Posts Tagged ‘san juan island’

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

Predictions call for a Good Salmon Year

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Spring has sprung in the Pacific North West and everyone is ready to get back on the water!  With our first Whale Watch and Wildlife Tour in two weeks time, we are all hoping for a great season.  Recent predictions concerning salmon runs should contribute to another wonderful summer.  Canada is predicting up to 72 million sockeye salmon to return to the Frasier River this summer, which is far higher than the typical 3-4 million.  Chinook and coho salmon are predicted to return in slightly higher numbers this year in Puget Sound with an even bigger run into the Columbia River.

What’s causing the hopeful influx of salmon: great ocean conditions.  After hatching, young salmon, or fry, will grow in the river and estuaries they were born in before making the journey to the ocean.  This process can take days to months.  Once in the open ocean, salmon will spend up to 5 years growing before migrating back to the same stream they were hatched in.  Salmon prefer cold nutrient rich waters, often an outcome of coastal upwelling.  Luckily, the past few years have seen a lot of upwelling, which has allowed salmon born in the last 5 years to grow big and healthy in a near perfect ocean environment.

We can only hope that these predictions come true, both for our Southern Resident Killer Whales and local fisherman.  Southern Resident Killer Whales eat almost 80% chinook, which are supposed to return in higher numbers than last year. We are keeping our fingers crossed and can’t wait to be back on the water!


Reservations Manager, San Juan Safaris

Birds of Prey in the San Juans

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Many animals call the San Juan Islands home.  From kelp crabs to orcas and finches to eagles the San Juans have and abundance of species.  With both ocean and land environments, birds of all sorts abound on San Juan Island.  Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons are two top predators of the sky.

Bald Eagles are well known as the national bird of the United States.  Bald Eagles mate for life and return every year to the same nest.  They even have the ingenuity to build a second next, just in case the first one should break or fall.  The largest nest on record weighed more than 2.000lbs!  Bald Eagles are known for sitting out on the limbs of trees to better see prey in the waters below.  When fishing, Bald Eagles prefer salmon as they are fatty and make a great meal.  Unfortunately for the Bald Eagle, a large salmon can get the better of the formidable predator.  Bald Eagles will sometimes work so relentlessly to get a large salmon out of the water that they will drown in the process.  While eagles are great hunters, they are first and foremost a scavenger.  With their large size Bald Eagles will steal other animals meals and feed on carcasses whenever possible.  A Bald Eagle has a wing span of up to 8 ft and can weigh close to 15lbs.

The Peregrine Falcon, at a maximum of just 3 lbs, seems like it would less impressive than the Bald Eagle, but it is this falcon’s speed that sets it apart.  Peregrine Falcons can dive at speeds over 200mph, making them the fastest animal on earth.  Peregrines are such quick hunters that they have been knows to prey upon hummingbirds. The Peregrine Falcon mostly preys upon other birds, and will even go after other smaller birds of prey.  In cities, these falcons have been known to nest on the tops of tall sky scrapers and enjoy an endless buffet of pigeon.  There are several nests throughout the San Juans where these amazing hunters perch.  If you are lucky enough, you may even see one dive for a meal.

We can’t wait to get back on the water and see these amazing birds at work.


Reservations 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

Bald Eagles in the San Juans

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Growing up in Oregon, I never saw Bald Eagles. While the osprey was ever present, the eagle never showed itself. This past winter when I was visiting Oregon, I saw many Bald Eagles. It was awesome to be out on the river, and see an eagle perched in a tree.

Eagles are making a phenomenal come back and it is ever present in the San Juans. With a number 4 ranking in population in the US, Bald Eagle populations in the San Juans are soaring. While eagles are still protected, they were taken off the endangered species list in 2007. While, we are not back to historic populations, the Bald Eagle is making a marvelous come back, and we hope to see even more fledglings in their nests this year!

Last Trip of the Season!

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The whale watching season is coming to an end here on San Juan Island, and in the Salish Sea. The weather is getting colder, the days shorter, but that doesn’t seem to have an effect on the transient orcas! When we left Friday Harbor, we headed south then west traveling off the shores of Victoria to catch a glimpse of some transient orcas. When we arrived on scene, the T46b group of five orcas were traveling close together. After waiting in anticipation for over an hour to see orcas, our guests were thrilled! We had definitely gone the extra mile!

It was more of an emotional trip for everyone on board because we all knew this was our last trip out for the 2013 season and were lucky enough to see the orcas. Everyone seemed to have a deep appreciation for what they were watching. The transients were traveling in their typical zigzag type of pattern, speeding up and slowing down. They were on the hunt for any marine mammals in the area. We got to spend about an hour with the whales then headed home, checking out some steller sea lions along the way! What a great way to end the season, but Captain Brian and I were simply determined to see Orcas today no matter the cost!

This is our last blog for the 2013 season and I will leave you with this: these orcas are some of the most intellectual, thoughtful, and compassionate beings that I’ve ever had the pleasure of observing. They have culture, tradition, and language. They are simply magical. I hope to see you all in the next spring and summer to whiteness the beauty that I have seen throughout the 2013 season here in the San Juans.

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

Transients Kill on Salmon Bank

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

The M/V Sea Lion left the harbor today with no whale reports as it was pretty foggy on the west side of San Juan Island. However, like many non-whale report days, it wasn’t long before a sighting of the orcas come across on the VHF radios on Salmon Bank. I broke the news to our guests, which is always my favorite part, and we headed straight there!

When we got on seen, I quickly recognized the group of transient orcas as the same group we saw yesterday: T-120s. They were milling in a circular formation when we got on seen.  As soon as we shut our motor off, I saw a porpoise being flung though the air. The transients had clearly found prey on Salmon Bank worth pursuing and were in the process of killing it. The whole thing lasted for at least two hours. We saw the whales breaching on the porpoise, playing with it, tail slapping and more. A while would go by and then more aggressive behavior would happen. It was an afternoon of action and was truly incredible to be reminded of why these mammals have their place in the food chain as the top predator. Luckily, these whales never turn on humans! As vicious as these killer whales can be, there has never been a report of a wild killer whale attacking a human.

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transients Snack on Rock Sausage II

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Yesterdays trip turned out to be pretty great! Lots of whales, wildlife and rare findings! We left Friday Harbor and headed for the west side of San Juan Island to catch up with the T-120 group of mammal hunting transient orcas, stoping along the way to see harbor seals and steller sea lions.

When we got to the orcas they were traveling at a very fast speed, probably chasing their prey. Just as I was telling guests how orcas hunt cooperatively and come together in a tight group when they begin to initiate the kill, they began to do that. It happened very quickly and subtly, but when we all saw the pair of harbor seal lungs floating on the surface, almost surgically removed from the body, we all knew what had happened! Orca whales have very dexterous tongs and use their large cone shaped teeth with precision. It was incredible to see how carefully, yet speedily they disarticulated the lungs from the body of the seal. Transients are actually known to leave the lungs. I guess they are just not as good as the rest of the meat!

We also saw a mother and calf pair of humpback whales on Kelp Reef! It was a great day!

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