Posts Tagged ‘san juan island’

The Dorchestra

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

We left on the M/V Sea Lion for one of our spectacular sunset tours. Earlier that day we had seen a mixture of J and K pod heading north on the west side of San Juan Island. So, we headed north to see if we could meet up with them on the north side of the island. We first met up with a large group of J and K pod traveling really close to each other close to shore along Henry Island. We got some great looks as they calmly cruised northward. We soon broke off of this group and went to go see a smaller group of K pod a little bit more northward. Three orcas were circling in one area and probably hunting some salmon, and we even saw of medium sized salmon jumping as the sun was getting lower in the sky. One of these orcas was Cappuccino (K-21) a very big male in K pod who are a little bit easier to identify due to their large 6-foot tall dorsal fins. These three eventually met up with the other group and we got an amazing final view as the boat got quite and all surfaced one after the other and we could hear each one of them breathe loudly as the sunset gleamed on their black dorsal fins.

 

Until next time,

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Oh, Orcas Celebrate Canada Day

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

First of all Happy Canada Day Everyone! Woo and what a Canada Day it has been. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I left Friday Harbor with a super fun group and a very sunny day. There were some reports of Killer Whales a little south of Discovery Island, which is just off the southern tip of Vancouver Island. So despite what people tell you it the temperature doesn’t immediately drop ten degrees when we cross into Canadian waters, but I so try to start saying units in  metric though. We soon caught up with a group of J pod and K pod that were spreading out pretty wide and showing a variety of behaviours. The first family group we looked at was the J-2′s, we saw J-2, Granny, along with Onyx, L-87. Both of these individuals have fantastic stories. Granny is the oldest living orca on record at 104 years old this year! Onyx’s (L-87) mother died and so has been traveling with other pods it looks like he’s been adopted into J pod. This group had about 8 swimming together and was in a pretty tight swimming pattern. It was so amazing to see all of their dorsal fins rise and fall in the water in sync. Next we went a little bit further south and saw the J-16 family group with Slick, J-16, and the two new members of J pod J-50 and J-52. These two aren’t even a year old yet and we saw one of the young ones practice porpoising (where they swim really fast at the water’s surface to get an extra kick of speed). We then moved south and watched an adult male, Blackberry (J-27), swim for awhile with his hug dorsal fin! The male orcas start to develop their tall dorsal fins when they are around 12-15 years old. At full height this dorsal fin can reach 6 feet tall! We once again bid farewell to our Southern Resident Killer Whales friends and started to make our way back to Friday Harbor, but little did we know that our awesome Canada Day was far from over! Close to Cattle Point we came across three Minke Whales! These are about the same size as an orca but are the resident baleen whales! Where orcas have teeth, Minkes have baleen with are keratin strands that they use to filter out all the small fish they feed on. One of the Minkes looked pretty young and it was very peaceful to watch these relatives to the Blue Whale surface and dive for awhile. After that we caught a glimpse of a Bald Eagle swooping to attack a floating and unsuspecting seabird! Last,but certainly not least we saw a mother Harbor Seal swimming with her new pup off of San Juan Island. Woah, that was a fun and exhausting day, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Canada Day than with orcas in Canadian waters, eh?

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Residents in San Juan Channel

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Today we left the dock with reports of resident orcas out on the West side of San Juan Island.  It was a beautiful sunny day here in Friday Harbor so our trip out to the whales was filled with sunshine.  We met up with the K14′s on the South side of Stuart Island.  We first spotted K26 (Lobo), an adult male with a 6 foot dorsal fin, feeding in the area.  We also got a great look at K42 (Kelp), the youngest member of the K14′s.  The whales then started moving towards the Cactus islands, which are located behind Spieden Island.  It was very odd to seem them travel in this area because they generally stick to the outer straits of the San Juan Islands.  This was actually the first time in 20 years that the whales were seen traveling in that area.  We then watched the K14′s meet up with the J2′s (Granny and her family)  as well as the J19′s, including the new calf J51.  We watched the whales travel around the area and display different social behaviors including tail slapping and even a breach.  It was an unusual and interesting day out on the water but a memorable trip for all on board.

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J16s in Boundary Pass

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Today Captain Brian, Naturalist Rachel and I headed North towards Canadian waters, with reports of part of one of our Resident, salmon-eating pods, J Pod traveling along Saturna Island’s shore. As we arrived on scene, Captain Brian did a wonderful job maneuvering so that we were not only saying the legal limit away from the whales (100 meters in Canadian waters), but also getting the best looks possible. We quickly realized that we were looking at one of the current famous families in the Southern Resident population, the J16 matriline! This family is one of the more charasmatic, and has made news in the past months after J16 Slick gave birth to her forth calf J50, and that J16′s daughter J36 Alki gave birth to her first calf J52. Both calves were present today and we got excellent looks at each of them! The water was calm, the sky was a bit cloudy, and we had an incredible time out on the water!

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

North of the Wall: Transients are Coming

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Today was a very exciting day. We left the dock without any reports of whales. No humpback whales, no minke whales and unfortunately no reports of orcas. We started to steam North keeping our eyes out for any signs of marine mammals. We had the most amazing fly-over by a mature bald eagle and enjoyed traveling up the east side of Waldron Island through Presidents Channel under clear blue skies. Suddenly our Northern bet payed off, as some tall, black dorsal fins cut through the waves around Patos Island. TRANSIENT KILLER WHALES! We were lucky enough to join two family groups as they hunted and socialized in the Strait of Georgia around Alden Bank. We were fortunate enough to witness the groups make at least a couple of kills, and watch the two females present with the group spend time teaching their young ones the ways of being an orca… everything from how to best kill a seal to how to breach and slap the surface of the water with their tails. What a treat! On the way home we got to take a closer look at some harbor seals hauled out on some rocks. These small pinnipeds are at their carrying capacity on this ecosystem, meaning that they are at their maximum population that can be supported. They are adorable to see bobbing in the water! These are the days that really make me appreciate our sighting network, and our ability to go the distance to find whales. If you board our boat and we have no report of whales do not be discouraged, a lot of the time we end up finding them… because just like winter in Westeros, the whales are always coming.

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

Transients, Birds, Humpback and Seals

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Today Captain Mike, Brendan and I spent a bright and warm day out on the water. We left the dock with no reports of orcas, but some Transients were reported just as we pulled out of Friday Harbor. There are two ecotypes of killer whales that swim in the waters of the Salish Sea: Residents and Transients. The Residents are the famous three pods of salmon-eaters, while the Transients are marine mammal eaters focusing most of their attention on harbor seals. We met up with the group of Transients right off of Sidney Island, BC, and it turned out to be my absolutely favorite family of Ts….. The T65As!!!! T65A is a female who has a very pronounced nick out of the trailing tip of her dorsal fin. Sh travels with her four kiddos, T65A2, A3, A4, & A5. We spent some quality time with the family as they leisurely made a kill and started to get a bit surface-active, splashing around and generally celebrating having full bellies. We left them as they started to settle down so that we could check out some nearby seabird colonies. We were treated to views of cormorants and various gull species as well as a VERY nice look at a bald eagle. As we finished looking at the birds yet another report came over the radio, this time of a humpback whale near Spieden Island. We got some very nice looks at the young humpback whale, and continued on our way to check out some harbor seals hauled out on a rock. These little critters can be 4-5 feet long and weigh right around 200-250 pounds. On land they flop around and are no so graceful, but in the water they can be described as acrobatic. We motored back to Friday Harbor with the sun shining on our backs and smiles on our faces. Yet another great day on the water.

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

Humpbacks in the Georgia Strait

Friday, June 12th, 2015

This evening Captain Mike and I left the dock with excited passengers, warm breeze on the water and a report of humpbacks in Canadian waters. We headed north out of Friday Harbor and up the San Juan Channel toward East Point on Saturna Island, the easternmost point of the Canadian Gulf Islands. We stopped here to check out a haul out of harbor seals (or as we call them Pacific Northwest Rock Sausages) and some pairs of black oystercatchers feeding on intertidal invertebrates. After our brief visit with our pinniped friends, we continued to the Northwest in the Strait of Georgia towards the lowering sun and TWO tall columns of steam on the horizon. Could it be humpbacks?

As we neared where we saw the blows we slowed down and heard a massive WHOOSH as first one then the other humpback blew as we saw their massive black backs emerge from the water. Despite what we all may have seen in Finding Nemo, humpback whales do not actually swallow any water that then emerges from their blowhole, in fact their mouths are not connected to their respiratory system at all. Their “blowholes” are actually a huge pair of nostrils that have migrated to the top of their head over evolutionary time. Each one is contained by a splash guard that traps about three gallons of water when they come to the surface. To clear this water, a humpback will exhale at about 300 miles per hour from its monstrous lungs, vaporizing this water  into the ten to twenty foot plume of steam that we see above the water.

We hung out and watched these magnificent animals for a while in the waning sunlight and got some great looks at their flukes as they dove to feed on herring. In what seemed like much too short of a time, it was time for us to wave goodbye as we saw their flukes disappear under the water for the last time.

Even though we left the humpys, we had a great scenic ride ahead of us through Georgensun Pass and Plumper Sound where we saw numerous eagles, an occupied osprey nest, and more seals. We finally made our way back through San Juan Channel back to Friday Harbor where our passengers disembarked with smiles on their faces after a magical evening on the water.

another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

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 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