Posts Tagged ‘Mouflon Sheep’

Excited Transients in Boundary Pass!

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

What a trip! Today the Sea Lion left the dock crewed by Captain Mike and Naturalists Mike and Alex. Despite a few clouds, our full boat of passengers was super excited to see some wildlife! Fortunately for everyone on board, a group of Transient Orcas was spotted up north in Canadian waters. Eager to see them, we sped north! Along the way we saw a few harbor seals watching our progress as well as a bald eagle flying overhead, but we only slowed down when we began looking for a Humpback whale (Big Mama) that was also reported in the area. With no luck on the Mysticete (Baleen Whales) front, we continued on to our very evident pod of Transients.

Transients, unlike their fish-eating cousins the Resident killer whales, spend their time actively hunting marine mammals including seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and even large whales like Minke’s and Humpbacks. Because these animals have exceptional hearing underwater, Transients need to be very sneaky and quiet while they are hunting in order to surprise their prey. To this end, pods will be made up of small numbers and they will travel very close together without vocalizing. Instead of actively using echolocation (sending out a beam of sound and listening for an echo in order to perceive their environment) like other dolphins, Transients typically use “Passive Sonar”, or listening for key sounds like splashing and breathing in the water to locate their prey.

As we approached the exceptionally large group of 9 Orcas, including the T065 and T125 matrilines, just after they had eaten because they were being anything but sneaky! Everybody on the boat was beside themselves as we witnessed T127, a large male with a badly scarred dorsal fin, repeatedly slapping the water with his flukes (“tailslapping”) and repeated breaches, tail lobs, spy hops, and headstands by all of the pod members. One male even alerted everyone watching to his particular level of excitement by showing off a certain piece of anatomy that is usually tucked away in order to maintain a hydrodynamic body shape. And if you didn’t think Killer Whales were cool before; this 6 to 8 foot appendage is actually prehensile in order to make mating a bit easier for these animals that can weigh up to 12,000 pounds!

Aaaanyway, another notable member of this pod was a mother with a new calf, who was trying its best to mimic all the behaviors that it’s mom was demonstrating including tail slapping, porpoising and breaching. It is great to see this example of how mothers and other pod members teach the new calves everything from hunting techniques to socializing behavior. In this way, each population of Orcas around the globe is unique in it’s learned behavior, which is dictated by available resources and passed down over generations. In humans we call this culture, and we refer to the Orcas’ unique behaviors in this way as well.

After watching this spectacle for a while longer, we decided to say goodbye to the transients and cruise along John’s Pass and the Cacrus Isles where we saw more bald eagles, including one that was busy eating a fish, and lots of harbor seals who were safely hauled out on the rocks. We also got to see some Fallow Deer and Mouflan Sheep grazing on Spieden island; the feral result of a game farm that previously existed on the island.

Upon returning to Friday Harbor, we were all still giddy from seeing all the incredible wildlife. We had another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transients and calves play in Canadian waters

Friday, September 28th, 2012

We caught up with a group of Transients today near South Pender Island, British Columbia  (48°44.01N 123°18.00W). Initially we paralleled the path of a group of 4 whales, which included 2 large bulls.  At one point we were traveling 10 knots to keep up with them!  The group slowed and synchronized their dives as they approached a second group of transients milling near a shoal.  The whales suddenly became very active on the surface with several partial breaches, tail-lobbing, spyhopping, and one breathtaking full body breach.  We heard a vocalization above the surface while watching two rambunctious youngsters playing near their mothers.  One of the calves appeared to be the length of a newly born calf, about 7’ long.   When we left the group, they were continuing to move in a southwesterly direction toward Gooch Island.  We capped the tour with a cruise by Spieden Island where we witnessed a stately bald eagle, and abundant Mouflon Sheep, Fallow Deer (including a few completely white individuals with huge racks!), and a few Sika deer as well.   As we rounded Green Point, we came across 3 Steller’s Sea Lions logging about amongst a raft of Bonaparte’s and California Gulls.   

Naturalist Andrew, San Juan Safaris

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Cruising south through San Juan Channel we encountered a number of marine mammals and seabird species.  Harbor Seals, Harbor Porpoise, and Steller Sea Lions were all taking advantage of the abundance of prey along with the Glaucous-winged Gulls, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Cormorants. 

Upon entering Cattle Pass the beautiful island setting was blanketed by a layer of fog providing a chilly and eerily exciting ambiance to our tour.  Even before we could see the Steller Sea Lions we could hear their grumbles echoing through the cloudy mist.  Then, through the haze we finally saw these massive animals!  Over 15 Steller Sea Lions were spread out over the rocky shores of Whale Rocks.  Another 7 Steller Sea Lions had formed a raft and were alternating lifting their flippers out of the water as if they were performing a synchronized swimming routine. 

Next, roughly ¼ mile offshore of San Juan Island between Pile Point and Hannah Heights we found a Minke Whale (48°28.45N, 123°06.48W)!  The Minke Whale seemed extra curious today coming in for a closer look as it circled the stern of the vessel.  Such a rare treat for this normally shy and elusive animal. 

Our tour ended with a visit to Spieden Island where we viewed dozens of the Mouflon Sheep, Sika Deer, and Fallow Deer.  Followed by a stop at O’Neal Island in Rocky Bay where we saw a mature Bald Eagle!

Naturalist Amy, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Although the beautiful, sunny skies were replaced by clouds and grey skies today, our spirits were not dampened; we were all equipped with a sense of adventure and eager to spend the afternoon exploring the Salish Sea.  And, we were not disappointed. 

Within minutes of departing Friday Harbor and entering the San Juan Channel we were rewarded with a large, male Steller Sea Lion enjoying his lunch.  The Sea Lion would emerge with a fish in his mouth, aggressively thrash the fish about at the surface, tearing bits of meat off the carcass, and send the fish remains flying.  He would then retrieve the fish and repeat his foraging routine. 

As we cruised along Spieden Island, we saw dozens of the exotic Mouflon Sheep and Fallow Deer.  And as we turned the corner of Sentinel Island, over 30 Harbor Seals were crammed on a small rocky outcrop, enjoying a relaxing afternoon. 

Our journey continued along Stuart Island where we had our first sightings of Killer Whales!  Over 20 Southern Resident Killer Whales were spread out between Haro Strait, Spieden Channel, and Stuart Island.  The whales were initially headed north before they changed direction and began to travel east through New Channel. 

We were surrounded by whales; they were seen in all directions.  Among the whales we identified Scoter (K25) and Cali (K34), Scoter’s younger brother.  Also, we identified Onyx (L87) another large male born in 1992.  Although the whales seemed to be spending most of their time foraging or traveling, a few individuals were performing aerial displays: breaching, lobtailing, and pec-slapping.  With so many whales in the area and the flat calm waters we decided to drop the hydrophone, an underwater microphone, to see if we could hear the whales vocalizing.  While sitting with our engines off listening to the whales exhale at the surface and vocalize and echolocate from below, a group of four whales changed direction and came in for a closer look.  We were mesmerized as the whales traveled along the port side of the vessel, while their vocalizations echoed throughout our boat.

Boy, my job sure is amazing!

Naturalist Amy, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours


A Different Kind of Day

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Today’s tour was a bit different than usual, yet so refreshing! With no whale reports since the night before, we took our tour to the inner islands.

Sure the San Juan Islands are home to one of the most charismatic animals in the world, the Killer Whale, but that is not the only thing that makes them beautiful. Often times the inner beauties of these islands are overlooked, but today we allowed our guests to discover these beauties. We toured along Flattop Island, the Cactus Islands, through Johns and Stewart Island, then into Canada to see Moresby and Mandarte Island, and back into the U.S. to finish with Spieden Island.

The abundance of wildlife inhabiting these islands and the channels between is nothing short of remarkable, including those we saw today such as dozens of Harbor Porpoise, dozens upon dozens of Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, Cormorants, Sika Deer, Fallow Deer, Mouflon Sheep, Great Blue Heron, Gulls of all shapes and sizes, and Steller Sea Lions.

Animals aside, these islands standalone in their natural beauty. Glaciation has carved this area into one of the most majestic places on earth; the geology, the vegetation, simply awe-inspiring.

And if you haven’t seen enough then consider this, there are hundreds of islands that make up the San Juans and every island has a story of its own. From the coastal Sammish, to the Spaniards, to a one room school house, no plumbing, no electric, to the richest of summer homes, to marine state parks, to national wildlife refuges, to a war almost started over a Pig, to even owning an island yourself. These islands are something worth seeing and we can give you this experience.

Naturalist Tara, San Juan Safaris

Round 2: Another group of Transient Killer Whales

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

We had wonderful views of 4 Transient Killer Whales!  We first saw the Orca Whales near Green Point as they were traveling north.  The pod included one physically mature male, he was massive.  When we arrived on scene, the whales were taking turns slapping their tail flukes on the surface before they continued traveling north.  They then circumnavigated Flattop Island, performed several lobtails and once again continued north. 

After viewing the Transient Orca Whales we found Harbor Seals, one of the Transient Killer Whales primary prey species, soaking up the sunshine safely on the shores of Cactus Islands.  A mature bald eagle was perched on a tree overlooking the scene.  As we cruised along Spieden Island we observed a number of Mouflon Sheep, Sika Deer, and Fallow Deer.  Then as we again neared Green Point we found one lone Steller Sea Lion cruising along the shore.  He was lucky those Transient Killer Whales headed north.  :D

Naturalist Amy, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours


Transient orcas…on the move!

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

We journeyed north around San Juan Island today, first passing Spieden Island en route to Haro Strait.  Several mouflon sheep and sitka deer were feeding and resting on the hillside of Spieden Island.  Somehow they can carefully traverse the cliffs just above the chilly waters.  We circled exposed rocks to the southwest of the island where six harbor seals were resting.  We spotted at least one pup.  After we were south of Henry Island (48°35.33N, 123°12.53W) we began to see spray…the spray of four transient orcas!  They were moving towards the northeast, hugging the shoreline.  We believe this group included T19B.  Just to the west, closer to Sydney Island (48°37.30N, 123°15.69W), we observed another group of four transients, possibly T60s, milling and then moving to the northeast.  Upon our return to Friday Harbor, we encountered two bald eagles sitting together at the very top of a tree on the north side of Spieden Island.  The appeared to be watching the surface waters for their next meal.  Calm day on the water with so many things to see!

SJS Naturalist Jenny

International Travelers

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Today we headed north on a wildlife adventure!  Incredible scenery through the northern San Juan Islands; we passed by Spieden Island first.  Adult male mouflon sheep were grazing near shore; their large and round horns are quite a sight.  Several females were also resting in the grass close by.  We also spotted a bald eagle at the top of a tree looking out for its next meal.  A harbor seal was resting with her pup on a mattress of rockweed, a type of seaweed, up against the shoreline.  These pups nurse for about six weeks and then it is time to learn to hunt for fish.  As we turned toward Stuart Island, we kept a lookout for any splashing at the surface.  Harbor porpoise would quickly pop up, and down they would dive.  Once we crossed Boundary Pass, we hugged the shoreline of Saturna Island.  We were in Canada!  We moved through these waters for a period of time, on the lookout for large marine mammals.  We turned back toward Waldron Island and sure enough, the elusive minke whale (48°41.44N, 123°05.42W).  Surrounded by seabirds, including rhinoceros auklets, common murres, and glaucous-winged gulls, a bait ball was just under the surface.  Several surfaces by the minke allowed us to see that curved dorsal fin and pointed rostrum, or snout.  After watching the minke for several minutes, we returned to Friday Harbor under sunny skies.  So much to see while on the water!

SJS Naturalist Jenny

I spy a FLUKE!

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

We headed north to Canadian waters today; calm waters and warm sun made for a wonderful boat ride.  As we approached Saturna Island, we saw the spray…the spray of the humpback whale.  We observed this marine mammal feeding in Boundary Pass (48°43.982N, 123°08.698W), and had the opportunity to watch the fluke dip into the water.  As this type of whale has baleen plates, it was likely feeding on krill or a variety of small schooling fish.  Several rhinoceros auklets were around, hoping to join the feeding frenzy.  After viewing the humpback for several minutes, we turned south and passed the east side of Stuart Island, noting some harbor porpoise along the way.  A bald eagle was standing guard!  We had the opportunity to view a large nest on Cactus Island.  We concluded our tour with a passing of Spieden Island.  Mouflon sheep were grazing in the shade.  Several harbor seal mothers and pups were out on the hunt too!  What an incredible day on the water.

SJS Naturalist Jenny

Second Day of the Super Pod!

Friday, July 20th, 2012

In my post yesterday, I mentioned how I could not find words to describe how amazing our Orca encounter was. Well, surprisingly everything that I said yesterday can be applied to our afternoon trip today! There was another super pod of killer whales, but we didn’t realize this right away.

We departed Friday Harbor heading north, and did not have to travel far. We caught up with three killer whales just on the north side of Henry Island (48°36.720’N 123° 12.300’W). We watched for a while before seeing blows off in the distance. Three, four more killer whales were in the area. They changed direction, so did we. Then, all of a sudden we saw at least twenty dorsal fins slice through the surface of the water, all less than a body length from each other! We also noticed there was a large group near shore. The sky was full of their misty exhalations. I got to see my second greeting ceremony in two days when the two large groups came towards each other. They seemed to synchronize their surfacing as they lined up. But, as they met I saw something different from yesterday: the whales circled each other once before moving off in the same direction they came from! It was spectacular!

All in all there were at least thirty whales, from all three Southern Resident pods. Again, they were being very active, lob tailing, breaching, and spy hopping. It was difficult to identify individuals since fins and saddle patches were everywhere, but we were able to distinguish J-27 Blackberry, J-14 Samish, L-87 Onyx, L-86 Surprise, and K-21 Cappuccino out of the wave of dorsal fins in the groups. Plus, cheery on the top of the trip was being able to view three bald eagles, soaring in the sky, as well as harbor seals (plus pups!), muflon sheep, and fallow deer.

~Kristen, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris