Posts Tagged ‘san juan island’

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

Orcas of the PNW

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Across all the worlds oceans there are at least 10 ecotypes of orcas, and possibly even more.  An ecotype is a distinct population of animals separated by diets, region, or social factors from the whole species.  Currently there is only one Orcinus Orca, but some argue that is it time to give separate species names to some of these ecotypes.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have what are known as resident orcas.   Resident orcas diverged genetically about 13,000 years ago.  This means that their genes are completely different from that of other orca ecotype!  In the wild, different ecotypes do not cross bread and often avoid each other.  Resident orcas are separated by diet, which consists of 90% salmon here in the San Juans, and family grouping.  Resident orcas travel is large family groups made up of matrilines.  These family groups, or pods, can consist more than 40 members!

Another ecotype often spotted in the San Juans, are transient orcas.  Transient orcas are marine mammal eaters and tend to travel in smaller groups.  Since their prey is harder to catch, it is advantageous to travel in a group of 3-6 animals, but sometimes transient orcas will travel solo or in groups of 15 or more!  Researchers think that we are starting to see the transient orca population become prey specific.  Since hunting is passed down from mother to offspring, if the mother does not know how to hunt a minke whale, then neither will the offspring.  It is possible that we will start seeing specialized hunting tactics by transient orcas, and only some will hunt minke whales, and others porpoises, and still other seals.

Offshore orcas also inhabit the waters of the PNW, but very little is know about this ecotype of orca.  Since they travel off shore, hence the name, they are hard to spot.  It is believed that this group feeds mostly on pelagic sharks and large schooling, fish such as tuna.

The more we are able to observe these creatures in the wild, the more we understand what makes each group different and unique.  Only time will tell if there are more ecotypes to be discovered!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

San Juan Island’s Rain Shadow

Friday, January 16th, 2015

The Pacific Northwest is known for its rainfall.  And we are not complaining.  The rainfall here means full rivers, green grass, and a wonderful temperate summer.   While places like the Olympic Peninsula get up to 60 inches of rain a year and Seattle close to 40 inches, San Juan Island receives as little as 15 inches of annual rain fall.  Why the difference?  San Juan Island is in a rain shadow, which acts as a kind of umbrella for the islands.  Here in the San Juans we are surrounded by mountains.  With the Cascades to the east, the Olympic Peninsula to the south, and Vancouver Island to the west, San Juan is protected from many storms.  Rain clouds are low and heavy, making it easy for them to get “stuck” on the surrounding mountains.  This phenomenon makes San Juan Island relatively dry in the winter.  There are plenty of gray days, and this year plenty of sunny ones too, here on San Juan Island, but it can be an escape for the down pours of the surrounding areas.

With a mild winter and an amazing summer, San Juan Island is a wonderful place to visit and call home.

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris

New Orca Calf is a Girl!

Friday, January 9th, 2015

There is a lot of mystery surrounding new baby orca J50, but one thing is now clear.  It’s a girl!  The telling photograph was snapped and everyone could not be happier with the results.  A healthy population needs females in order to continue matrilines and produce more offspring.  Currently the Southern Resident Killer Whale population has more breeding age males than females, which does not bode well for future offspring.  We can only hope that little J50 survives this first crucial year and then continues to grow and thrive into adulthood.  Females typically become sexually mature around 13 years of age and will typically have 4 calves in a lifetime.  Orcas travel in matrilines, which means that the group is defined by the mothers, so it is very exciting that the J16 matriline continues to grow.

Speaking of J16, researchers are now unclear if she is indeed the mother or grandmother.  J50 has rake marks on her dorsal fin, and researches think that another orca helped with the birth of the new orca calf.  Orcas are very social and intelligent creatures, making an orca midwife not too far fetched.  J36, J16′s daughter, is another possible candidate for being J50′s mother. J16, at 43 years of age, would be the oldest known orca to give birth to a healthy calf.  At 16 years of age, J36, has yet to have a calf and everyone has been eagerly awaiting the day.  J16 was not on scene with the rest of her family when J50 was first observed and it is possible she was recovering from a tough delivery and letting grandma do a little baby sitting.  J50 has been observed leaving J16′s side, which leads some to believe that she is not the mother, as typically calves never leave mom’s side.  Through further encounters and observation, we hope to figure out the mystery surrounding J50′s birth.  For now, we are just happy that the little orca seems happy, healthy, and playful!

Naturalist Emily

San Juan Safaris Whale Watching