Posts Tagged ‘Orcas’

Transients in President’s Channel

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Today we had two different whale reports by the time we left the dock; J-pod coming down from East Point, and transients coming through President’s channel. Along the way, we decided to go for the transients, or Bigg’s killer whales. Transients are mammal-eaters, a stark contrast between their culture and that of the resident killer whales (whom eat only fish). They’ll work together to hunt for harbor seals, sea lions, porpoises, or even larger whales. An adult male orca can eat about 400 pounds per day. In theory, that means two harbor seals. However, orcas are very altruistic, and each kill that a pod makes will be shared amongst them. In addition, they’re able to skin and gut the seals, and then eat the more desirable muscles and other meat.

Another difference between transients and residents is their social structure. Yes, both are matriarchal, and in general led by the oldest female in the pod and stay with their mothers most or all of their life. However, the transients have a much more fluid social structure. In fact, today we were able to identify a male that has been separated from his mother and siblings a quite some time now. T77A, the son of T77 was with us today. He was swimming with a pod of 5-6 females and juveniles, whom I had never seen before. They all seemed to be taking pretty long dives, and may have been hunting, but we were able to get some really great looks at them and everyone on the boat was super excited to have seen them!

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Hawk, San Juan Safaris

 

Orca in the Mist

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

This evening Captain Pete and I left the dock on the ol’ Sea Lion in classic Pacific Northwest misty weather with a boat full of good natured passengers and reports of a male Killer Whale traveling on his own in Canadian waters.

After meeting everyone, we took off in search of wildlife. Right off the bat we spotted first one than a second Bald Eagle on San Juan Island. As we headed west through Spieden Channel we saw some harbor seals and harbor porpoise appearing breifly and then disappearing beneath the steely grey waters.

Boating through the San Juan Islands in the mist brings a slightly mystical dimension to our adventure and to me makes the entire atmosphere seem a bit more primordial.

As we left American waters crossing Haro Strait into the Canadian Gulf Islands, we began to see lots of seabirds and then suddenly a lone six-foot-tall black fin broke the surface and rose slowly into the mist before the Orca exhaled and returned beneath the waves. The solemn aspect of the mist and rain, especially with the evening sun in the West attempting to break through the clouds, added a special kind of beauty to this experience.

We identified the male as a Transient, or mammal-eating killer whale, number T049C. He is 17 years old and has two very distinct notches near the bottom of his dorsal fin. Transient Orcas have a much more fluid social structure than Resident whales, and it is not uncommon to see mature males traveling on their own.

This male was very mellow while traveling and even ignored a seal that surfaced near our boat. He maintained a slow and determined course through the evening fog as we were struck with awe each time his dorsal fin came into view against the backdrop of green islands, golden sunset and silvery clouds.

After sticking with T049C (really rolls off the tongue, right?) For a while, we decided to let him continue his lonesome journey while we made our way back to Friday Harbor, thus ending our magical evening out in the Salish Sea.

 

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Residents and Transients

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with reports of residents orcas near East Point.  As we traveled towards the reports of resident orcas we received a separate report of transient orcas near by.  We first went to see the transient orcas which were specifically the T124A’s consisting of T124A, an adult female born in 1984, and her four offspring.  The orcas were first seen at the entrance of the strait of Georgia near boiling reef.  The waterway got its name because it is an area with strong current exchange giving the appearance of boiling water.  We watched the family of orcas traveling southwest at a relaxed pace.  After watching the transients we were lucky enough to go see the resident orcas, specifically parts of J and K pod.  The residents were spread out and participating in a lot of surface activity.  We were lucky enough to see a big male K26 (Lobo) breach twice in a row.  We don’t get to see big males breach like that very often so that was a great treat!  Not only are males larger in body size but they also have abnormally large pectoral and dorsal fins in comparison to the females.  A fully grown adult male can have dorsal fin that reaches 6 feet in height.  Our guests were fortunate to get to see the two ecotypes of orcas that we see in this area.  We had a wonderful day out on the water!

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Superpod!

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Today we left Friday harbor with reports of orcas off the west side of San Juan Island.  We heard reports of K pod in the area for the first time this season.  As we headed out our anticipation grew for the possibility of exciting whale viewing.  We got west of Henry Island and came upon the leading group of orcas.  We let them pass by and got to see a large group of orcas that consisted of about 20 individuals.  This group included members of J and K pod.  We then saw a few whales from L pod as well and at that point we knew that we had encountered a superpod.  Superpod is when all 81 whales in the southern resident community come together and socialize in one area.  We watched the amazing sight of all of the orcas breaching, tail slapping, pectoral slapping, rolling and social touching.  We had an absolutely superb day out on the water with the whales!  As we headed back to Friday Harbor we stopped by to see a bald eagles nest and we were lucky enough to see a chick in the nest.  Luckily it was large enough that was visible from the water.  We then got some great looks at a pod of harbor porpoise swimming through San Juan Channel.  Today was an absolutely amazing day out on the water!  First picture taken by Naturalist Sarah.  Second picture taken by naturalist Rachel.  Both pictures were taken on our tour today.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Residents off South Pender

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Today we left Friday Harbor with a report of orcas traveling south at a fast past around East Point.  We headed towards boundary pass in order to meet the whales as they traveled south.  When we came upon the whales they were very spread out through the northern end of boundary pass.  It is very common to see the whales spread out over wide distances in order to cover the most distance to find salmon.  We watched the J16′s which consists of the matriarch J16  (Slick) and her four offspring J26 (Mike), J36 (Alki), J42 (Echo) and J50, her newest offspring.  J36 also had a new calf this winter, J52 who will be named at the end of this upcoming summer.  We then got to see the L47′s which consists of L47 (Marina) and her three offspring L83 (Moonlight), L91 (Muncher) and L115 (Mystic).  Also with the L47′s is L83s offspring L110 (Midnight).  The L47′s were traveling as a tight knit group at a faster pace then the J16′s were traveling.  After watching the L47′s we then got to see J16 eating a salmon!  We watched the J16′s traveling and socializing together which included some behaviors such as breaching and spyhopping!  On our way home we got to see some seals sun bathing on the rocks and a bald eagle in flight.  Below is a picture of J36 (Alki) and her offspring J52 taken by Rachel on the trip today.  It was a great day out on the water and we hope our guests enjoyed it as much as we did!

 

 

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Day with two HBs and a some Js!

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Today the M/V Sea Lion set out with some very excited passengers who had spotted orcas from the ferry! A sighting from the ferry definitely does not happen everyday, but it is so exciting when it does……. it’s always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife no matter where you are! We headed east towards Rosario Strait in the far side of Orcas Island from San Juan. We were treated to a bald eagle fly-over and some beautiful views of the islands and mountains as we cruised by. While underway, captain Mike got a report of two humpback whales in close proximity to the orcas, so of course we needed to check them out! The whales were on the move and we got to spend some quality time with them, and as out last look the whales rose, exhaled, took a breath, and dove together. After spending some time with the humpbacks we motored over to Cypress Island where J pod had been reported. We got to spend some blissful time with all 27 members of J pod as they lazily made their way up the coast. The highlight of the day was a TRIPLE spyhop, when three whales simultaneously vertically raised their heads above the water. It as a behavior I have never seen before, and it was amazing! After some quality time with the Js, we started to meander our way back to Friday Harbor, while taking some time to see some harbor seals and a bald eagle. The weather was amazing and the wildlife was even better. Another day for the books!

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

Active Orcas in Active Pass

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion was crewed by Captain Mike and naturalists Mike and Alex. We were joined by Captain Jim and naturalist Rachel on the Kittiwake out on the water today! We had lots of happy, adventurous and curious passengers and reports of whales! J Pod had been spotted in Canadian waters so we headed North out of Friday Harbor up toward boundary pass. We made our way up through Plumper Sound to Active pass, which connects Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia.

J Pod is a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the only pipulation that is federally recognized as endangered. Their diet consists mainly of Chinook salmon that return to the Salish Sea from the open ocean in order to spawn in the Frasier river. They enter through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and get pushed up against the west side of San Juan Island as they head north towards Boundary Pass and Georgia Strait up into the Frasier river, where they will exert the remaining energy of their life to spawn. The resident Orcas tend to swim along this same path towards the estuary, eating salmon as they go.

Today was no different, we caught up with most of J Pod in Active Pass including the J17, J19 and J22 matrilines. We got some great views of J27 (Blackberry) and J51, a new calf of J19. It’s always incredible to see the imposing 6 foot tall dorsal fin of a mature male and always fun to see a baby whale porpoising along behind its mom.

We followed these whales all the way through the pass out into the Strait of Georgia where they became extremely happy and began spyhopping and breaching! After they calmed down a bit we headed off to let them be whales. Just when we thought we were out of whales, we came up on a Humpback just as it was blowing! it came up for a few more breaths before sounding and showing its flukes. We took that as a wave goodbye and began the journey back to Friday Harbor.

Along the way we saw lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise, the former hauled out and enjoying the sun and the latter appearing above the water briefly to breathe before slipping back beneath the surface.

A really nice, beautiful day on the water with fantastic wildlife sightings in the San Juans!

 

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Active Orcas in Active Pass

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion was crewed by Captain Mike and naturalists Mike and Alex. We were joined by Captain Jim and naturalist Rachel on the Kittiwake out on the water today! We had lots of happy, adventurous and curious passengers and reports of whales! J Pod had been spotted in Canadian waters so we headed North out of Friday Harbor up toward boundary pass. We made our way up through Plumper Sound to Active pass, which connects Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia.

J Pod is a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, the only pipulation that is federally recognized as endangered. Their diet consists mainly of Chinook salmon that return to the Salish Sea from the open ocean in order to spawn in the Frasier river. They enter through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and get pushed up against the west side of San Juan Island as they head north towards Boundary Pass and Georgia Strait up into the Frasier river, where they will exert the remaining energy of their life to spawn. The resident Orcas tend to swim along this same path towards the estuary, eating salmon as they go.

Today was no different, we caught up with most of J Pod in Active Pass including the J17, J19 and J22 matrilines. We got some great views of J27 (Blackberry) and J51, a new calf of J19. It’s always incredible to see the imposing 6 foot tall dorsal fin of a mature male and always fun to see a baby whale porpoising along behind its mom.

We followed these whales all the way through the pass out into the Strait of Georgia where they became extremely happy and began spyhopping and breaching! After they calmed down a bit we headed off to let them be whales. Just when we thought we were out of whales, we came up on a Humpback just as it was blowing! it came up for a few more breaths before aounding and ahowing its flukes. We took that as a wave goodbye and began the journey back to Friday Harbor.

Along the way we saw lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise, the former hauled out and enjoying the sun and the latter appearing above the water briefly to breaths before slipping back beneath the surface.

A really nice, beautiful day on the water with fantastic wildlife sightings in the San Juans!

 

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Memorable Day with the Js!

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

Today Captain Mike and I headed out of Friday Harbor under a beautiful blue sky dotted with the most perfect puffy white clouds. Heading south around Cattle point we had J pod on our minds. Today we were very fortunate to have received a report from other whale watching boats before we left the dock, something that does not happen everyday! We met up with J Pod just east of Victoria, BC, well into Canadian waters… no need to pack your passports though, as long as we do not touch down on Canadian shores or touch another vessel no need for official documentation. When we met up with J Pod they were in resting formation, grouped all together and breathing in synchrony. Throughout our encounter we saw dramatic shifts in the group’s behavioral patterns. From resting, to traveling, to socializing, to fishing, J pod provided a fully range of orca behaviors today! After spending some time with J Pod, we headed to Long Island to check out a bald eagle nest, and very happily found an adult bad eagle not too far away. Bald eagles are amazing creatures, reaching a height of 3 feet tall with a 6 foot wingspan, and building nests that are around 6 feet deep and that can weigh over 2000 pounds! We finished off the day by observing some harbor seals sunning themselves on Whale Rocks.

What an amazing day observing so much wildlife in their natural habitats!

Naturalist Sarah, M/V Sealion, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

L Pod Joins the Mix on the West Side

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Today Captain Pete and Naturalist Mike (along with some other seasoned naturalists) crewed the M/V Sea Lion as we left the dock in search of wildlife. The crew and the passengers were all anticipating a great trip because we had reports of L pod, a faction of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, on the west side of San Juan Island.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale population is made up of three populations that inhabit the waters of Southern British Columbia and the Salish Sea, all of whom only eat fish and especially love Chinook Salmon. They spend the summer following these salmon from the open ocean into the Salish Sea, through the San Juan Islands as they migrate up into the Frasier river in British Columbia to spawn. Where as J pod can be seen throughout the year in these waters, K and L pod tend to spend the winters out at sea or along the coast continuing to feed on salmon as they mature in open water. So you can see why it is so exciting to see L pod for the first time this season: it means Summer is here!

We cruised down San Juan Channel around Cattle Point and up into Haro Strait, where we caught up with them at False Bay. We began to see dorsal fins popping up here and there. About 15 Orcas were cruising in a very mellow fashion, interspersed with tail slapping and some dives to snack on salmon, first to the north and then they turned and began heading south. We watched several different groups for a while as they meandered along the coast and got some great looks at these magnificent animals before we decided to let them be and see what else we could find. We cruised over to Long Island to see a bald eagle and its huge nest, and checked out some harbor seals (safe from the Residents) before returning to Friday Harbor.

Always a treat to see the Southern Residents, another Whale of a day on the water!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris