incredible season here in the San Juan Islands. Whenever naturalists or captains run into each other around town all we can do is laugh and shake our heads… the frequency of whale sightings has just been out of this world this season. October has been no different.

On Saturday we headed out of Friday Harbor with reports of Resident orcas spread out from the northern reaches of the San Juan Islands all the way to the southern end of Lopez Island. We ended up meeting up with the L54 matriline just off of Iceberg Point, and enjoyed the antics of L54 Ino, her two kiddos L108 Coho & L117 Keta, as well as the two males who travel with her L84 Nyssa and L88 Wavewalker. Both L84 and L88 are the last remaining members of their matrilines, meaning they have no remaining close family. For these orcas, who are so committed to their families, being orphaned, even as an adult, can be devastating. It’s not unusual to see these orphaned adult males traveling with an associated family. After spending some time with the L54s as they fished and travelled north, we received a report of a humpback just to the southwest of our location. We stayed with the humpback for a few surfacing, before leaving to check out a GIANT bait ball and a minke whale. Bait balls are gatherings of small bait fish which attract seabirds, seals, sea lions, porpoises, and the occasional minke or humpback whale. Both humpbacks and minke whales have baleen in their mouths instead of teeth, which they use to filter small fish and shrimp, called krill, from the water. After spending some time with the bait ball we returned to the orcas for some last looks before heading for home.

On Sunday we left the harbor with reports of Transient killer whales to the north.  We have two distinct populations of killer whales here in the Salish Sea, known as ecotypes. These ecotypes are not only genetically separate from one another (they don’t interbreed), but they are also culturally distinct! This means that they behave very differently, eat different things and even speak different languages. Residents eat primarily salmon, while Transients are marine mammal eaters… hunting anything cute and cuddly which lives in the ocean. Around here 60% of their diet is comprised of harbor seals. We caught up with the T060 family group (T060 and her four kiddos ranging in age from fourteen to three years of age) just north of the Sidney Ferry Terminal in British Columbia. We followed them south as they hunted and made a number of kills. We were delighted as they celebrated these kills by spyhopping (sticking the front third of their bodies out of the water to have a look around), tail slapping, and porpoising (zooming as fast as they can bringing their entire bodies out of the water parallel to the surface). We enjoyed beautiful, sunny, weather and very playful whales!

Lots of people ask what the best time is to come visit the San Juans for a whale and wildlife watch… It totally depends on what you’re after out here…. Orcas? Historically, it’s a bit hit or miss come September or October, but this fall we have had orcas on all save for two or three trips (and even then we had humpback whales!). Some people are turned off by that fact, but in all honesty fall is my absolute favorite time out here on the water. The light is incredible, the wildlife is off the charts, and there are fewer boats out on the water. Hope to see you out there soon!

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

Dark Fins

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

I know fall hasn’t officially started yet, but with a foggy morning and a cool sunny afternoon it’s sure starting to feel like it. Capt. Mike, Naturalist Mike, and I headed out with calm seas and reports of whales. We headed north towards the outer islands in the direction of Spieden and Johns. Right around Spieden we started to see some very tall blows on the sunny horizon. The sun on the cold water created an optical illusion called the Fata Morgana which made it hard to make out exactly what was in the distance. Once we got close enough, it became clear that we were looking at a big Humpback Whale! We stood amazed at this 35 feet long animal that went up and down feeding showing us his fluke often. With humpback whales you can identify individuals based on the pattern present on the bottom of their flukes. This unique pattern of dark and white markings along with any scars or notches is kind of like a fingerprint and each fluke is a little bit different. This big guy was something special because he had a fluke that was almost all dark, perhaps no white. After being amazed by this placid animal, we motored on through Johns Pass, a beautiful yet skinny pass between Johns and Stuart island towards Turn Point – the end of the US. Soon after hitting the watery border between US and Canada. There were more dark fins in the distance… orcas! It was a single family of K pod, the K-12s, with all their members swimming steadily towards East Point on Saturna Island. The K-12s is headed by K-12 herself, Sequim, and she has three children: Sekiu (K-22), Rainshadow (K-37), and Saturna (K-43), and Sekiu had one child K-43 (Tika). This family is great and Rainshadow and Saturna are nothing but trouble. It was pretty cool seeing Saturna swim right in front of her island namesake for awhile and even more interesting to see how much she and her older nephew, Tika, have grown. Since Tika is a male his dorsal fin is going to be very tall and straight and it’s getting there, he’s not even full grown and you can easily pick him out in a crowd. After watching this family scoot through a few hug freighter wakes, which they did with ease, we headed back south, but the fun was not over. We stopped again to look and some humpbacks and even saw an Elephant Seal sleeping in the water! These guys are huge and have hilarious trunks for noses, hence the name. They can weigh up to 8,800 lbs and we often don’t see a lot of them here, but what a cool moment!


Whale folks until next time,


Naturalist Erick,

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

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