Posts Tagged ‘san juan island’

Salmon, Cetaceans and Sea Lions, Oh My!-July 30th 2015

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Today Captain Jim and I left the dock with a boat full of excited passengers, no wind, sun in the sky and several whale reports. We decided to head to the West side to check out J Pod who was in town feeding on Chinook salmon.

As we headed South out of Friday Harbor into San Juan Channel we were greeted by a flock of rhinoceros auklets, small black, diving puffin-like birds with a horny protrusion on their bill, plunging into the water to distance themselves from the boat. These “Rhinauks” will dive up to fifty feet to catch their favorite meal: herring! We will occasionally see then suddenly appear from underwater wearing what looks like a collection of silver moustaches, but is actually two or three herring hanging from their bills.

As we continued South the passengers learned a bit more about the Southern Resident Killer Whales (what/who they are, what they eat, how they behave, if they are at all in danger, etc.) In preparation for meeting them face to face. Nobody was nervous for this interview, however. We were all excited.

After rounding Cattle Point at the Southern tip of San Juan Island we headed North and offshore a bit into the Haro Strait to began to scan for signs of life. The first thing we saw was a Pink, or Humpy, salmon jumping out of the water again and again and again! This is a common sight this time of year as pinks prepare to run up the Frasier River to spawn. When they began this odd behavior in late June, they had all the characteristics of a salt-water ocean fish including silver coloring and not entirely impressive jumps. Their bodies have been changing to adapt to the impending freshwater march to their one opportunity to spawn and their inevitable doom (they will die moments after they spawn). Some changes that we can see are that their bodies are turning green, males are developing large humps on their backs and sharper, more formidable teeth, and they can jump higher, perhaps three or four feet into the air! I am sure they are all just as excited as a salmon can be, they definitely appear to be ready.

As mesmerized as we were by the salmon, we soon became fully aware of the huge, six foot dorsal fin that appeared above the water. It was Blackberry! J27, or Blackberry, is one of the most distinctive males in the Southern Resident community. He has a massive dorsal fin and a very unique saddle patch with a line of black separating the white blotch. He was soon joined by his sister J31, or Tsuchi, and we were able to watch them zig and zag as they fished together for Chinook salmon.

We also got great looks at the J22s, or the Cookie clan. This family is made up of J22 (Oreo), J34 (Doublestuff) and J38 (Cookie). While they were feeding they got a bit playful and we even saw a breach!

Watching Orcas during any activity is always a huge joy, and it is always over far too soon. This experience was no different. We decided to let them eat their whaley hearts out while we meandered back home.

Along the way we stopped at Whale Rocks, some exposed reefs that are usually covered in Harbor seals. Today along with a plethora of the awkward seals coating the shoreline, we were able to catch a glimpse of a group (or “raft”) of Stellar Sea lions in the water!

Stellars are massive creatures. The largest of the sea lions, males can meaaure twelve feet long and weigh in at a hefty 2500lbs! Mid summer is their breeding time, and most adults head north to give birth and mate. Their duries done, this group at least decided to head back through the incredible waters of the Salish Sea.

Adter spending some time oggling our otariid friends, we made our way back to Friday Harbor. Whenever wildlife is involved, it is a good day. With our encounter with birds, salmon, whales, seals AND sea lions, I’d call this a Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris

Steller Whale Day

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Some folks call these groups of islands the “Banana Belt” because they do exist in a rain shadow and they get about half the amount of rain that Seattle is famous for. The Olympic Mountains and the peaks along Vancouver Island block a lot of the incoming rains from the Pacific Ocean. So days here, especially in the summer are usually sunny and calm and there’s many a time where one can look in every direction to see rain clouds, but the islands are in their own little hole of sunshine. Tuesday was one of those beautiful days full of sun and glassy waters, and also let us not forget about the whales! Capt. Mike and I took eleven wonderful people out on the speedy M/V Kittiwake to the west side of the San Juan Island. Then Onyx popped up! Onyx (L-87) has a cool story. His mother died early on which is rough for anyone but for male orcas that spend their entire lives with their mothers it’s especially hard. He travelled with K pod for awhile but now has found a new home with J pod swimming with the J-2′s – Granny’s family. We spent some time with this wonderful guy then moved offshore and met up with some K-podders! The family of K-13, Skagit, was traveling up and down hunting those delicious Chinook salmon that make the PNW famous for both humans and orcas alike. Watching this family with Spock (K-20), Deadhead (K-25), Cali (K-34), Ripple (K-44), and Comet (K-38) do what they are so good at in wild brought a lot of peace to everyone on the boat. I don’t think anyone cannot be amazed hearing the sound of these creatures glide through the water and their massive exhales.

We soon had to bid adieu and start our trip back to Friday Harbor but the fun was not over yet. We stopped at Whale Rocks to see some adorable adult and baby Harbor Seals and also saw a huge but very tired Steller Sea Lion looking like he could not be more comfortable than he was on those sharp rocks. These Sea Lions usually are in Alaska right now breeding but this one probably wasn’t old enough so he stayed here! These Sea Lions are the biggest in the world! We soon had to leave him as well putting a beautiful day full of great views and feelings to a close.


Whale folks that’s all

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Krazy Ks on the West Side!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Naturalist Rachel, Captain Pete and I were very excited for our day on the M/V Sea Lion. The sun was shining, our guests were chipper, and we had positive whale reports leaving the dock! A positive whale report leaving the dock does not necessarily guarantee whale sightings, but it always gives you that lucky feeling in the pit of your stomach.

We cruised south this afternoon through San Juan Channel and around Cattle Point Lighthouse at the southern tip of San Juan Island. We were treated to great views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including 14,409 foot tall Mt. Rainier a whopping 110 miles away! The water was glassy this afternoon, which made for a smooth trip up the West Side of San Juan, but I was certainly grateful to be wrapped in my fleece while we traveling at full speed.

True to our report (Man, I love it when that happens!), we ended up meeting a group of Southern Resident killer whales right outside of False Bay. Much to our delight, Rachel and I realized that we were looking at some of K Pod, one of our three Resident, fish-eating, pods in the area. K Pod is currently the smallest of the three Resident pods, made up of 19 whales in three different matrilines, or family units. To identify the whales we look at their dorsal fins (the fins on their backs) and the gray marking right behind that fin, called the saddle patch. These are as unique to the individual whales as our fingerprints are to us! We identified members of the K14 matriline as well as the K13 matriline, some of our very favorite families.

K26 Lobo surfacing

Mother-Son Pair K20 Spock and K38 Comet

K25 Scoter of the K13 matriline

After spending about and hour watching the whales fishing and traveling down island we peeled away to go have a look for some sea lions and bald eagles. We found a lone Steller’s sea lion lounging on a rock, soaking up some rays. These formidable animals can grow up to about 12 feet long and can weigh right around 2,500 pounds! We were also able to track down a bald eagle just inside of Cattle Pass on San Juan Island. They are easiest to spot when you keep an eye out for their white heads and tail feathers against the green of the evergreen trees lining the islands. We pulled back into Friday Harbor feeling giddy about the quality of wildlife viewing we had experienced. What an incredible afternoon on the water!

Naturalist Sarah

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

An Afternoon Social – Whale style

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

It was one of those classic Pacific Northwest day, grey, foggy, eerie making everything look a little more magical than they usually do. We had some rumors of some Southern Residents just off of Salmon Bank on the south end of San Juan Island, so that’s where Sarah, Capt. Mike, and I headed with a boat full of great and enthusiastic people. The ride kept bringing images of the Black Pearl sailing through the ever shifting fog to mind especially when we passed the old schooner Spike Africa in the distance, “Pirates”. Soon though the feelings of eeriness were replaced by those of excitement as the first few dark dorsal fins sliced through the fog. J and K pods! They were in so many different areas around the boat! Everywhere you looked there was a different family group either traveling or milling for their favorite food, Chinook salmon. We had the wonderful opportunity to follow a few family groups as they milled then breached then milled again and then we started to parallel one particular family, the J-19s. This family is one that has one of the new calves, J-51 the son of J-41, Eclipse. This family was sooo goofy they kept playing with each other, pushing against each other, and Eclipse at one point just stopped moving and started blowing bubbles with her blowhole, goofball. They played as a family pushing the new calf on top of their melons, started spinning under water and did several spyhops. We at one point cut the engine and dropped our hydrophone and got to listen to J pod speak for a while as we saw them goofing around. It was too much, There were whales on all sides playing with each other, breaching, spyhopping, and then a few spyhopped and started making vocalizations above the water…woah! Those were some magical moments. It’s probably not the case but sometimes it’s nice to think maybe they want us to join in on the fun too. We eventually had to take our leave of this little family party and let them drift back into the fog.

On our way back to Friday Harbor we stopped by Iceberg Point on Lopez Island and saw wait for it… SIX PUFFINS! These tufted puffins are one of my favorite birds in the area, They have black bodies, a white face mask, orange beaks and awesome, yellow feathers swooped back on their head. Their sort of like our penguins, beautiful birds and experts and fishing since they can swim super fast as they use their wings to both fly and swim.


Whale folks until next time,


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris


Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

If you haven’t heard yet it’s Superpod week on San Juan Island. This is now an annual event that brings together whale researchers, whale watchers, whale enthusiasts, conservationists, documentarians, and sincerely concerned citizens to Friday Harbor for a week of films, talks, and get-togethers to learn and discuss how to better protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales. So, in all, a big meeting of whale intentioned folks. It’s a big week for the island and a big week for those who care about the whales, but I’m not sure if the orcas know we’re constantly talking about them, but today maybe they did. We started out on a cool sunny morning from Friday Harbor with not a lot of news about the the location of the orcas, we heard some rumors of a group down south near Eagle Cove, but then also heard that there was some activity up north by Open Bay. So Capt. Brian, Alex, and I set off intrepidly to the northern bound whales. We met up with the leaders around Kellett Bluff. We followed this group of milling J podders and some K pod south for a ways but broke off to look at another lone group nearer to shore. As we watched these few whales with awe we noticed another group moving up from the south and then boom 20 orcas lined up! Members from all three pods joined forces to make….wait for it… a Superpod! This group was amazing as 20 plus dorsal fins would rise in unison from the depths. Different whales took turns be the front and sometimes it was the new calves all signaling with tail slaps. They swam northward and once they passed the bluffs, Bam! they picked up speed, some went this way some went that way a few adult males started racing! It was just too much! But it was a wonderful reminder how much both, we as humans and these orcas share in common, especially our desire to be close to family and friends, our need to commune and share a common joy.


Peace for all whales and humans alike,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Whale to do

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

It was a drizzly morning here in Friday Harbor, but we definitely needed that rain and by the time the afternoon rolled around the sun was peaking out again. Capt. Jim, 9 guests, and I all left the harbor on the Kittiwake with reports of Southern Resident Killer Whales heading south along the southern tip of San Juan Island. Never ever has there been a calmer day that I can remember on the Salish Sea especially when we got onto the west side – smooth as glass. On the way to meet up with the orcas we stopped at looked at a group of Harbor Seals sunning on some exposed rocks. Two seal pups – oh yeah it’s pupping season so there are a ton of these little cuties – offered us a great view of the different coloration of our two morphs of Harbor Seals in the Salish Sea. There is a darker morph and a lighter morph. They are the same species they are just two distinct fur colorations. These folks are a key linchpin in the food chain between between fish and squid and Transient Orcas that eat marine mammals. Seals consist of 70% of their diet! But, back to the Southern Residents. After we passed Cattle Point we headed a little north to Eagle Cove. There they were a mother with a tiny calf drafting right off her port side. Well I mean tiny is relative, the calf is probably my size and definitely weighs more. Then the rest of the family group caught up. It was the J-16s! My favorite family is in J pod and is the family group led by J-16 (Slick). There is  also Mike, Echo, and Alki and… and… two new calves! We got to see all of them as the spread out heading south looking for salmon. Mike (J-26) is really big one of the biggest males I’ve ever seen and you can definitely tell when you see his enormous dorsal fin slowly rise from the depths. We were so lucky that J pod was so close because we got to stay and move around to see most of J pod for almost an hour and a half as they grouped up, spread out, spyhopped, and Mike gave us a big breach at the end as a farewell, cue more Michael Jackson music. Until next time from the sunny San Juans Capt. Jim and Erick are out.


Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Flying Whales in Haro Strait!

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Today was (as usual) a fantastic day! My co-natty Erik, captain Mike and myself had a boat full of excited passengers, sunny skies and great whale reports ahead of us. We left the dock and headed south out of Friday Harbor towards Cattle Point. On our way through San Juan Channel we stopped to check out some cormorants and some harbor seals enjoying the sunshine on some rocks. Its currently pupping season for harbor seals! We saw a few little ones learning “banana pose” from the adults.

Harbor Seals are at Carrying capacity in this area, meaning that the ecosystem cannot handle many more seals than already exist. As an unfortunate result, there is about a 50% mortality rate for young seals or “weeners” as they are affectionately called. The good news is that more seals means more happy Transient Orcas!

We were not on our way to see Transients. As we rounded Cattle Point into Haro strait, we began to see fins! We were looking at members of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, fish-eaters that follow salmon into the Salish Sea each summer. This summer is no different, we saw lots of big salmon jumping for joy out of the water, which is a clue as to what the whales were doing as we were watching them.

We identified a group as the K12 matriline and watched K22 (Seiku) and her son K33 (Tika) lazily feeding for a while. We then decided to head to another group further north near Lime Kiln Lighthouse where we ran into the K13 matriline! K13 (Skagit), her four children and 2 grandchildren were beinf particularly active and we got some great looks of K20 (Spock) and her son K38 (Comet). The whole pod spent time tailslapping, pec clapping and even cartwheeling (throwing tails up in the air) but the crown jewel was when Skagit breached! The first one was exciting enough, but then she breached again, and again! Hard to miss that shot. Watching a 9,000 pound carnivore propelling itself into the air is a spectacle that seems to happen in slow motion (when you arefortunate enough to not miss it) and is over far too quickly.

After watching the K13′s play around a bit more, we headed south to visit with the K12′s once more before embarking on the journey home. On our way back we crossed paths with a few more harbor seals in the water as well as a great blue heron fishing in a kelp bed. After that amazing whale experience it was like waking up from a dream as we came back to the dock in Friday Harbor.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

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