Posts Tagged ‘Orcas’

Breaching Orcas!

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Rained on and off throughout the day, but opened up to clear skies for our 2pm charter today. All passengers aboard the M/V Kittiwake were in full support of some sunshine and whales! Captain Jim is not one to disappoint, and with reports of resident orcas along the west side of San Juan Island, the whales were also in on making it a great day on the water! We made great time on our original San Juan Safaris vessel, the M/V Kittiwake, and made it just in time to see some of J pod members propelling their full bodies into the air for 2 spectacular breaches! Two seconds later and we would have missed the best part of the show. After a few breaches and a spy hop in the distance, the residents changed directions a bit and headed further northwest. The residents seemed to disperse more at this time, which is not unusual for them. Orcas rely heavily on sound- it is their main way to interact and navigate in their marine environment. They  can even hear each other over 10 miles away! Pretty incredible. We decided to stick with the residents for the remainder of our trip before we headed back to Friday Harbor with smiles on everyones face. All in all, it was a superb day for whale watching.


Caitlin, Naturalist, M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris

J Pod Westside!

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Well you can probably guess it, but it was another beautiful day on the water! Today, Captain Pete and myself, were accompanied by a small group of passengers who were eagerly awaiting to get out on the water and find some wildlife! Captain Pete isn’t one to disappoint, and with a few sightings of Residents on the westside, M/V Sea Lion was ready to find them. Our intention was to meet up with J Pod  along the north end of San Juan Island, but the orcas had other plans for us when they decided to turn south. We had to play a bit of catch up, but once we were on scene with members of J Pod , it was well worth the effort! The resident pod was spread out along the shoreline, but all seemed to be chasing their own meals under the surface. These whales are continuously chasing down their favorite prey, chinook salmon. Chinook is the fattiest of the salmon, and makes up the majority of our resident orcas diet. Fully grown these orcas can ingest a whooping 200 to 400 lbs of salmon a day! Makes sense that these orcas are constantly on the look out for food, which is awesome for us to see the residence on the prowl! Orcas feeding makes for an awesome day whale watching!

Caitlin, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transients on the hunt!

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Today started out a little bit iffy with some rain showers in the morning and not much in whale reports. As we were leaving Friday Harbor on MV Sea lion Captain Pete heard some great news from a fishing vessel. There were transients in Canadian waters near Saturna and  we caught up with the T065As just in time.

T065A and her four offspring were on the hunt! We watched as they did rapid dives, exhalations, tail slaps, and body rolls at the surface, then an awesome thing happened… a seal went flying through the air! The killer whales tossed a harbor seal into the air before they finished off their lunch. This is a rare occasion for whale watchers to see, most of the action happens below the surface and naturalists and guests can only guess what is happening down there. It was exciting to get a front row seat on the action this time, and that harbor seal was definitely outnumbered by these 5 killer whales. Harbor seals are a main food source for the transients here in the Salish Sea and we are expecting whales to be in this area quite a bit in the next few weeks because its almost pupping season for the harbor seals.

This whale watch is one for the books, I’m not sure there is much that can top that but I am looking forward to what the whales have in store for us this summer.

Naturalist Chelsea

MV Sea Lion

Rare Encounter with 20+ Biggs Killer Whales!

Monday, May 5th, 2014

We left our Friday Harbor location today and headed north with hopes of intercepting some killer whales that we had heard were traveling through the area. The weather definitely wasn’t cooperating- it was cold, windy, and rainy! However, a little weather never stops us when killer whales are involved! Guests soon settled in the heated cabin as we headed into the Canadian Gulf Islands. When we got on seen with the whales, what we ended up witnessing was something we never would have expected!

There were more than twenty Biggs killer whales in between Salt Spring and Portland Island, British Columbia, today. It was an incredible encounter. Biggs killer whales, or Transient killer whales, are mammal hunters; their social structure, behavior, underwater acoustics, and other aspects of their lives are highly adapted to exploit this prey resource. To see so many Transients in one area, and displaying resting behavior (which only accounts for less than 3% of their activity budget) is extremely rare. There’s really only one time where this kind of killer whale would be so docile, and that’s when they don’t have to worry about consuming prey.

We watched in awe as these magnificent animals glided through the water in their large family groups, socializing and traveling without a care. We even got to see little T065A5, a new calf who was first seen in March of this year! Other family groups included the T023s, T036’s, T100’s, T101A, T102, and T124’s. It was a magically peaceful day listening to the “koof, koof, koof” of the surfacing twenty plus Orcas!


Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris


Transient Orcas in Canada

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

With impending rain, Captain Mike steered the M/V Sea Lion north with Naturalists Heather and Emily, and guests in tow.  The goal: transient killer whales off North Pender Island in Canada.  A little Northwest rain did not dampen any spirits on board and before we knew it we were rewarded with great views of 7 transient orcas traveling southeast in Swanson Channel.  T137 and her offspring T137A, T137B, and T137D were traveling with T36A and her two offspring T36A-1 and T36A-2.  It was awesome to see two different family groups traveling together!  We followed the 7 transient orcas for several miles and saw porpoising, a couple of rolls, and a few spy hops!

After traveling with the orcas for a while, Captain Mike took us in search of Steller Sea Lions.  There was a large group of Stellers hauled out on Green Point on Speiden Island.  A couple of the sea lions were swimming in the wind blown water and playing in the waves!  At 10ft long and over 2000lbs, you would think the Steller Sea Lions would not be on the menu for transient orcas, but with a lot of team work and skill orcas are able to bring down these giant pinnipeds.  Recently two Steller Sea Lions were found dead with many rake marks from the teeth of the orcas.  One of the theories for the decline in the Steller Sea Lion population is that they are being selectively targeted in some areas by transient orcas.

Everyone had a great time out on the water viewing orcas and sea lions on this rainy spring day!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

K Pod Back in Action!

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Captain Mike, Naturalists Emily and Kevin, and guests on board the Sea Lion were lucky enough to see K Pod on yesterday’s Whale Watch Tour!  This is the first tour of the year where we were able to view our Southern Resident Killer Whales.  K Pod, comprised of 19 individual orcas, returned in full to the waters surrounding San Juan Island.  This pod was spread out into 3 traveling groups, all headed east from Victoria, B.C. towards the west side of San Juan Island.  K Pod is typically seen the least amount of the 3 resident orca pods, so we all hope that this is a good omen for the coming summer and the 2014 salmon run!  While traveling guests were able to see several great spy hops.  Orcas spy hop so they can check out what is happening above the water.  They are just as curious about us, as we are about them!

Besides great views of K Pod, guests were also treated to almost 20 Stellar Sea Lions at Whale Rocks!  At 10 feet long and up to 2,000lbs Stellars are the largest of the Sea Lion family.

K Pod, Stellars, and so much sun it felt like summer,  it was a great day on the water!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transient Orcas at Henry Island

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Another fabulous day on San Juan Island! Our Owner and Captain Brian was out on the water today and spotted transient orcas near Henry Island late this morning.  T18 was out with the T19 group hunting in Open Bay and off Battleship Island.  We often see these transient orcas in the summer months as well.  Harbor seals were the main course this morning, a favorite of transient orcas.  Brian observed lots a vocalizations after the hunt was over.  Transients are often seen “celebrating” after a kill, the sign of a happy and full orca.

Battleship Island is a nature preserve and heavily populated with harbor seals.  The harbor seals enjoy the large kelp bed that surrounds the small rock island.  In the summer time harbor seal pups are often seen laying on top of the kelp.  It is not wonder that it is also a favorite diner for transient orcas!


Reservations Manager, San Juan Safaris

J Pod Braves the Waves

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

J Pod made an appearance this past week traveling through Haro Strait.  With exceptionally high winds this week, the Haro has been rougher than usual, but this did not stop J Pod from trudging through.  In the summer months the Haro Strait is often very calm, as it is very protected by Vancouver Island.  During winter months, the normally placid waters around San Juan, can become windswept and whitecaped.

Of the 3 Southern Resident Pods, J Pod stays closest to home during the winter months.  K and L pods are often spotted off the coast of Oregon and California.  K and Ls are sometimes seen as far south as Monterey Bay California.  Each summer the 3 South Resident Pods return to the waters surrounding San Juan Island in order to feed upon salmon that are traveling to the Fraser River in Canada.   Salmon run past the west side of San Juan Island in high concentrations, making it an excellent place to grab a bite to eat.

We hope to see all of the Southern Residents eating up a storm this coming summer season!


Office Manager, San Juan Safaris

Sunshine on Valentines Day

Friday, February 14th, 2014

San Juan Island has seen just about every type of weather in the last week. Currently, it is everyone’s favorite: blue skies and sunny! We are hoping this weather lasts. All of the sunshine is making it feel like summer is right around the corner. We are already gearing up for the season and taking many reservations for 2014.

While we have not seen orcas recently, there was a Grey whale that popped into Puget Sound to say “hello” earlier this week.  Grey whales are baleen whales, or mysticetes, at eat benthic invertebrates through a process called “mucking”.  Grey whales lay the side of their mouth on the bottom of the sea floor and muck up the invertebrates.  This process often causes the Grey whale to have one side of its face free of barnacles and possibly a misshaped head.  We hope the Grey whales decide to visit us more often this summer!

With love in the air and cetaceans on the mind, we hope the coming season is the best yet!


San Juan Safaris

Whales+Snow= A Great Weekend

Monday, February 10th, 2014

J-Pod, and L-87, made an appearance in the San Juans this weekend. Vocalizations were heard over the hydrophone at Lime Kiln State Park Saturday night. As to their current location, some faint vocalizations were picked up on the Port Townsend hydrophone, but nobody has seen or heard from them sense. A group of possibly 30 transient orcas were spotted up in Canadian waters this weekend as well.

While the snow has turned to rain here on San Juan Island, the flakes are still coming down on Mt. Baker. Baker already has 8 new inches in the last 12 hours, and it is supposed to keep on coming. We hope you have a chance to go play in the snow this week!

Office Manager
San Juan Safaris