Posts Tagged ‘Lopez Island’

North or South?

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

We left the dock again today with very little information about wildlife sightings and a fresh crew full of expectations for the day. Should we go north or south from Friday Harbor in search of wildlife? It’s a question that we sweat over in the business. The Salish Sea is a big place, with animals that roam as they please, and our range limited to just a 3-4 hour time frame.

We decided to go south, as we had rumors of orcas spotted off Victoria earlier in the morning. We also had much luck viewing Minke Whales yesterday on the south end of San Juan Island. We made the right choice!

A few miles south of Lopez Island, we encountered an active pack of approximately 6 Transient Killer Whales. As we approached we witnessed spyhopping, full breaches, and lob-tailing. This type of energetic behavior from Transients is indicative of an attack-in-progress or recent kill. We paralleled their southerly path of travel in the placid waters and low hanging fog bank, with a small window revealing a hint of the Olympic range in the background. Often when Transients are in an excited state, they are very vocal as well; however, with our hydrophone deployed, we picked up no vocalizations.

As the beasts continued to thrash about in the water, they reversed direction and established a course for Whale Rocks in the mouth of Cattle Pass. These barren rocks are a popular haul-out sight for seals and sea lions. As the orcas drew nearer, they stopped breaching and began traveling more tightly.  Would they spring an attack on the unsuspecting morsels?  Passing up Whale Rocks, they swam north up against the shore of Lopez Island. Near Shark Reef, another haul-out site for pinnepeds, they quickly changed course once more. Their increased activity here indicated another possible kill.

Naturalist Andrew, San Juan Safaris

Mysterious Minke!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

We went on a wildlife adventure today, which included a circumnavigation of Lopez Island! Several harbor seals were hauled out near Turn Island, off the east side of San Juan Island. As we headed south we encountered at least seven Stellar’s sea lions on Whale Rock. The waters on the Strait of Juan de Fuca were calm which made the observation of surface activity noticeable! We spotted a harbor porpoise making quick dives just off the bow of the boat. So many different species of sea birds too. Rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, common murre, and Western gulls were out feeding. Then the appearance of the mysterious MINKE whale! Feeding in the surface waters, it was silently cruising for schooling fish and plankton (48°24.88N, 122°51.61W). We enjoyed the natural air conditioning as we travelled through the San Juan archipelago. It was great to view the wildlife aboard M/V Sea Lion!

SJS Naturalist Jenny


Monday, July 30th, 2012

Another Minke Whale southeast of Lopez Island, a couple miles offshore, Rosario Strait (48°21.55’N 122°48.78’W).

Captain Mike, also known as “Minke Mike”, was the first to spot him and soon after, the fleet moved in. This whale seemed a bit distant at first, luring us into the strait, but eventually turned around and gave us some play, coming up between boats and surfacing multiple times. Patience is key :)

On our way back, we took a nice scenic cruise around the southern tip of Lopez, passing by Castle Island, Blind Island, and Swirl Island. We also stopped by Long Island to look at the bald eagles and their nest, along with Whale Rocks to check out some Stellers.

What a day!

Naturalist Tara, San Juan Safaris

K-pod and Steller’s

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

We had calm seas and a bright sunny day, perfect for wildlife watching! We departed Friday Harbor heading south, stopping to view harbor seals in the water and hauled out, as well as a bald eagle perched high in the tree tops. There were more seals around Goose Island, plus cormorants, gulls, and a large stellar sea lion playing in the bull kelp. Then, around whale rocks we saw three massive male steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks. One even started growling! It was awesome to hear.

Not much further south, between Lopez and San Juan Island we spotted three killer whale dorsal fins. It was the K-13’s. Not too far from them was a large male, who we recognized as L-87 or Onyx. The whales started traveling along the west coast of the island. We got spectacular views of them, especially when one spy hopped! They were spreading out along the coast, giving us the opportunity to see whales all over. As they continued on, we turned back and took another look at whale rocks, where six steller sea lions were now soaking up some sun. We realized one was a juvenile male who was significantly smaller than the others. What a beautiful afternoon with lots of wildlife!

~Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Feeding frenzy!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

So many opportunities to observe the diverse wildlife of the San Juan Islands today!  From Friday Harbor we traveled east, and then cut between San Juan Island and Lopez Island.  Several harbor seals were hauled out on rocks, swimming, and foraging for fish!  Gulls swooped in and rhinoceros auklets popped up in the feeding frenzy.  As we travelled through Cattle Pass, we encountered a surprising visitor.  A stellar sea lion was hauled out on Whale Rock!  Typically, stellar sea lions are much further north in British Columbia and Alaska at this time of year.  A unique sight to see!  We headed west and observed members of J-pod, particularly two males, J-27 “Blackberry” and J-39 “Mako”.  These two were foraging and feeding near False Bay (48°28.679N, 123°06.621W).  We also spotted a minke whale south of where the orcas were foraging.  The minke had a few slow surfaces and then went for a deep dive.  Upon our return, we spotted a mature bald eagle just south of Griffin Bay.  It looked like it was on patrol or preparing to find dinner.  It was a wonderful trip and we were grateful for the warm sunshine in addition to the fascinating wildlife.

SJS Naturalist Jenny

Crystal blue skies and whale tails!

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

The weather we had in the San Juan Islands today is what Washington residents live for during the dark winters.  Crystal blue skies, a scattering of puffy white clouds, calm waters, no wind, and mild temperatures made for an excellent boat cruise.  It also made our guests from Texas very happy.  We left Friday Harbor and headed down the eastern side of San Juan Island past Griffin Bay.  Several harbor seals were hauled out on an exposed rock, keeping warm in the sunshine.  As it is almost pupping season, we are looking forward to some new additions!  We also noticed three harbor porpoises swimming north.  They were very active and you had to be quick with the camera.  As we came out upon Salmon Bank (48°25.45 N, 122°58.54 W), we found some members of J-pod including Granny!  L87, Onyx, was also in the crowd.  M/V Sea Lion then turned east towards Iceberg Point.  There were at least four more members of J-pod swimming through.  Looking at photos of the dorsal fin and saddle patch, we believe we saw J32, Rhapsody, but we would need a view of her right side to confirm.  Many sights of tail-slapping and splashing.  Upon our return, we did view a bald eagle standing guard just west of Iceberg Point.  Very regal that eagle!  Overall, you could not ask for a better trip on the water!

SJS Naturalist Jenny


Residents in their Realm

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Members of J-pod, K-pod, and L-Pod where traveling together again today out in Rosario Strait just southwest of Lopez Island; coordinates 48°24.051N 122°50.23W. Within a few minutes of reaching the area, the Sea Lion (our boat) was surrounded by whales on all sides! It didn’t matter in which direction we looked everyone was bound to see the whales surface. And man did it seem like they were in their realm!! We saw almost every behavior possible; from spyhopping to lobtailling to pectoral slapping to breaching. We even got so see a few calves rolling around belly up and wrestling with one another. Just adorable! 

Once we saw this behavior we immediately dropped the hydrophone and listened in. They were vocalizing as one would expect, with such a big group, chattin’ up a storm. The crew and passengers really appeared to be beside themselves listening in and watching an entirely different community communicate and move as one. Today it really struck home that this world is not solely ours, rather we share it with many other amazing creatures. 

Counting my blessings today!


Naturalist Tara, San Juan Safaris

Smooth Sailing

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

For today’s trip we headed south through the San Juan Channel in between Lopez and San Juan Island. Across from Cattle Point we reached our first hot spot for wildlife viewing. Here we found Harbor Seals one side of a small rocky island and Steller Sea Lions on the other. The Steller’s were fairly large and very photogenic today! We then moved on just around the south side of San Juan Island into more open water.


We didn’t have to go very far, about 500 yards, and we saw two Minke Whales! The water couldn’t have been better for viewing today! The Minkes broke through what appeared to be glass. They were so smooth in their actions and so flawless. Fortunately, we were able to cut the motor and stay with the Minkes for a while, it appeared they were enjoying their situation and had no intentions on leaving. Once everyone got a good view we headed back motoring around small islands between San Juan and Lopez. On our way home we saw a few Bald Eagles, more Harbor Seals, a Canada Goose, and even a pack of about ten Harbor Porpoises.

It sure was another amazing day out on the water.

Naturalist, Tara, San Juan Safaris

The Resident Orca Whales are being seen in all directions!

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Today’s trip we began by heading west through the San Juan and Shaw Channels. As we passed between Lopez Island and San Juan Island we stopped at a rock that was covered on one half with Steller Sea Lions and the other half with Harbor Seals. There was also a lone Bald Eagle present, overlooking the rock. The passengers were thrilled!

We then looped around San Juan to the west side and were able to catch up with four individuals from J-Pod. There was one large male, a female, and two calves. As we traveled with the group along the shoreline, just past East Point, they milled around, and the calves began breaching a few times here and there!

After about 15 minutes they changed direction and immediately gained speed heading north. We were forunate enought to travel with them for a few more miles and in that time, the large male even breached! It was a very moving experience and one could tellthat our guests really began to feel beside themselves.

We then continued on our way north and around to the other side of the island. Once we got to Spieden Island, we saw the  two groups of ungulates that inhabit the island;  Sika Deer and Mouflon Sheep.

Today we caught all the wildlife possible and the guests left the boat with some of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen!


Naturalist, Tara

Whale Watching Tour – Saturday April 28, 2012

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, and ORCAS, OH MY!

As we left the harbor we traveled north through the San Juan Channel to Spieden Island where two large Stellar Sea Lions were hauled out on the rocks.  Six other sea lions swam along the shore surfacing, rolling, and diving in succession as if performing synchronized swimming acrobatics.  As we continued down the coast we had great views of the Mouflon sheep and Sika deer including some wee babes.   Roughly 40 harbor seals were seen resting on a small rocky outcrop just off Spieden Island. 

THEN Captain Craig received a call on his cell phone with information on the location of Orca whales.  We made an immediate U-turn, traveled back down through San Juan Channel and to the Southern end of the San Juan Island to reach the whales. 

We found transient Orca Whales at the southern end of Lopez Island today (48°24’9″N, 122°53’31″W).  Seven transient whales, including T049C, were observed resting at the surface and traveling slowly within close proximity to each other.  This provided us with a wonderful viewing opportunity of these stealthy whales.    We were with them for nearly an hour and they stayed in that general area the entire time.

The trip wasn’t over yet.  Captain Craig found us bald eagles near a nest and another Steller sea lion haul-out with about twenty animals sharing, and a few grumbling over, the close quarters.  

Naturalists Colleen and Amy

San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours