Posts Tagged ‘san juan island’

JK-ing but not about the whales – Sunday 8/30

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Sunday, served up another San Juanderful day.

Capt. Pete, Alex, and I headed toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is the major channel that connects the island to the North Pacific Ocean and all its glory. Lucky for us it was a calm day as we approached Middle Bank. This a shallower area in the strait where schools of fish love to gather due to the swirling currents that concentrate food in one place which is probably why when we got near we started to see some delightful dorsal fins slicing the waves. As we approached we saw that a group of J pod and K pod from the Southern Resident Killer Whales milling about a fishing! We ended up paralleling them for awhile and got to see the J-2′s with Granny (J-2) and T’ilem I’nges (J-49) traveling close with each other again. It’s been interesting to see these two the past few days travel with each other especially since J-49 is in the fourth generation of Granny’s family! The K-14′s also gave us some great looks as they scooted by. Soon though we had to scoot on home, but we stopped and saw some Steller Sea lions on the way and gawked at their 2500 lb of fur, fat, and flippers hauled out on the rocks.

Whale folks until next time.

Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Ks & Ls in Haro!

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Today under grey skies the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor with positive reports of our local celebrities: the Southern Resident killer whales! Traveling south we encountered a number of very playful harbor seals and enjoyed the presence of some of our numerous seabirds. We also took a few minutes to stop at Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass to look at about a dozen Steller’s sea lions sprawled on the rocks. These large pinnipeds are about the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow and can weigh upwards of 2500 pond, while achieving a length of 12 feet. THEY ARE MASSIVE! We moved on from the sea lions, heading north up the west side of San Juan Island. We met up with the K12 matriline just off of False Bay. K33 Tika was foraging with his younger Aunt K43 Saturna, and we got awesome looks at both of them! We peeled off off the K12s to head offshore to a group of incoming L pod whales. We saw breach after breach, tail slap after tail slap as the whales  joyfully made their way towards San Juan Island. We were delighted to see members of the L4 matriline, L54 matriline, as well as crowd favorites L92 Crewser and his Aunt L90 Ballena. We got some awesome looks at these beautiful whales today, despite the cloudy skies. Yet another great day to whale watch in the San Juan Islands!

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

L is for looks – August 27

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Thursday was a beautiful day filled with typical San Juan calm waters and cool breezes, and we went typically went looking for Killer Whales. Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I headed to the west side of San Juan Island and soon saw an unmistakable giant, dark dorsal fin slicing through the still waters. Orcas… But who is this one specifically? Orcas, like many mammals, have distinctive markings that allow us to tell one from another. In orcas we mainly use the shape of their dorsal fins and the pattern of a whitish-grey marking directly behind their dorsal fins. We call this their saddle-patch.

First this whale was big, really big, and definitely an adult male due to his very straight and tall dorsal fin. As he passed us we could see his pretty solid saddle patch and two notches in his dorsal fin. It was L-41! aka Mega! He cruised pass with the awesome ease that one only sees while watching giants.

MEga is in L pod and we haven’t see a lot of L pod this summer. Since we know that orcas usually travel in their family groups, more of L pod must be around.

We were right and our efforts bore fruits! or whales.

More L pod!

Looking at saddle patches and dorsal fins we recognized Matia (L-77), Calypso (L-94), Calypso’s daughter Cousteau (L-119). It was wonderful to find them when we did, because it quickly turned into socialization time. This group kept swimming tight circles around each other and pushing the young Cousteau around. They love spinning underwater and rubbing up against each other, and it was so beautiful to see them playing as one big happy family.

As these whales played around and drifted by more of L pod could be heard in the distance surfacing and breathing. And before we had to head back around towards Friday Harbor, another adult male, Crewser (L-92) passed by giving us a great view of his sprouting dorsal fin which has an extra curve right at the top.


But that’s not all! We passed by Whale rocks near Cattle Point and saw a slew of Steller Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks. They just returned from their rookeries in Alaska and they are so much fun to look at as they stick their heads straight up in the air and look suspiciously back at you. But don’t get too close these can weigh up to 2,500 lbs. and they are the largest Sea Lion in the world! It’s great to see them laying next to all the Harbor Seal too just to get the great size difference! We watched them slugging around and swimming around in the kelp forests for a little bit then onward until… two Bald Eagles Appeared on a rock! ONe had just caught a fish and they were having a mid afternoon snack! We thought our excitement was over until in the middle of Griffen Bay on our way back we saw two Humpback Whales. Now these are the the creatures that bring about images of stories of leviathans. They are as long as our boat – around 50 ft. – and can weigh around 50 tons. The stop here on their migration to rest and fuel up on tiny plankton. so they were up and down a lot showing their massive flukes as they dove deep to scoop up krill and fish.


Well I don’t know how the day could get any better.

Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick,

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Birds and Whales and Sunset OH MY!

Friday, August 21st, 2015

As August winds down, our evening tours become more and more precious. The sun is setting earlier, which means better light for us throughout the duration of our tour. The M/V Sea Lion picked up our 26 guests, left the harbor, and headed south through San Juan channel. As we made our way through Cattle Pass, Haro Strait opened in front of us revealing almost glass-like water in the golden light. We made our way North along the West side of San Juan catching glimpses of some of the wonderful bird life that we have in the area. We started to see members of our Southern Resident killer whale population right off of False Bay, and, man, they were active!! We witnessed several full breaches, several spyhops, and inverted tail slaps. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when we dropped our hydrophone over the side of the boat. These underwater microphones let you hear, in real time, what is going on underneath the water. The vocals were out of this world: clicks, whistles, squeaks… you name it we heard it. After spending nearly an hour and 45 minutes with the whales lazily playing around us we started to head back to Friday Harbor. Looking back across the Strait the sun began to set and really paint the sky. It was a fittingly beautiful way to end the experience!

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

San Juanderful – August 16

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

On Sunday, we had a great group on the Kittiwake and weather to match them. Capt. Jim and I took them to the west side of San Juan Island in search for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. We headed north and soon found most of K pod near the County Park. We saw Tika (K-33), Lobo (K-26), and Cappuccino (K-21) right off the bat. They were easy to spot because of their huge, adult, male dorsal fins or almost huge in the case of Tika – he’s still growing. We stayed with K pod for awhile paralleling them as they moved north and were starting to leave to look for some other fun wildlife near the Cactus Islands when, Splash! Two of the males breached in the distance as we were motoring away. So of course we turned around and watched as they started to wake up and feel feisty. The younger members started to breach and tail slap too and then it was a K pod party with all breaching and slapping and spyhopping near shore! We followed the whole K pod crew until Henry Island and then again tried to tear ourselves away from the excitement and headed to some of the outer islands. Around the north side of Spieden Island we took a moment and Capt. Jim had us appreciate the view of all the different islands and ridges we could see at that one point on the water. We could see Orcas, San Juan, Lopez, Shaw, most of the outer islands like Stuart, Johns, Waldron, Sucia, and could also see the Olympics, Mt. Baker, and all the way up into the Canadian Gulf Islands. What a beautiful sight. We skirted around the Cactus Islands and the north side of Spieden and saw a bunch of Harbor Seals playing in the Kelp beds and a few families of the exotic Mouflon Sheep prancing along the coastline. Soon though it was time to travel back down south to Friday Harbor. Another beautiful, sunny day on the water.


Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Cetace-Oh-Yeah – August 13, 2015

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands are called the Salish Sea. And here we are lucky enough to have more than a few members of the Cetacean family (whales, dolphins, porpoises) stop by every once in awhile. Most folks come to see the famous and charismatic Orcas, which are the world’s largest dolphin, but we have a few more fun members that are just as wonderful to see. Going from largest to smallest there is the Humpback Whale, the Minke Whale, Dall’s Porpoise, and the Harbor Porpoise.

And on Thursday we saw all save one…

It was a cooler afternoon when Capt. Jim, me, and one family headed south on the Kittiwake. We were going to the west side of San Juan Island to look for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. We soon saw the dorsal fins in the distance and as we neared False Bay it was apparent that we had found K pod! K pod is one of the three pods in the Southern Resident community and they currently have 19 members. They were hunting for their favorite food, Chinook Salmon up and down the west side. We luckily got to spend a lot of time with two particular families, the K-16′s and K-14′s!

As I mentioned before, orcas / killer whales, are the biggest dolphin and in the world of cetaceans aka whales we like to look at their mouths a lot to see similarities and differences. The orcas have rows of sharp, cone shaped teeth, the next few whales won’t.

After visiting with the orcas, we headed south to look for some other wildlife. And soon as we were looking at a bait ball both a Minke Whale popped up and few Harbor Porpoises. Minke Whales are small baleen whales. They are about the same size as orcas but filter feed using a thick, bristly mesh in their mouths called baleen. Harbor Porpoises are tiny, swift creatures that have sharp spade-shaped teeth that swim all around eating tiny fish. They usually are solitary, but this time of year they start to form aggregations of larger groups.

After watching them for awhile we moved even further south and south spotted a full grown Humpback Whale! This is another baleen whale, but instead of being 30 ft. long like the Minke, this guy is around 50 ft. long and weighs around 50 tons! That’s definitely bigger than our boat. This guy was amazing to look at as he rose, breathed, and lifted his fluke high up in the air until he slipped deep down again to feed once again.

After really appreciating this leviathan, we slowly started to return to Friday Harbor, but got to see some Stellar Sea Lions and Harbor Seals on the way! What another amazing day on the water!


Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

JK….. They’re headed North!

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

We spent a blissful day on the water with members of both J and K pods as they were traveling north past Stewart Island. We first arrived on scene greeted by some members of the J19 Matriline (J19 Shachi, J41 Eclipse, J51). J51 is the first calf of J41 Eclipse, and he is just as cute as a button! When orcas are born their white patches tend to look orangey because they do not have significant fat stores. As they grow and put on weight, the orange patches turn to their classic white hue. Right now little J51 is really starting to look like a “big kid,” and it has been a pleasure to watch him grow! We followed the whales as they made their way up the shoreline of Stewart Island, breaching and tail slapping all they way to Turn Point Lighthouse. The J19s met up with some other members of their pod, most notably the J2s, Granny’s clan as well as some members of K Pod (K14 Matriline)! Enjoy these photos from our day on the water!

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

J51 First son of J41 Eclipse

J19s and Friends!

J41 Ecipse Breach

Js and Ks round Turn Point

J2 Granny with a big tail slap


The K Pod Channel – August 10

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Days are shortening here as they are everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, and sometimes you can feel a cool, fall breeze as evening approaches. This is good since our summer here has been pretty warm and dry. Since the orcas live in the water, they experience a little bit different than we do. The water of the Salish Sea though has been experiencing weird temperatures as well. Weather reports are pointing to this being an El Niño year and we also faced what scientists call “The Warm Blob” which is a warm mass of water moving about, and it sometimes makes us wonder how the wether is down there where the orcas live.

We set off on a beautiful, cool, and sunny day over glassy waters with Capt. Pete, Mike, and myself. We headed east which isn’t a usual thing and ended up just a little west of Eastsound off of Orcas Island. It was K pod! Well most of K pod and it looked like they were checking out Harney Channel and the waters in between the islands, which isn’t an sight we often see. They seemed to choose this time to socialize. Orcas are extremely social and have tight knit family groups. A part of their day is spent in socializing where they just simply play with each other. This involves a lot of spirals in the water, going belly up, and splashing about with their flukes and pectoral fins. We watched two families socialize together for an amazingly long while and we managed to follow then east a little bit more with all the islands on either side of us. We eventually had to head out but had an amazing view of the sunset over San Juan Island.


Whale folks until next time,


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transients Do What Transients Do

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

When our reliable Residents aren’t around, Naturalists and Captains alike are always hopeful Transients will be found somewhere. Our sunset departure left with mixed reports of a group of Transients that might be coming within range of our trip. The inestimable Captain Pete decided to go for it and our guests, my fellow Naturalist Alex, and our guests couldn’t be more grateful.

We caught up the group of at least eight animals out in the Haro Strait. Transients are more difficult to recognize immediately because there’s over 200 that can show up on any given day in the San Juans. As a result, it takes some work to figure out what group you are looking at, but it’s aided by the individualized scars that their favorite foods, marine mammals, give them in pursuit. Ultimately we were less concerned about who we were looking at because of the show they put on.

Not long after passing Limekiln State Park the group diverged and started actively hunting. With a couple our thrashings and some epic breaches and cartwheels, we knew they were on top of food and before long they slowed the pace and milled, obviously eating. A couple red blobs appeared on the surface, that I took as loose floats, but what turned out to be floating lungs presumably from a harbor porpoise they had recently eaten. It was slightly gruesome to watch them float by, but it was a good teaching moment: Orca’s are selective in what they like to eat and discard what they don’t want.

Before leaving we also got to see an interesting and uncommon behavior. For several minutes we watched a younger animal in the group repeatedly grasp and pull down a Pigeon Guilemot (a common nearshore seabird in the Puffin family) below the surface. The bird screamed but apparently was unable to escape on wing because it made no move to do so. Last we saw it, as we headed North for a circumnavigation of San Juan Island, it appeared to have survived this cat and mouse game with Transient Killer whales.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

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