Posts Tagged ‘san juan island’

Humpbacks, Minke, and More

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

One of my favorite things about Humpback Whales is that they are far less illusive and hard to track down than Killer Whales. Particularly this time of year the Southern Resident pods are farther afield in search of Salmon but some Transients tend to stay near shore year-round hunting marine mammals. The challenge is finding them, in their small groups, is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Thankfully Humpacks are a little different, 40 ton, 50 plus foot long needles, with 30 foot tall blows!

It didn’t take long for Captain Mike to pick up reports of two Humpack Whales along the South Coast of Saturna Island after we left Friday Harbor. Under a beautiful blue sky we met up with them and enjoyed seeing the pair surface and dive in unison for almost an hour. While it was obvious they were actively foraging, we were treated to some nice fluke slaps as the animals went down for deeper dives.

The day is always great when we have time to check out other wildlife in the San Juans, so with plenty of time to spare, we headed off to the Cactus Islands and Speiden. Harbor Seals and Bald Eagles were everywhere and we found a group of Steller Sea Lions resting off Green Point on Speiden. This in particular was a treat because we managed to sit and silently along side them as they snorted breaths and rolled about near the surface.

You never know when plans will change, and just as we were about to head down San Juan Channel, a call came in of a Minke Whale North of Flattop Island. Minke are in the same family as Humpacks but are much quicker when they surface and harder to see, so it was a delight to get some excellent moments with a more cooperative animal. We left it hunting off Waldron Island and headed back into port, recounting the great sightings of the day.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris 

Epic Looks in San Juan Channel

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

A good day on the water is full of tough but ultimately great choices to make. Which whales to see? Southern Residents, Transients, maybe a Humpback Whale? Leaving port with Captain Mike at the helm, our weekend guests were excited for nature on the water.


Working our way North through President’s Channel, we had the looming forested slopes of Turtleback to our Starboard and the slanting cliffs of Waldron to our left. It was another gorgeous day on the water, which Pacific Northwesterners know should never be taken for granted, especially when you’ve got whales in your sights. And we certainly did, even before we made it to Succia Island, we turned to meet up with a cast of Resident Orcas.


I’m beginning to feel a bit spoiled by this early season, because every day has been so incredible. The J16s we’d seen the day before in the Haro Strait had traveled about 20 miles Northeast in their search for food, their presence confirmed by the big Male J26 with his iconic open saddle patch. We spent more time floating and enjoying their presence than motoring to keep up and were favored with excellent looks at the two calves in the matriline (the smaller dominant female led groups within a pod) and several extended spy hops.


By the time we’d spent a good hour with the animals, we cruised off to check out some other sights. En route to the Harbor we spotted multiple adult Bald Eagles, a great number of hulking Steller Sea Lions, and of course, adorable Harbor Seals. Back in port, there were many smiles as guests departed to enjoy the rest of their sunny afternoons.


M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris


Southern Residents in the Haro

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Leaving Friday Harbor with reports of whales is always a great feeling and Captain Mike took us off the docks with good vibes for J Pod. We made a few stops along to the way, taking in Spieden’s open slopes, Steller Sea Lions, and Harbor Seal lounging on the rocks, but we had a destination in mind. Before too long we caught up with Orca on Open Bay on the West side of San Juan Island.


Being early in the year, the Southern Resident Killer whales, which are largely hunting King Salmon aren’t as predictable in their presence. The salmon that run up the Fraser River in British Columbia aren’t present in larger numbers until at least June, so seeing J Pod foraging on the West Side was a real treat. We spent the most time with the J16s, which includes the newest member of the pod, J52 who stayed close to mother J36 as they moved South.


The next hour was spent surrounded by the animals as they traveled South toward Cattle Point. At a certain point it became apparent that most of J Pod was around and Captain Mike took us on a tour of the Matrilines in the Haro Strait. It was a spectacularly beautiful day on the water, with the Olympics beaming in the background as we sped around through Cattle Pass, bound for Port.


Naturalist Brendan


M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A J Pod Encounter on the West Side

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Captain Mike, Naturalist Emily, and myself took our guests out on the M/V Sea Lion for what turned turned out to be a stellar trip today. We had reports of members of J Pod in the Haro Strait, so we sped up and around the North end of San Juan Island there right from the Harbor. Not long after entering the open strait we had our first sighting!

L87, who travels with J2, was the first animal we saw. He popped up a few times in the Haro and we followed him South, his tall dorsal fin dipping through the waves with Spieden Island in the background. Soon after following him down the strait, we  ran into a larger group of J Pod and were witness to a bevy of breaches, spy hops, and cavorting youngsters. This was a real treat so early in the season. While it was hard to tell in all the activity, it looked as if the newest youngster of J Pod, J51 was cavorting in the waves. Calves are certainly noticeable by size, but they really stand out because of their coloration, an off orange that is a result of a less developed layer of insulating blubber, apparent on this young one.

After continuing to enjoy the whales as they headed South with the ebb, we took a calm tour through Mosquito Pass between Henry and San Juan Island. Along the way we enjoyed a quick view of a California Sea Lion and some nice close looks at Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks. Rounding off an already excellent day, we cruised the shoreline of Spieden Island for some looks at the introduced sheep and deer on land, Bald Eagles in the air, and basking Steller Sea Lions in the water. We couldn’t have asked for a better early season tour with Southern Residents and wildlife galore!

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transient Orcas Abound Around San Juan

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

What a beautiful day on the water!  Guests aboard the M/V Sea Lion, along with Captain Mike, Naturalist Brendan, and I departed the dock in Friday Harbor with word of orcas near the south end of San Juan Island.  Naturalist Brendan was the first to spot these whales on his ferry commute from Shaw Island!

After viewing harbor seals hauled out on the rocks and Steller Sea Lions rafting in the water, we motored out towards the group of 8 transient orcas located near Hein Bank.  With water like glass, the full Cascade Range, including Baker, in view, and beautiful sunny skies, it was a beautiful day to watch whales.  The group of transient orcas were feeding and displaying many surface behaviors.  The gulls also appreciated a free meal as they snacked on the mess left behind by the orcas.

After watching the orcas in the sun, we began motoring towards home and even got to see several Bald Eagles along the way!  All in all, it was one for the books!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Humpback in Haro

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Departing Roche Harbor Captain Mike, the guests, and I headed towards Spieden Island.  As is common for this time of year, we did not have any whale reports when leaving the dock, but this did not dampen our spirits!  After enjoying the green hill side and many hoofed animals, we received a call on the radio that a humpback had been spotted!

Big Mama, a local female humpback was swimming in Haro Strait headed north.  We were able to watch and enjoy her surfacing slowly and many tail flukes as we accompanied her.  Humpback whales can reach lengths of 60ft and 90,000 lbs!

After visiting Big Mama, we viewed Steller Sea Lions and many Bald Eagles before returning to home port.

While it was a chilly day on the water, the sights were breathtaking and we cannot wait for more humpback encounters!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transient Orcas on the West Side

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

With guests aboard and the sun on our backs, we were feeling lucky just being out on the water.   To make the day even better, a call came in that there were transient orcas on the west side of San Juan  Island!  We motored around the north end of San Juan and caught up with two of the members of the T137s near Lime Kiln State Park  We followed the pair north to Henry Island where they made a kill, which was likely a harbor seal.  After the commotion of the hunt, the other two members of the group came out of no where to enjoy the meal!  These orcas were spotted over a hundred miles north in Nanaimo BC just yesterday!

On the way home we saw many Bald Eagles and Steller Sea Lions hanging out on Spieden Island.  We cannot wait to be back on the water next week!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

New Baby Orca Joins L Pod

Friday, February 27th, 2015

We had more great news yesterday when NOAA reported a new member of L Pod!  NOAA, who has been conducting research on the Southern Resident Orcas located L Pod off of Westport WA.  Westport is located on the Pacific Coast near the Columbia River.  L94 appears to be the mother to young L121.  This is the second calf for L94, Calypso, who had L113 in 2009.  L119, born in 2012, is the last calf that has survived in L Pod.  In the fall of 2014 L120, born to L86, only survived the first months of life.  Unfortunately, there is a very high mortality rate for orca calves.  Luckily, L121 seems spunky and healthy.

L121 marks the 3rd calf in just 2 months.  J50 and J51 have both been spotted regularly looking happy and healthy.  We certainly hope the 3 newest members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales continue to grow and become lasting member of the community.   Now at 80 individuals, the SRKW community seems to be on the rise, something we could not be more excited about!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris


Another Baby Orca for 2015!

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Late last week another baby orca was spotted in the Salish Sea and confirmed by the Center for Whale Research.  The newest member belongs to J Pod and is designated J51.  The calf of 36 year old J19 seemed to be happy and healthy as it swam alongside its mother.  It is estimated that the calf is about a week and a half old.  J50, born at the end of 2014, was also spotted looking healthy and energetic.  J50 has even been confirmed a female, which is great news for J Pod.  The first year of life for baby orcas can be very difficult and we certainly hope these two little ones make it!  The birth of J51 brings the population up to 79 animals and we are very excited at the upward trend.  We can only hope there are more baby orcas to come!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

Almost Back on the Water!

Friday, February 6th, 2015

A week from tomorrow, we are finally getting back on the water!  We are running a special Valentine’s Day Wildlife Tour and cannot wait to feel the cool breeze aboard the M/V Sea Lion.  Even though we are not in Southern Resident Killer Whale season, we hope that transients will be in the waters around San Juan Island.  While the SRKWs do sometimes enter the sound in the winter months, it is transient orcas that are spotted the most during this time of year.  Transient orcas do not migrate or have a set travel path, so it is always possible that they are traveling in our waters.   A single transient has been spotted in Alaska, then Washington, and continuing down the west coast of North America.  Wherever the food is plentiful, the orcas will go.  Thankfully, our harbor seal population is thriving here in the Salish Sea.  Harbor Seals are the preferred food source for transient orcas consisting of 60% of their diet.  We cannot wait to enjoy seals, sea lions, eagles, and all the sea birds and we  hope orcas make an appearance next weekend!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris