Posts Tagged ‘L pod’

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 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

L-pod Love

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Today was a truly magical day aboard the M/V Sea Lion.

It started out as any other beautiful San Juan Island summer day. The sun was shining as Captain Mike turned the boat south east, headed towards Haro Strait. We encountered orcas on the south side of San Juan Island at False Bay and soon identified that we were traveling with members of L-pod and, sure enough, spotted L-91 (Muncher) and her new calf L-122. Our second sighting in two days!

Members of the Southern Resident killer whales will stay with their moms for the entirety of their lives and Naturalist Sarah and I, as well as the guests aboard the boat, were lucky enough to see that incredible bond between mother and calf being made as they played and communicated with one another as both new calf and mom were breaching, tail slapping and rolling with one another.  It was extremely humbling to witness such an intimate and important aspect of orca behavior as L-91 and L-122 strengthened a bond that would last a lifetime!

Naturalist Danna, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

M/V Sea Lion meets L122!

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Tonight we had a great encounter with some of our Southern Resident killer whales. After a great afternoon trip spent with the L54 matriline (L54 Ino, L108 Coho, L117 Keta, L84 Nyssa, and L88 Wavewalker) we were overjoyed to hear that a Superpod, or a gathering of all three of our Resident pods, was headed towards San Juan Island. Captain Brian and I left the dock for a two hour sunset charter with whales on the mind. We shot south out of Friday Harbor, meeting up with the whales just off the west side of the island. We were overjoyed to realize that we were in the presence of the newest member of the community, two and a half week old L122, calf of L91 Muncher! The sunset was beautiful and we enjoyed a wonderful evening with the whales!

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

Ks & Ls in Haro!

Friday, August 28th, 2015

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

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

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

Birds and Whales and Sunset OH MY!

Friday, August 21st, 2015

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

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

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


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

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