Posts Tagged ‘San Juan Safaris’

Wonderful Day On the Water!

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Today we left Friday Harbor and headed South toward Cattle Point.  On the way to the area where the whale reports were we spotted some harbor seals with their pups and  a bald eagle.  We went through Cattle Pass and headed East to the southern side of Lopez Island.  Once we got to Iceberg Island we found the J17′s which include Princess Angeline and all of her offspring.  Traveling with the J17′s was K21 (Cappuccin).  We parked ourselves a respectful distance from the whale and allowed them to travel West past us as we watched them with our motor off.  We also got passed by the J22′s, better known as the cookie clan!  The whales were all headed West toward Salmon Bank.  We followed the whales to the South side of San Juan Island and then they began to relax and start milling around the area.  We saw some surface activity as well include tail slapping, cartwheels and breaching!  We then headed back to Friday Harbor and on the way we saw a juvenile bald eagle in flight.  Juvenile bald eagles commonly get confused with golden eagles due to their brown coloration.  It takes about 4-5 years for an eagle to get the adult plumage, consisting of the white head and tail feathers.  We had a perfect day for photography on the water.  There was a slight overcast and calm waters allowing for great quality pictures.  Our guests enjoyed their time on the water almost as much as we enjoyed having them!

Naturalist Rachel

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Happy Whales!

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Howdy from a very sunny and warm Friday Harbor!

This afternoon we had an awesome trip out on the Salish Sea. We left the harbor and immediately had a bald eagle fly over our boat, and a little while later we had an eagle fishing right off the bow! Eagles cannot retract their talons once they have sunk them into a fish, so they have to be careful about the size of fish that they attempt to catch. A fish that is too large might pull the eagle under the water, so they are very selective! After going south around Cattle Point we caught up with some orcas on Salmon Bank. We spent some time with that group and then left them to catch up with another reported group on the west side of San Juan Island. We arrived on scene and Naturalist Heather and I were very excited to see two of our very favorite mother/calf pairs: Deadhead (K27) & Ripple (K44), and Spock (K20) & Comet (K38). We had some very nice looks at the whales and even had a chance to drop our hydrophone in the water to hear the whales vocalizing all around us! Each pod in the Southern Resident community has a different vocalization pattern, so you can identify different pods based upon the unique sounds that they make!

It doesn’t get better than beautiful weather and happy whales!

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


Orca Hide and Seek

Thursday, April 24th, 2014


What an amazing trip we had today! We left our dock today in Friday Harbor without any whale reports once again, so Captain Mike and I decided we were going to head north to see what we could find in that region. We were looking for transient killer whales; this kind of killer whale hunts marine mammals. There is ample food for them north of San Juan Island including harbor seals, harbor porpoise, Steller Sea Lions (the largest in the world), and even Dall’s Porpoise! What we found just as we entered into Boundary Pass was completely unexpected!


As I was talking to a guest I saw a black dorsal fin slice through the water effortlessly. I knew at once what it was, and as I was about to tell everyone else Captain Mike turned the boat in the direction of the killer whale as he had seen it too. What we stumbled onto turned out to be a grand total of 14 transient killer whales, the largest group traveling together that I have ever seen! We all watched in awe as these whales proceeded westward through Boundary Pass breaching, tail slapping, spy hopping and just carrying on in incredibly social behavior.


Guests on board got a real treat today, as the big male Orca that I had originally seen was the one and only T063, otherwise known as “Chainsaw”. T063 is legendary in these waters and only comes south into the Salish Sea about once a year; he spends most of his time in southeast Alaska! T063 was traveling with his sister and family group T065 and T65B. There were also other family groups of Transient Orcas that were traveling with them including the T036s, T086s and the T124s!

This was easily my top three best experiences with Transient Orcas. We counted 106 breaches in all! What an incredible day!



Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion


San Juan Safaris



In Search of Orcas

Monday, April 21st, 2014


We left our Friday Harbor location Sunday with strong winds, a little bit of rain, and choppy water. Still, our spirits were high in hopes of finding killer whales in the Salish Sea even though we didn’t have a confirmed killer whale sighting that day. We headed north in search of Transient killer whales, or mammal-hunting killer whales. We came across many harbor seals, harbor porpoise and even some steller sea lions. These are all great food sources for transients. However, when it came time to head for home we still had not managed to find any Orcas.

All of a sudden, Captain Mike turned the boat away from some Dalls Porpoise that were about to play in our wake. When I went to see why, he had a huge grin on his face which could only mean one thing- someone had finally come across some Orcas and they were in reach of our boat! When we were supposed to be heading back to Friday Harbor, the M/V Sea Lion and crew headed south to Rosario Strait outside of Anacortes, Washington to catch up with the T137A and T036A group of Transient Killer Whales.

‎As we saw the first dorsal fins surface in the distance the energy on board couldn’t have been more positive! We watched as the whales foraged in awe. Towards the end of our time with them, the whales went on a long dive and were down for almost ten minutes (killer whales can hold their breath for longer than twenty minutes). It was an amazing experience, especially on a day where we didn’t think we were going to get to see them! All in all it was a fantastic day on the water as always.

Heather, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

M/V Sea Lion

Transient Orcas in Canada

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

With impending rain, Captain Mike steered the M/V Sea Lion north with Naturalists Heather and Emily, and guests in tow.  The goal: transient killer whales off North Pender Island in Canada.  A little Northwest rain did not dampen any spirits on board and before we knew it we were rewarded with great views of 7 transient orcas traveling southeast in Swanson Channel.  T137 and her offspring T137A, T137B, and T137D were traveling with T36A and her two offspring T36A-1 and T36A-2.  It was awesome to see two different family groups traveling together!  We followed the 7 transient orcas for several miles and saw porpoising, a couple of rolls, and a few spy hops!

After traveling with the orcas for a while, Captain Mike took us in search of Steller Sea Lions.  There was a large group of Stellers hauled out on Green Point on Speiden Island.  A couple of the sea lions were swimming in the wind blown water and playing in the waves!  At 10ft long and over 2000lbs, you would think the Steller Sea Lions would not be on the menu for transient orcas, but with a lot of team work and skill orcas are able to bring down these giant pinnipeds.  Recently two Steller Sea Lions were found dead with many rake marks from the teeth of the orcas.  One of the theories for the decline in the Steller Sea Lion population is that they are being selectively targeted in some areas by transient orcas.

Everyone had a great time out on the water viewing orcas and sea lions on this rainy spring day!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Tansient Orcas Outside Friday Harbor!

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Although the day started out grey, the sunshine quickly took over in the San Juan Islands.  Captain Mike lead Naturalist Emily, Naturalist Kevin, and the guests on board the M/V Sea Lion north out of Friday Harbor in the pursuit of orcas.  We started the morning with no orca reports, which is common in the early season, so we went to look in areas that orcas frequent in the San Juans. As we were headed around the north side of Spieden Island two dorsal fins were spotted and moments later the call came over the radio!  Two transient males, T49C and T77A were traveling in Spieden Channel.  Many transients orcas have been spotted recently in the area; there have been over 50 individuals in our waters in the last week!  The two male orcas passed many a harbor seal, but luckily for the seals, it did not seem to be lunch time.  With great surfaces and a few rolls these tranient orcas were a treat.

After viewing the tranient orcas for a while, guests were also treated to a large group of Stellar Sea Lions hauled out on the rocks soaking up the rays.  A solo California Sea Lion was also spotted sunning himself!  Guests also saw several Bald Eagles and plenty of Harbor Seals.

As we motored back to Friday Harbor, we found the same two transient orcas!  Just outside Friday Harbor, it seemed like the orcas possibly found an afternoon snack, as there were many quick dives and circling in the water.  The two male orcas briefly split apart, but were seen swimming together again inside Friday Harbor!

Great wildlife and orca sightings along with ample sunshine made this spring tour one for the books!

Naturalist Emily

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Orcas Galore in the Salish Sea

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

With another beautiful day in the San Juans, Captain Mike, Caitlin, and I were thrilled to have great guests on board the boat and positive reports of resident orcas. Captain Mike steered us north toward the south end of Pender Island in Canada. We encountered a group of about 14 orcas consisting of member of L pod and K pod. These orcas were displaying resting patterns traveling slowing north. We were able to drop the hyrophone in and listen in on their conversations! After traveling with these whales for a while, we thought we would go try and find some other wild life the area has to offer. On the way south we were surprised to run into another group of resident orcas! This group included K pod and J pod members! Guests were delighted to see many breaches and tail slaps form these whales as they passed our boat. After the second group of orcas faded away, we continued on our way to find more creatures of the San Juans. Six bald eagle sightings later we were headed toward home. A combination of beautiful weather, wonderful guests, and truly amazing orca sightings, made this trip one for the books!

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

Transient Killer Whale Play Time!

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

With the sun on our backs, Captain Craig, Naturalist Aimee, and I headed north out of Friday Harbor. Earlier in the morning we had received word of a group of Transient Orcas in the area, and we were eager to catch up to these beautiful animals! We arrived on scene with a trailing group at the south west end of Stuart Island. The trailers consisted of four whales that were traveling north toward Turn Point. At Turn Point we were joined by another group and had at least nine Transient Orcas around us! The guests and I were thrilled to see lots of tail slaps, porpoising, and even synchronized breaching! The group of Transient Orcas looked like they got at least one great meal along the way, which gave them plenty to celebrate!

With awesome views of Transient Orcas, fabulous guests, and a whole lot of sunshine, it was a wonderful day on the water!

Naturalist Emily
M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Fog Can’t Stop M/V Kittiwake From Seeing Humpbacks and Minke Whales!!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

The crew and passengers aboard our original San Juan Safaris vessel, the M/V Kittiwake, braved the dense fog bank that awaited us at Cattle Pass in search of earlier reports of humpback whales. At certain points during the trip visibility was as low as 150 yds! Not to worry though, because Captain Jim wasn’t going to let that get in the way of seeing humpbacks!

As we motored South, passengers were constantly on the look out for our baleen friends who have traveled great distances to get here. Humpback whales spend their winter months in tropical waters, where they go to breed, they then head north towards Alaska to feed in nutrient rich waters. Occasionally, we will get a few stragglers through the Salish Sea, who haven’t quite made it to the nutrient rich waters of Alaska yet. This was the case today when we spotted not one but two humpback whales feeding off the southern edges of Hein Bank. It appeared that they were circling back and forth on the edges of the sea mount. Along the steep edges of Hein Bank, cold nutrient rich water will come up to the surface, which will create very nutrient rich water. Humpbacks thrive in this type of water since there is plenty of food for them to forage on. The repetitive behavior is most likely a result of the humpbacks foraging along the contours of Hein Bank.

After we followed the humpbacks for a bit it was time to leave and head back into the dense fog that sat about 2 miles offshore of San Juan Island. However, before we entered this twilight zone area we were able to sneak a peak at 3 Minke Whales! Not a bad day for whale watching! If anything, the fog just added to the excitement.


Caitlin, Naturalist- M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris

Stellar Sea Lions and L Pod Spotted!!

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

On our sunset tour today, Captain Mike, our guests, and I got to spend our evening enjoying a subgroup of  L Pod right off the west side of San Juan Island. They greeted us right off of Eagle Point and slowly meandered back and forth searching for Chinook Salmon. For the most part they stayed off in the distance minding their own business until suddenly the changed direction underwater and surfaced near our boat, rewarding us with a few tail slaps. Our passengers had their cameras poised and ready for the action and were able to walk away with some great shots of our resident orcas. Our guest were not only rewarded with a unique look at the residents, but they also got a rare glimpse of two Stellar Sea Lions! Generally, Stellars migrate up north towards Alaskan waters during this time, so it was great to see a few this late into the summer. Overall, it was a beautiful day on the water with great company! Can’t ask for much more!


Caitlin, Naturlist- M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris