Posts Tagged ‘j pod’

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

An Afternoon Social – Whale style

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

It was one of those classic Pacific Northwest day, grey, foggy, eerie making everything look a little more magical than they usually do. We had some rumors of some Southern Residents just off of Salmon Bank on the south end of San Juan Island, so that’s where Sarah, Capt. Mike, and I headed with a boat full of great and enthusiastic people. The ride kept bringing images of the Black Pearl sailing through the ever shifting fog to mind especially when we passed the old schooner Spike Africa in the distance, “Pirates”. Soon though the feelings of eeriness were replaced by those of excitement as the first few dark dorsal fins sliced through the fog. J and K pods! They were in so many different areas around the boat! Everywhere you looked there was a different family group either traveling or milling for their favorite food, Chinook salmon. We had the wonderful opportunity to follow a few family groups as they milled then breached then milled again and then we started to parallel one particular family, the J-19s. This family is one that has one of the new calves, J-51 the son of J-41, Eclipse. This family was sooo goofy they kept playing with each other, pushing against each other, and Eclipse at one point just stopped moving and started blowing bubbles with her blowhole, goofball. They played as a family pushing the new calf on top of their melons, started spinning under water and did several spyhops. We at one point cut the engine and dropped our hydrophone and got to listen to J pod speak for a while as we saw them goofing around. It was too much, There were whales on all sides playing with each other, breaching, spyhopping, and then a few spyhopped and started making vocalizations above the water…woah! Those were some magical moments. It’s probably not the case but sometimes it’s nice to think maybe they want us to join in on the fun too. We eventually had to take our leave of this little family party and let them drift back into the fog.

On our way back to Friday Harbor we stopped by Iceberg Point on Lopez Island and saw wait for it… SIX PUFFINS! These tufted puffins are one of my favorite birds in the area, They have black bodies, a white face mask, orange beaks and awesome, yellow feathers swooped back on their head. Their sort of like our penguins, beautiful birds and experts and fishing since they can swim super fast as they use their wings to both fly and swim.

 

Whale folks until next time,

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

SuperPodia

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

If you haven’t heard yet it’s Superpod week on San Juan Island. This is now an annual event that brings together whale researchers, whale watchers, whale enthusiasts, conservationists, documentarians, and sincerely concerned citizens to Friday Harbor for a week of films, talks, and get-togethers to learn and discuss how to better protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales. So, in all, a big meeting of whale intentioned folks. It’s a big week for the island and a big week for those who care about the whales, but I’m not sure if the orcas know we’re constantly talking about them, but today maybe they did. We started out on a cool sunny morning from Friday Harbor with not a lot of news about the the location of the orcas, we heard some rumors of a group down south near Eagle Cove, but then also heard that there was some activity up north by Open Bay. So Capt. Brian, Alex, and I set off intrepidly to the northern bound whales. We met up with the leaders around Kellett Bluff. We followed this group of milling J podders and some K pod south for a ways but broke off to look at another lone group nearer to shore. As we watched these few whales with awe we noticed another group moving up from the south and then boom 20 orcas lined up! Members from all three pods joined forces to make….wait for it… a Superpod! This group was amazing as 20 plus dorsal fins would rise in unison from the depths. Different whales took turns be the front and sometimes it was the new calves all signaling with tail slaps. They swam northward and once they passed the bluffs, Bam! they picked up speed, some went this way some went that way a few adult males started racing! It was just too much! But it was a wonderful reminder how much both, we as humans and these orcas share in common, especially our desire to be close to family and friends, our need to commune and share a common joy.

 

Peace for all whales and humans alike,

Naturalist Erick

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

 

A Very J16 Tuesday

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Active Orcas

Monday, July 13th, 2015

There’s a few things you should know about orcas. First: they’re fast. They can get up to 30 knots on a good day. And you’re all, “But that’s not that fast, Erick” and then I’m all, “Well, imagine 8 tons of pure speed and salmon eating muscle traveling through heavy currents traveling at 35 mph (56kph for the rest of the world)” and now I’ll give you time to be impressed… Orcas are one of the fastest marine mammals alive and in groups they can travel around 100 miles (161 km) in a day. Second: They still take time to have fun. Today, Capt. Jim, all our wonderful guests, and I on the Kittiwake started out on a glorious sunny day with flat waters all around. A portion of the Southern Resident Killer Whales were reported to be headed north from Stuart Island – fast! The Kittiwake is pretty fast but by the time we got to see them we were in Canada. Canada folks! The Gulf Islands, situated just north of the San Juans, are one of my favorite boating spots just for the amazing scenery, but our appreciation was soon redirected as we scooted out of Active Pass and saw our first orcas. We had caught up with the cookie clan of J pod. With family members nick-named Doublestuff (J-34), Cookie (J-38), and Oreo (J-22) we can see why. Now, the Kittiwake is a quick and nimble boat but these orcas were pushing over 10 knots (11 mph) at points. So we were graced with wonderful looks of dorsal fins streaming through the water like never before, and I believed that this group was so focused on getting as far north as possible today that we would only see just a glimpse of each of their dorsal fins. SPLASH! I was wrong. Doublestuff launched into the air and sent water flying by landing on his side. That apparently signaled to the others to start breaching and tail slapping until their hearts or at least our hearts were content. After that emotional high it was good we had a healthy sailing back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. and Friday Harbor.

 

Stay good y’all from Capt. Jim and myself,

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Whale to do

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

It was a drizzly morning here in Friday Harbor, but we definitely needed that rain and by the time the afternoon rolled around the sun was peaking out again. Capt. Jim, 9 guests, and I all left the harbor on the Kittiwake with reports of Southern Resident Killer Whales heading south along the southern tip of San Juan Island. Never ever has there been a calmer day that I can remember on the Salish Sea especially when we got onto the west side – smooth as glass. On the way to meet up with the orcas we stopped at looked at a group of Harbor Seals sunning on some exposed rocks. Two seal pups – oh yeah it’s pupping season so there are a ton of these little cuties – offered us a great view of the different coloration of our two morphs of Harbor Seals in the Salish Sea. There is a darker morph and a lighter morph. They are the same species they are just two distinct fur colorations. These folks are a key linchpin in the food chain between between fish and squid and Transient Orcas that eat marine mammals. Seals consist of 70% of their diet! But, back to the Southern Residents. After we passed Cattle Point we headed a little north to Eagle Cove. There they were a mother with a tiny calf drafting right off her port side. Well I mean tiny is relative, the calf is probably my size and definitely weighs more. Then the rest of the family group caught up. It was the J-16s! My favorite family is in J pod and is the family group led by J-16 (Slick). There is  also Mike, Echo, and Alki and… and… two new calves! We got to see all of them as the spread out heading south looking for salmon. Mike (J-26) is really big one of the biggest males I’ve ever seen and you can definitely tell when you see his enormous dorsal fin slowly rise from the depths. We were so lucky that J pod was so close because we got to stay and move around to see most of J pod for almost an hour and a half as they grouped up, spread out, spyhopped, and Mike gave us a big breach at the end as a farewell, cue more Michael Jackson music. Until next time from the sunny San Juans Capt. Jim and Erick are out.

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

The Dorchestra

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

We left on the M/V Sea Lion for one of our spectacular sunset tours. Earlier that day we had seen a mixture of J and K pod heading north on the west side of San Juan Island. So, we headed north to see if we could meet up with them on the north side of the island. We first met up with a large group of J and K pod traveling really close to each other close to shore along Henry Island. We got some great looks as they calmly cruised northward. We soon broke off of this group and went to go see a smaller group of K pod a little bit more northward. Three orcas were circling in one area and probably hunting some salmon, and we even saw of medium sized salmon jumping as the sun was getting lower in the sky. One of these orcas was Cappuccino (K-21) a very big male in K pod who are a little bit easier to identify due to their large 6-foot tall dorsal fins. These three eventually met up with the other group and we got an amazing final view as the boat got quite and all surfaced one after the other and we could hear each one of them breathe loudly as the sunset gleamed on their black dorsal fins.

 

Until next time,

 

Naturalist Erick

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