Posts Tagged ‘san juan islands’

J’s and K’s Headed North!-August 24th, 2015

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Today the Sea Lion went on yet another grand adventure! Captain Mike, Sarah and I were just as excited as our boat-load of passengers to get out into the Salish Sea on this beautiful day and look for wildlife.

As we left the dock in Friday Harbor we headed North towards Canada! We heard reports that part of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population was headed that way so we went ahead to investigate.

The area known as the Salish Sea, in which these particular orcas spend the majority of their summer feeding on salmon, has ties to both the United States and Canada. We regularly cross the border into Canadian waters, and the Coast Guard hasn’t caught us yet! Actually, as long as we do not make contact with land (make port, anchor, or touch another boat) then there is no need for passports and we can continue our whale watch unhindered!

As we passed Spieden Island and the Cactus Islands we were scanning the water for those big black dorsal fins that we love to see. Finally, at the northern end of Boundary Pass, we saw dorsal fins rising from the water. It was J Pod!

We watched as the massive fin of J27 (Blackberry) rose from the water. In the same motion, his sister J31 (Tsuchi) and his brother J39 (Mako) also surfaced with a loud WHOOSH as they exhaled before slipping back under the water. The rest of the J19 matriline was not far behind, and we got some great looks at these stunning cetaceans.

Usually we see the Southern Residents traveling in discreet family groups, and today was no different. After the J19s passed us by, we got a visit from K Pod! It is always very cool to see two pods traveling and interacting together. The K12 and K13 matrilines, complete with huge fin of K25 (Scoter) and the slightly crooked fin of K33 (Tikka) and the distinct markings of K20 (Spock), gave us some stellar looks as they passed us by on their way to better fishing grounds.

After spending some more time watching these whales do their thing, we began to head back down south, but the adventure was far from over. As we were passing Stuart Island, we caught sight of yet another colossal dorsal fin! It was J26 (Mike) and the rest of the J16 matriline!

Complete with a full grown male and two fresh young calves, this group is unmistakable. They typically travel apart from the rest of J Pod, and we were able to see grandma J16 (Slick) babysitting the two calves while the new mother J36 (Alki) had some alone time.

After this surprise whale encounter (the best kind) we began to meander our way back to Friday harbor. Our return trip showed us a few harbor seals and plenty of jumping salmon, and of course we were back in the slip far too soon.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

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

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

 

A Whale of a Homecoming-July 27th, 2015

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Today Captain Pete, Erick and I took out the Sea Lion full of excited passengers to have a beautiful evening out on the water and check out some wildlife. We had a pretty great whale report with a bit of history behind it. The Southern Residents had all left the Salish Sea the other day and we had spent a few days seeking other wildlife like humpback whales, minke whales and transient orcas. However, our report had some good news: they were back!

The Southern Resident Killer Whales come back to the same areas each summer to feed on Chinook salmon. Much of their time is spent around the San Juan Islands while they feed on fish returning to the Frasier river to spawn, but they will periodically head out to the Pacific coast to feed on salmon returning to the Columbia and Snake rivers, among others.

Having them back in the area is great news for us, because we love seeing them of course! In our effort to see them, we left Friday Harbor and headed South through San Juan Channel. Usually when we reach Cattle Point, we begin heading North to the West side of San Juan Island, but today we headed West in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We spent a good chunk of time cruising west scanning for dorsal fins, and to our surprise saw a humpback whale fluke up for a dive in the distance! There is nothing like a surprise whale encounter. We were not ready to turn around just yet, however, so we continued on.

Just south of Victoria, BC we began to see fin after fin breaking the surface as K Pod came into view! Slowly cruising East toward the islands, they looked like they were coming home after a long journey. Upon reaching Haro Strait, they woke up a bit. We spent time with all of K Pod, especially the K12 and K13 matrilines. We got great looks at some of the large males of the group like K25 (Scoter), K26 (Lobo) and we even got to see K21 (Cappuccino)! They appeared to be happy to be back in the Salish Sea and celebrated by porpoising, spyhopping, tail slapping and even a full breach!

We enjoyed their company for a while as they escorted the Sea Lion back to San Juan Island before we decided to enjoy their homecoming in peace.

Under the setting sun that made the sky and the water come alive with color, we began to make our way back to Friday harbor. The tour wasn’t over yet, however; we came across a few harbor porpoise, and one was carrying a calf on its back! Good news for the once dwindling porpoise population in the Salish Sea.

Far too quickly, our journey came to an end as the sun dropped below the trees.

Another Whale of a Day on the Salsih Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

A Murder most Transient… July 22nd, 2015

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Today Captain Gabe and I left the dock on the Kittiwake with a boat full of excited passengers, sun in the sky and reports of something a little different than our average tour: Transients (cue dramatic music)

Transients, unlike the Southern Resident Killer Whales who subsist mostly on King Salmon, spend their time actively hunting other marine mannals. Here in the Salish Sea, their favorite snack is Harbor seals.

As we left Friday Harbor we headed South through the San Juan Channel towards Salmon Bank, an under-water ridge off of Cattle Point. As we approached, we began to see black dorsal fins erupting from the waves as killer whales cruised NorthEast at modest speeds of about twelve miles per hour. When orcas are engaged in chases with other fast animals, they can reach speeds of up to thirty miles per hour or more!

Kittiwake raced along to keep up as we followed them towards Long Island, just South of Lopez Island, where they slowed down and began to do what they do best: hunt.

Now Harbor seals are very cute and win the hearts of most people while they are awkwardly resting on exposed reefs, but seeing a pod of four-to-six-ton apex predators chowing down usually evokes a similar reaponse to watching a train wreck: it’s horrible for the victims but you just cannot look away!

Harbor seals are quite abundant around the San Juans, in fact they are at what is known as “carrying capacity” this means that they are using all the recources that the ecosystem has to offer, and any more could be an issue. In this way, transient whales act as population control; as the seal population rises so will their main predator, resulting in an eventual decline in the seal population. This decline will also eventually affect the transient orca population. We see this boom-bust cycle in any specific predator/prey relationship including wolves and moose, lynx and snowshoe hare, cheetas and gazelles, and orcas and seals! These relationships allow adequate resources and keep the ecosystem balanced over time.

The transient pod we were watching (identified as the T060 group) began to duck into rocks, crevices and kelp forests on the hunt for defenceless seals. As they found one they sped up, ocasionally slapped it senceless with their powerfull tails, grabbed it in their jaws and shared it amongst the pod members. The whales were ecstatic about this newfound smorgasbord and let us know by spyhopping, breaching and having a grand ol’ time with each new kill.

Possibly the most emotional moment was seeing all of the seals that were safely hauled out on shore watching with terror as their usual hangout spots were razed by twenty to thirty-foot predators. Definitely not a great day to be a seal.

For the passengers and naturalists, however, this was a very exciting and very uncommon look into the more brutal aspects of the natural world of the Pacific Northwest.

After we had seen enough carnage, we reluctantly made our way back to Friday Harbor.

A supreme Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris

 

J Pod Soiree in the West Side-July 18, 2015

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Today myself, Alex and Captain Mike left the dock on the Sea Lion with a boat full of excited passengers, great whale reports and a beautiful evening ahead of us. As we left Friday Harbor we headed South past Griffin Bay in the San Juan Channel. We stopped near Goose Island (still on fire from 4th of July negligence and hot dry weather) to check out some seals lazily swimming in the current, popping their heads out to check on us as we passed. This time of year holds lots of curious young seal pups as their mothers go back to daily seal life and leave the weaned young, “weaners” on their own. A tumultuous time for a young seal, qeaners face many challenges like avoiding predators, finding enough food, and finding out the consequences of being TOO curious. As a result, not all of them will make it. The ones that do, however, might just pass on any genetic traits that helped them survive. We wish them luck!

As we finished contemplating the existence of seals, we rounded Cattle Point and began heading North in the Haro Strait, the body of water that makes one of the borders between the United States and Canada, Eh? The Strait was exceptionally clear both in and out of the water. We had fantastic views of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Reiner, two dormant volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain range. This was particularly exciting because, due to haze from fires in Canada over the past few weeks, we were denied these spectacular views.

Looking into the water was no less beautiful; we passed over a large swarm or “smack” of crystal jellies, silver-dollar-sized clear jellyfish that feed on minute animals in the zooplankton by stunning them with their Nematocysts, or stinging cells, then digesting them. Seeing hundreds of these living ¬†gems slowly pulsing through the turquoise water was worth the boatride in itself. We also saw numerous pink, or Humpy, salmon jumping out of the water. The water was clear enough to watch the happy fish swim away after it’s impressive leap.

However, we didn’t come out here looking for salmon and jellies, we were scanning the water for black dorsal fins, which we finally encountered near False Bay. It was J Pod (or J Squad if you’re really cool)! The first whale we encountered, easily identifiable by his massive dorsal fin and distinct saddle patch, was L87 (Onyx). A victim of hard times when he lost his matriarch, he left L Pod and began traveling with K Pod for a few years before settling in with the J2 matriline of J Pod. Knowing this, we could assume that the J2′s were present and sure enough the next dorsal fins we saw belonged to J2 (Granny) and J14 (Samish). Granny is the uncontested matriarch of J Pod. At the ripe age of 104 (oldest known killer whale), she is still spiritedly leading the squad.

We also got some great looks at the J19 group, led by J19 (Sachi). She was joined by her daughter J41 (Eclipse) and her new grandbaby J51. The new claves are always exciting to see, energetic miniature Orcas clumsily surfacing right behind mom. J27 (Blackberry), a very distinguished male, also travels with this matriline.

As all of the groups were quite spread out and swimming nowhere in general (“milling”), we assumed that they were searching for and eating Chinook salmon, their favorite food.

We excitedly watched most of J Squad feed, play, and swim for a while as colors from the impending sunset danced on the surface of the water. It was truly a beautiful moment. Although we all would have been happy staying on the West side all evening, we decided to say our goodbyes and begin heading back to Friday Harbor.

On our way back we again encountered some seals and many seabirds before arriving at the dock.

Another Whale of a day in the San Juan Islands!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

 

Active Orcas

Monday, July 13th, 2015

There’s a few things you should know about orcas. First: they’re fast. They can get up to 30 knots on a good day. And you’re all, “But that’s not that fast, Erick” and then I’m all, “Well, imagine 8 tons of pure speed and salmon eating muscle traveling through heavy currents traveling at 35 mph (56kph for the rest of the world)” and now I’ll give you time to be impressed… Orcas are one of the fastest marine mammals alive and in groups they can travel around 100 miles (161 km) in a day. Second: They still take time to have fun. Today, Capt. Jim, all our wonderful guests, and I on the Kittiwake started out on a glorious sunny day with flat waters all around. A portion of the Southern Resident Killer Whales were reported to be headed north from Stuart Island – fast! The Kittiwake is pretty fast but by the time we got to see them we were in Canada. Canada folks! The Gulf Islands, situated just north of the San Juans, are one of my favorite boating spots just for the amazing scenery, but our appreciation was soon redirected as we scooted out of Active Pass and saw our first orcas. We had caught up with the cookie clan of J pod. With family members nick-named Doublestuff (J-34), Cookie (J-38), and Oreo (J-22) we can see why. Now, the Kittiwake is a quick and nimble boat but these orcas were pushing over 10 knots (11 mph) at points. So we were graced with wonderful looks of dorsal fins streaming through the water like never before, and I believed that this group was so focused on getting as far north as possible today that we would only see just a glimpse of each of their dorsal fins. SPLASH! I was wrong. Doublestuff launched into the air and sent water flying by landing on his side. That apparently signaled to the others to start breaching and tail slapping until their hearts or at least our hearts were content. After that emotional high it was good we had a healthy sailing back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. and Friday Harbor.

 

Stay good y’all from Capt. Jim and myself,

 

Naturalist Erick

M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Transients in President’s Channel

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Today we had two different whale reports by the time we left the dock; J-pod coming down from East Point, and transients coming through President’s channel. Along the way, we decided to go for the transients, or Bigg’s killer whales. Transients are mammal-eaters, a stark contrast between their culture and that of the resident killer whales (whom eat only fish). They’ll work together to hunt for harbor seals, sea lions, porpoises, or even larger whales. An adult male orca can eat about 400 pounds per day. In theory, that means two harbor seals. However, orcas are very altruistic, and each kill that a pod makes will be shared amongst them. In addition, they’re able to skin and gut the seals, and then eat the more desirable muscles and other meat.

Another difference between transients and residents is their social structure. Yes, both are matriarchal, and in general led by the oldest female in the pod and stay with their mothers most or all of their life. However, the transients have a much more fluid social structure. In fact, today we were able to identify a male that has been separated from his mother and siblings a quite some time now. T77A, the son of T77 was with us today. He was swimming with a pod of 5-6 females and juveniles, whom I had never seen before. They all seemed to be taking pretty long dives, and may have been hunting, but we were able to get some really great looks at them and everyone on the boat was super excited to have seen them!

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Hawk, San Juan Safaris

 

Breaches, and Breaches, and Breaches

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Today we left the dock in high spirits with two options to see whales. Captain Mike certainly made the right choice, and as we came to decision time, the proverbial fork in the road, we headed North into the Haro Strait. The results couldn’t have been better.

Breaching killer whales are always impressive and as we got closer to a few other boats in the whale watching fleet, it was obvious we were in for a show. I counted at least six breaches before we even got close enough for most of our guests to see the whales. By the end of the trip I had lost count at 40.

When we approach a group of Killer Whales that has already been reported, we often know if they are Southern Residents or Transients, and potentially even which individuals are around. Today was no different, we had already heard K and L pods were traveling South off the coast of San Juan Island. However, had we not known Naturalist Alex and I would have looked at saddle patches first to figure out who we were looking at. Every trip offers different opportunities to learn the individuals that reside in the San Juan Islands during the season.

The weather was glorious and an area of the water that can be tumultuous with tide and wind was flat and calm all afternoon. We followed the intermingled pods, watching breach after breach, logging whales, and a lot of foraging behavior on our way South. We left them as they continued on, happy with amazing views of cavorting wild whales before glacier-capped volcanoes Rainier and Baker. And with a quick view of a Minke Whale on the way back, we were home in Friday Harbor.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Transients at Bird Rocks

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

This afternoon, we set out from Friday Harbor with a full boat. In just a short trip, we arrived at Bird Rocks, where we had received a report of transient orcas. Sure enough, there they were, the T65As and T77s, along with all of the other whale watching boats from the islands. Shortly after catching our first glimpse of the whales, we spotted a harbor porpoise, maybe 100 yards in front of the pod. Harbor porpoises are one of the favorite prey for transient orcas, as they strictly eat marine mammals, and we assumed that this group was pursuing the lone porpoise. Adult male orcas, weighing in at upwards of 10,000 pounds, can eat 400 pounds of food in a single day. When orcas hunt, they work together to make a kill, and then share their prize amongst the pod.

Because were weren’t far from Friday Harbor, and they were moving in the direction of Friday Harbor, we were able to hang out with the whales for quite a long time, before wrapping up our awesome trip.

 

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris