Posts Tagged ‘j pod’

Whales on Whales on Whales!-September 24, 2015

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Today was one of those days that comes maybe but once a summer here in the Salish Sea, and Captain Mike, myself and some lucky passengers were fortunate enough to see some incredible examples of our local wildlife.

We left the dock at exactly noon (despite a slightly tardy naturalist) on the trusty Sea Lion and headed South out of Frdiay Harbor through the San Juan Channel. As soon as we left the harbor, the show began with sightings of some harbor seals and about six playful harbor porpoises snagging some baitfish.

As we continued south, we had a friendly encounter with a Stellar’s sea lion as it checked out the boat sporting the same name and that was just a taste of the behemoth pinniped.

As we went through Cattle Pass, in between the southern tips of San Juan and Lopez Islands, we checked out the Whale Rocks and the surrounding turbulent water. Lounging like kings and queens on top of the barren rocks among cormorants and gulls were about thirty enormous Stellar’s sea lions. Reminiscent of aquatic grizzly bears, these cream-colored pinnipeds have recently migrated back south from their breeding grounds in Alaska. Here in the San Juans, they spend their time eating whatever they can catch and snarling at one another.

While we were watching the sea lions, we unexpectedly caught sight of a Minke whale! These, the smallest of the baleen whales, are notorious for surfacing once then going out of sight for some time. This one, however, allowed us great views of its characteristic curved dorsal fin as it surfaced every minute or so.

Eager for Orcas, we headed North up the Haro Strait and were rewarded by our forst orca sighting: Transients! This “ecotype” is characterized by having small pods (five whales in this one), silent hunting patterns, and of course a diet of marine mammals. As they were moving very calmly with no splashing, we assumed that they were on the hunt and continued north as not to diaturb their efforts.

Just a short boat ride away, however, was another ecotype: the Southern Resident Killer Whales! These orcas have a diet mainly consisting of Chinook Salmon, which determines their behavior of following the salmon runs to the same river each summer. We got some incredible looks at members of J Pod and K Pod, whom we can recognize using their dorsal fins and natural markings on their bodies.

Fortunately, the Sea Lion has an underwater hydrophone on board and we were able to listen to the long, eerie vocalizations and echolocation clicks present as pod members communicated with one another while they hunted salmon. Combined with the powerful WHOOSH noise present when they exhale air, these orcas make some of the world’s most beautiful natural sounds.

After observing whale after whale make their way by us, we unfortunately had to begin saying our goodbyes to the Southern Residents. However, the show was far from over! On our way back around Cattle Point, we caught up to the pod of Transients just as they were making a kill! These expert hunters were diving incredibly fast and surrounding one spot as if they were eating some poor seal. The presence of a NOAA research boat that was collecting sanoles of the animal remains confirmed our suspicions, as did the behavior of the orcas.

They began splashing, swimming upside down, even breaching as they tend to do when their bellies are full. After a bit of socializing and playing, it was back to business as they went back to stone-face hunting mode. We took that as our cue to begin our journey back to Friday Harbor, during which we saw a few more Harbor porpoise, harbor seals and the same curious sea lion. We returned to the dock with the full monty of experiences: harbor seals, harbor porpoises, sea lions, a minke whale, Transient orcas as well as residents. Wow.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Granny Makes a Splash!

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Spring ended with a glorious day out on the water. After the fog rolled out, the sun shined through the clouds as the M/V Sea Lion headed north out of Friday Harbor. Captained by Mike, Naturalist Sarah and I led a full boat on what would be a wonderful day towards Canadian waters following reports of wildlife in the area.

We didn’t need to travel far- as soon as we turned into San Juan Channel dozens of harbor porpoise appeared, playing in the swirling waters. Dorsal fin after dorsal fin rose out of the water as the large group traveled through the channel. We continued motoring north, when lo and behold we encountered three large Steller sea lions just off of Spieden Island.  These animals are massive with males growing up to weigh over 900 pounds! But we were determined to see an even larger marine mammal that day.

Finally, as we rounded the north side of Stuart Island at Turn Point we found the orca whale jackpot. We had found the entirety of K-pod, lazily swimming north towards Canada with other members of J-pod including the infamous Granny (J-2). Though they were spread out across the channel, guests got good looks of over 30 whales, some even tail slapping and breaching. Though Granny has been seen in the San Juan’s many times over the summer, I had yet to get a good glimpse of her in the recent months. Not one to disappoint a good reunion, the J-pod matriarch put on a spectacular display, and showed us that being 104 meant little as she propelled herself into the air for a fantastic breach.

Another fantastic day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Danna, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

The Boys are Back in Town: J and K pod Playing in the Chop-September 13th, 2015

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Today was another Mike & Mike adventure on the Sea Lion! Captain Mike and I loaded up the boat with an awesome group of passengers eager to see wildlife. We were no less excited about getting out on the water, so we left Friday Harbor headed South through San Juan Channel. As we had both an incoming tide and a stiff southern wind, we were in for a bit of an adventure further South.

As we made our way through Cattle Pass, the narrow opening of the San Juan Channel between the southern tips of San Juan and Lopez Island, we found the current being squeezed, and thus accelerated, through this narrow passage. The water was alive with upwelling zones that look like smooth glassy patches, small whirlpools forming, birds eagerly waiting on rip lines to snack on some fish, and of course the choppy waters characteristic of this area. This was nothing the Sea Lion couldn’t handle of course, so we headed on to the Whale Rocks at the mouth of the pass to see some Stellar’s sea lions!

There were perhaps twenty immense sea lions, looking very much like grizzly bears with their tan fur, humped back and snarly attitudes, either lounging or patrolling this rocky outcrop. This group of female and juvenile male pinnipeds chose an excellent location for their rocky kingdom, as the turbid waters surrounding the rocks are rich with nutrients. For the sea lions, this translates into food. Lots of fish, crabs, octopus and the odd baby harbor seal or seabird are found right nearby, but a Stellar’s is certainly not above munching a salmon off a fisherman’s line given the chance.

After admiring the sights (and smells!) of these incredible animals, we headed West and North up into the Haro Strait toward our reports of Southern Resident Killer Whales! The wind coming out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca was piling up a few whitecaps which rocked the boat just a bit. Luckily everyone aboard had already taken their Dramamine and we were good to go! When the waters of the Haro Strait are riled up, so are the whales! as we approached Eagle Point, we began to see black dorsal fins erupting out of the water followed by the massive shape of an orca every which way we looked. We were fortunate enough to be hanging out with members of both J and K Pods who were currently having a blast. The way the animals were spread out, it was clear that there was some fishing for their favorite food, Chinook salmon, going on. However, every so often a whale would slap it’s tail on the surface while another would jump clear out of the white-capped waves! We also were able to witness some surfing going on, where one of these enormous dolphins would ride a wave for fifty yards or so before submerging completely.

During this time, we got some great looks at some of the most distinctive males in the group. The choppy waters makes it somewhat difficult to get great looks at the saddle patch, the white markings on an orca’s side that allow us to identify them. However, the raucous, playful behavior of the males combined with their large conspicuous dorsal fins gave some of them away. We got great looks at K21 (Cappuccino), K26 (Lobo), K25 (Scoter)and even L87 (Onyx) who travels quite exclusively with J Pod. These huge animals continued to play, breach, slap and splash throughout the entire time we spent watching them, enjoying the playground of water that the wind provided. Boys will be boys, I suppose.

After getting some great photos and even better memories, we decided that it was time to leave J Pod and K Pod to their devices and begin our journey back to Friday Harbor. Along the way we got some great looks at some of our abundant seabirds like Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets along with some harbor seals bobbing on the water’s surface. While the array of wildlife and surface phenomena that we are able to see is incredible, it is just a tiny fragment of the ecosystem that exists in the Salish Sea. The interface between air and waters in itself is a big part of this system, as gasses and nutrients are passed from air to water in the forms of bird guano, fir needles and all sorts of fur and feathers entering the water and vice versa as fish and invertebrates are brought out of the water by birds, humans and other mammals. This represents but one way the world continues to amaze.

After a bit of this deep, existential contemplation, we were back at the dock with awesome stories to tell.

Another Whale of a Day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

JK-ing but not about the whales – Sunday 8/30

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Sunday, served up another San Juanderful day.

Capt. Pete, Alex, and I headed toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is the major channel that connects the island to the North Pacific Ocean and all its glory. Lucky for us it was a calm day as we approached Middle Bank. This a shallower area in the strait where schools of fish love to gather due to the swirling currents that concentrate food in one place which is probably why when we got near we started to see some delightful dorsal fins slicing the waves. As we approached we saw that a group of J pod and K pod from the Southern Resident Killer Whales milling about a fishing! We ended up paralleling them for awhile and got to see the J-2′s with Granny (J-2) and T’ilem I’nges (J-49) traveling close with each other again. It’s been interesting to see these two the past few days travel with each other especially since J-49 is in the fourth generation of Granny’s family! The K-14′s also gave us some great looks as they scooted by. Soon though we had to scoot on home, but we stopped and saw some Steller Sea lions on the way and gawked at their 2500 lb of fur, fat, and flippers hauled out on the rocks.

Whale folks until next time.

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J’s and K’s Headed North!-August 24th, 2015

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion went on yet another grand adventure! Captain Mike, Sarah and I were just as excited as our boat-load of passengers to get out into the Salish Sea on this beautiful day and look for wildlife.

As we left the dock in Friday Harbor we headed North towards Canada! We heard reports that part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population was headed that way so we went ahead to investigate.

The area known as the Salish Sea, in which these particular orcas spend the majority of their summer feeding on salmon, has ties to both the United States and Canada. We regularly cross the border into Canadian waters, and the Coast Guard hasn’t caught us yet! Actually, as long as we do not make contact with land (make port, anchor, or touch another boat) then there is no need for passports and we can continue our whale watch unhindered!

As we passed Spieden Island and the Cactus Islands we were scanning the water for those big black dorsal fins that we love to see. Finally, at the northern end of Boundary Pass, we saw dorsal fins rising from the water. It was J Pod!

We watched as the massive fin of J27 (Blackberry) rose from the water. In the same motion, his sister J31 (Tsuchi) and his brother J39 (Mako) also surfaced with a loud WHOOSH as they exhaled before slipping back under the water. The rest of the J19 matriline was not far behind, and we got some great looks at these stunning cetaceans.

Usually we see the Southern Residents traveling in discreet family groups, and today was no different. After the J19s passed us by, we got a visit from K Pod! It is always very cool to see two pods traveling and interacting together. The K12 and K13 matrilines, complete with huge fin of K25 (Scoter) and the slightly crooked fin of K33 (Tikka) and the distinct markings of K20 (Spock), gave us some stellar looks as they passed us by on their way to better fishing grounds.

After spending some more time watching these whales do their thing, we began to head back down south, but the adventure was far from over. As we were passing Stuart Island, we caught sight of yet another colossal dorsal fin! It was J26 (Mike) and the rest of the J16 matriline!

Complete with a full grown male and two fresh young calves, this group is unmistakable. They typically travel apart from the rest of J Pod, and we were able to see grandma J16 (Slick) babysitting the two calves while the new mother J36 (Alki) had some alone time.

After this surprise whale encounter (the best kind) we began to meander our way back to Friday harbor. Our return trip showed us a few harbor seals and plenty of jumping salmon, and of course we were back in the slip far too soon.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

JK….. They’re headed North!

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

We spent a blissful day on the water with members of both J and K pods as they were traveling north past Stewart Island. We first arrived on scene greeted by some members of the J19 Matriline (J19 Shachi, J41 Eclipse, J51). J51 is the first calf of J41 Eclipse, and he is just as cute as a button! When orcas are born their white patches tend to look orangey because they do not have significant fat stores. As they grow and put on weight, the orange patches turn to their classic white hue. Right now little J51 is really starting to look like a “big kid,” and it has been a pleasure to watch him grow! We followed the whales as they made their way up the shoreline of Stewart Island, breaching and tail slapping all they way to Turn Point Lighthouse. The J19s met up with some other members of their pod, most notably the J2s, Granny’s clan as well as some members of K Pod (K14 Matriline)! Enjoy these photos from our day on the water!

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

J51 First son of J41 Eclipse

J19s and Friends!

J41 Ecipse Breach

Js and Ks round Turn Point

J2 Granny with a big tail slap


Cookie Squad! – August 5, 2015

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

On Wednesday, we had a wonderful afternoon trip on the M/V Sea Lion! We went in search of our southern resident killer whales and found a couple members of J pod on the west side of San Juan Island. These members were a part of what we call the cookie squad. We call them the cookie squad because of their names given by the Whale Museum here in Friday Harbor.

Each whale receives an identification number from the Center of Whale Research when they are first spotted. The numbers signify when they were spotted in the pod. After surviving a full year, the Whale Museum collects names and the community votes on the names for the whales. So today we were able to identify J-34, Doublestuf. Doublestuf was the 34th whale to be identified in J pod. Doublestuf is always seen traveling with his mother, J-22 Oreo and his sister, J-38 Cookie.

On our trip, the cookie squad spent most of their time hunting for the local Chinook salmon. They eat about 300 to 400 pounds of salmon a day! Doublestuf did end our time together with a beautiful breach!

What a great time with the cookie squad! We soon returned to Friday Harbor with smiling faces after a fun afternoon on the water!

Naturalist Amanda

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Salmon, Cetaceans and Sea Lions, Oh My!-July 30th 2015

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Today Captain Jim and I left the dock with a boat full of excited passengers, no wind, sun in the sky and several whale reports. We decided to head to the West side to check out J Pod who was in town feeding on Chinook salmon.

As we headed South out of Friday Harbor into San Juan Channel we were greeted by a flock of rhinoceros auklets, small black, diving puffin-like birds with a horny protrusion on their bill, plunging into the water to distance themselves from the boat. These “Rhinauks” will dive up to fifty feet to catch their favorite meal: herring! We will occasionally see then suddenly appear from underwater wearing what looks like a collection of silver moustaches, but is actually two or three herring hanging from their bills.

As we continued South the passengers learned a bit more about the Southern Resident Killer Whales (what/who they are, what they eat, how they behave, if they are at all in danger, etc.) In preparation for meeting them face to face. Nobody was nervous for this interview, however. We were all excited.

After rounding Cattle Point at the Southern tip of San Juan Island we headed North and offshore a bit into the Haro Strait to began to scan for signs of life. The first thing we saw was a Pink, or Humpy, salmon jumping out of the water again and again and again! This is a common sight this time of year as pinks prepare to run up the Frasier River to spawn. When they began this odd behavior in late June, they had all the characteristics of a salt-water ocean fish including silver coloring and not entirely impressive jumps. Their bodies have been changing to adapt to the impending freshwater march to their one opportunity to spawn and their inevitable doom (they will die moments after they spawn). Some changes that we can see are that their bodies are turning green, males are developing large humps on their backs and sharper, more formidable teeth, and they can jump higher, perhaps three or four feet into the air! I am sure they are all just as excited as a salmon can be, they definitely appear to be ready.

As mesmerized as we were by the salmon, we soon became fully aware of the huge, six foot dorsal fin that appeared above the water. It was Blackberry! J27, or Blackberry, is one of the most distinctive males in the Southern Resident community. He has a massive dorsal fin and a very unique saddle patch with a line of black separating the white blotch. He was soon joined by his sister J31, or Tsuchi, and we were able to watch them zig and zag as they fished together for Chinook salmon.

We also got great looks at the J22s, or the Cookie clan. This family is made up of J22 (Oreo), J34 (Doublestuff) and J38 (Cookie). While they were feeding they got a bit playful and we even saw a breach!

Watching Orcas during any activity is always a huge joy, and it is always over far too soon. This experience was no different. We decided to let them eat their whaley hearts out while we meandered back home.

Along the way we stopped at Whale Rocks, some exposed reefs that are usually covered in Harbor seals. Today along with a plethora of the awkward seals coating the shoreline, we were able to catch a glimpse of a group (or “raft”) of Stellar Sea lions in the water!

Stellars are massive creatures. The largest of the sea lions, males can meaaure twelve feet long and weigh in at a hefty 2500lbs! Mid summer is their breeding time, and most adults head north to give birth and mate. Their duries done, this group at least decided to head back through the incredible waters of the Salish Sea.

Adter spending some time oggling our otariid friends, we made our way back to Friday Harbor. Whenever wildlife is involved, it is a good day. With our encounter with birds, salmon, whales, seals AND sea lions, I’d call this a Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris

The J way

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Today was another typical summer Friday in Friday Harbor – sunny skies, cool breezes, and smooth waters. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I headed north! to see if we could meet up with our Southern Resident Killer Whales heading south from Canada. We sailed through some beautiful waters and stopped to look at a bait ball that gulls, rhinoceros auklets, and some common murres had found when, splash! a wild Steller Sea Lion appeared! These hunks of furry blubber are heading back to the Salish Sea from their rookeries that they were just at in the far north. They are the largest species of sea lions in the world and they do sometimes through their weight around. It is good to see them again, but it’s also a sure sign of summer quickly closing. After watching him for awhile as he also feasted on the bait ball, a harbor seal popped up, and… and a harbor porpoise. These cuties have flat faces and are super speedy! As we moved northward we passed into Canada and around Eastpoint. The waters around here are amazing causing the currents to go wild, crisscross, and upwell, making it live up to its name – Boiling Reef. It’s one of my favorite places on the water and it soon got better as two families of J pod came past us. The J-2′s  – Granny’s family – swam by with their adopted son Onyx and the new calf. The Cookie Clan was also there too! They approached Eastpoint with us as the roiling waters ran like a white water river around the point. They stopped spyhopped a bunch to get a good eye on the situation, and whooossh they powered around the point and straight into the current. They pretty whale despite the hard swim and handled it like champs. The skirted the shore of some glacially pitted coastline during the hardest part and eventually spread back out as the current slowed down. It seemed like they were happy about their recent sprint swim, and they celebrated with breach after breach after cartwheel and then unexpectedly they were cartwheeling on both sides of the boat! Those final great moments made the necessity of heading back home not so hard.


Whale folks that’s all for today,

until next time

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

The Gang’s All Here–Southern Residents off Stuart Island

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

Today we left the Friday Harbor dock and motored north on a report of whales heading in to Boundary Pass from East Point. By the time we got that far north, they had already reached Stuart Island. When they reached Turn Point, they began to head south in to Haro Straight. Although they were very spread out, we could tell that we had a large number of whales in the area, members from J, K, AND L pod. We were able to at least identify the J16s (my personal favorites), the K14s, and Crewser (L92) and Racer (L72), but we know that there we many others. Guests were fascinated to hear the breaths as each orca broke the surface. All whales get some water trapped in the divot that forms on top of the blowhole’s opening. That being said, they must be able to clear the water before they inhale again so that they don’t drown. They are estimated to exhale at about 200 miles per hour, a huge difference compared to the 40 mph at which we sneeze. After the trailing whales passed us, we turned around and headed back to SJI. On the way back, we got to see some harbor seals resting atop the Cactus island kelp forests, as well as saw 4 Bald Eagles and listened to them call–a great way to end a great trip!

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris