Posts Tagged ‘Spieden Island’

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

“Watch this you salmon eating weirdos” – Transient Orcas everywhere

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Yesterday Capt. Mike, Brendan, and I set out on one of the calmest evenings we’ve had on the water. We were looking for some of the local Transient Orcas. There are three main communities of Transient Orcas that live on the west coast of North America. They all belong to the same ecotype but form different communities that usually remain in one general area, but each small pod can travel from Baja California up to Alaska. The community here is called the Washington – British Columbia community and guess what they live off the coast of Washington and British Columbia!! These Transients separated from our more well known Resident Orcas around 10,000 – 13,000 years ago. So although they look very similar they are genetically distinct and have two very different cultures. The transients usually travel in smaller pods, have a looser social structure, and hunt marine mammals! Yes, everything that looks cute and cuddly in the ocean, they are going to nom on them.

We headed north to some of the outer islands of the San Juans. We had our first sightings of the trip right of the east side of Johns Island. We saw their blows unbelievably close to shore as we approached, and sure enough they were in hunt mode. Do get excited, this is sort of what the folks at the Discovery Channel live for, but usually from the top of water their is little to no blood floating in the currents. It seems that orcas are not as messy of eaters as we believe them to be. They also drown their prey so little is done in the way of killing above the surface. We continued to see them as they moved south along Johns Island. Transients always offer surprises since they do a lot of direction changes underneath the water where you can’t see them, so they can pop up…anywhere. When we got to the south end of Johns Island they skirted through a very narrow channel and started to check around a few massive kelp beds – where many of their prey like to hide.

Now things were starting to get even cooler they kept popping up all around us, looking like they were hunting something else. We were in a small channel now surrounded by islands, kelp, and now…silent orcas. As a Bald Eagle swooped by the orcas showed us a profile and we could tell there were 5 of them and by their markings they looked like the T36A’s along with a few family friends we were unable to identify. This family has two really young orcas who were extremely playful. As they went in between the Wasp Islands we respectfully followed and they disappeared again. Only to reappear in full force as a synchronous breath and then back under again, then one of the calves did a perfect backflip to nosedive combo! This was finished off with the mother and the other adult female bursting out of the water and doing two body slams!


That. was. amazing! Maybe they did that to have fun or maybe to show up those fish eating Resident Orcas, because I have never seen a full back flip from an orca before. They continued to play as they ate more and more (probably Harbor Porpoises). We watched for a few more moments as they happily played in the road of shimmering light cast by the sunsetting over Spieden Island, then bid farewell once more.

Whale folks until next time,

Naturlist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Mystical Mysticetes

Friday, July 17th, 2015

On Thursday y’all, we got a rare treat. Usually out here in the summer we have many orca encounters, but there are many other cetaceans (aka whales) that also share the waters of the Salish Sea. One of our visitors is the enormous Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). We went looking for this particular one on a beautiful cool and sunny Thursday afternoon, and finally caught up to him or her (harder to tell with these, folks) around Pole Pass in between Orcas Island and Crane Island. This was surprising since This not a very large pass and as you know Humpbacks are very, very big, around 40 – 50 ft. long as adults – woah! that’s a lot of whale. But this whale looked as happy as a clam probably because these tight quarters left no escape for his minuscule prey. As Finding Nemo taught us all, Humpbacks eat krill, “Swim Away!” As well as small bait fish and other tiny organisms that get caught in their mouths. This is a major difference between Orcas and Humpbacks. Orcas and all other cetaceans that have teeth belong to the classification Odontocetes meaning toothed whales, but Humpbacks and other whales that prey on krill and other plankton belong to the Mysticetes meaning mustache whales. This means that instead of teeth they have something called baleen. Hold on, let me finish I didn’t just say mustache whales to check to see if you were still reading that is actually the truth. This baleen is like a bristly row of think hair in their mouths so they can suck in a lot of water then force it out through the baleen thereby catching all those tiny organisms, and if you’ve ever had a mustache you know that they are great at that process mouth full of water or not. Anyway this guy was amazing to see as he placidly kept heading northeast and nomming on all the tiny things in the ocean. Just listening to the sound of his breathing you could tell the size difference between this Humpback and the Orcas. After awhile we travelled north to the rips near Spieden Island to see some other cetaceans – Harbor Porpoises! These are one of my favorites because they are so cute. We saw five swimming in and out of the strong currents trying to catch fish. We don’t know too much about this species because they are so shy. They belong to the porpoises which are distinct from the orcas which are part of the dolphins and the humpbacks which are baleen whales. It was fun to see how fast these guys were as they swim in and out and even did their porpoising charges to pick up speed. After them with circumnavigated Flattop Island to visit all the Harbor Seals and their adorable pups, but also got a super good show by some Bald Eagles and their young too! Wooh, what an unexpected day! And just remember flukes aren’t always a bad thing.



Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris





Breaching orcas and a baby Bald Eagle

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

For the past few days, we’ve been meeting up with the residents on the west side of SJI, so today, when we had a report for Boundary Pass, we were excited to be able to switch things up. So, we left Friday Harbor and headed North. We met up with the K13s just between Saturna and South Pender Island. They were fairly spread out, but we got a good look at all 7 pod members and a good amount of breaches! We were lucky enough to hang out with them from there, all the way past Turn point and a little way down Stuart Island.

On our way back home, we went through Speiden channel with hopes of seeing one of the Bald Eagles that nests on Speiden, and we were not disappointed. We were able to see a nestling (almost turned fledgling) sitting just outside the nest. It was moving it’s wings around but did not fly. Young Bald Eagles often get confused for Golden Eagles (which we do not have here) because of their coloration. While they’ll grow to adult size in the first year, it takes 4-5 years for a Bald Eagle to get adult plumage, or a white head and white tail. Until then, they are a mottled brown color. We were able to spot 3 more (adult) Bald Eagles, as well as many deer, as we moved down Speiden. Overall, a successful whale watch and wildlife tour.

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Excited Transients in Boundary Pass!

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

What a trip! Today the Sea Lion left the dock crewed by Captain Mike and Naturalists Mike and Alex. Despite a few clouds, our full boat of passengers was super excited to see some wildlife! Fortunately for everyone on board, a group of Transient Orcas was spotted up north in Canadian waters. Eager to see them, we sped north! Along the way we saw a few harbor seals watching our progress as well as a bald eagle flying overhead, but we only slowed down when we began looking for a Humpback whale (Big Mama) that was also reported in the area. With no luck on the Mysticete (Baleen Whales) front, we continued on to our very evident pod of Transients.

Transients, unlike their fish-eating cousins the Resident killer whales, spend their time actively hunting marine mammals including seals, sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and even large whales like Minke’s and Humpbacks. Because these animals have exceptional hearing underwater, Transients need to be very sneaky and quiet while they are hunting in order to surprise their prey. To this end, pods will be made up of small numbers and they will travel very close together without vocalizing. Instead of actively using echolocation (sending out a beam of sound and listening for an echo in order to perceive their environment) like other dolphins, Transients typically use “Passive Sonar”, or listening for key sounds like splashing and breathing in the water to locate their prey.

As we approached the exceptionally large group of 9 Orcas, including the T065 and T125 matrilines, just after they had eaten because they were being anything but sneaky! Everybody on the boat was beside themselves as we witnessed T127, a large male with a badly scarred dorsal fin, repeatedly slapping the water with his flukes (“tailslapping”) and repeated breaches, tail lobs, spy hops, and headstands by all of the pod members. One male even alerted everyone watching to his particular level of excitement by showing off a certain piece of anatomy that is usually tucked away in order to maintain a hydrodynamic body shape. And if you didn’t think Killer Whales were cool before; this 6 to 8 foot appendage is actually prehensile in order to make mating a bit easier for these animals that can weigh up to 12,000 pounds!

Aaaanyway, another notable member of this pod was a mother with a new calf, who was trying its best to mimic all the behaviors that it’s mom was demonstrating including tail slapping, porpoising and breaching. It is great to see this example of how mothers and other pod members teach the new calves everything from hunting techniques to socializing behavior. In this way, each population of Orcas around the globe is unique in it’s learned behavior, which is dictated by available resources and passed down over generations. In humans we call this culture, and we refer to the Orcas’ unique behaviors in this way as well.

After watching this spectacle for a while longer, we decided to say goodbye to the transients and cruise along John’s Pass and the Cacrus Isles where we saw more bald eagles, including one that was busy eating a fish, and lots of harbor seals who were safely hauled out on the rocks. We also got to see some Fallow Deer and Mouflan Sheep grazing on Spieden island; the feral result of a game farm that previously existed on the island.

Upon returning to Friday Harbor, we were all still giddy from seeing all the incredible wildlife. We had another Whale of a day in the Salish Sea!

Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transient Fun!

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Today Captain Pete, Tyler and I headed out for a blustery day on Haro Strait. We headed North around San Juan Island and met up with a beautiful group of transient killer whales in the middle of the strait right on the US/Canadian border. Transients eat marine mammals (basically anything that we think is cute and cuddly) with harbor seals making up about 60% of their diet. Today we were fortunate enough to see the T37s and the T137As. We can identify individuals whales by looking at the markings and scars around their dorsal fins. Transients, because they eat animals that fight back, tend to be more scarred than the resident killer whales, who just eat salmon. We finished the trip with a good look at a bald eagle and some harbor seals around Spieden Island. It was another amazing day on the Salish Sea!

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

Transient Orcas Snack on Rock Sausage

Friday, September 13th, 2013

It’s not often that we get to choose between viewing Bigg’s Killer Whales or Southern Resident Killer Whales on the same trip. That was the case today. I wish we could spread out this luck for the guests who didn’t get to see any killer whales on their trip. For a time during peak summer, we were striking out trip after trip, at a time when killer whale sightings should have been at their peak. That unpredictability is part of the fun of viewing killer whales in the wild.

So what did Captain Mike choose? Transients, because they were right around the corner from our Friday Harbor docks! The first group of transients were porpoising north at a high speed from Yellow Island toward another group milling off of Flattop Island. We paralleled this first group and then moved on to observe Steller’s sea lions at Green Point on Spieden Island. When we turned to catch up with the second group of transient orcas, we realized they were headed right for us and the sea lions. Suddenly there was a boil of white water with the faint outline of a seal flipper in the center. It appeared that the transients had found a tasty morsel. The group continued toward the sea lions and we wondered if the orcas had finished their appetizer and were now moving on to the entrée. But no, after lingering at Green Point, the gang continued west, tight along the shore of Spieden, playing and breaching.

Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

Playful J-pod

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

M/V Kittiwake, guest, Captain Jim, and myself departed Friday Harbor and headed north. Our guests got a great view of the Cactus Islands, Johns Island, and Stuart Island. We caught up with part of J-pod just off of turn point, which marks the most north western point in the U.S. Our guests got great views of the cookie clan, which includes J22-Oreo, J32-Rhapsody, J-34 Doublestuff, J-38 Cookie. This family group was also traveling with another two family groups and our guests were seeing about 10 to 15 whales! Two younger whales, J-46 star and J-47 looker, were showing off for our guests. They were spy hopping, tail lobbing, and breaching. A lot of my guests always ask, “Why do they do that?” I always saying they are trying to look at our guests and showing off for them. On the way home we got to look at two different pairs of nesting Blad Eagles, one on Stuart Island and the other on Spieden Island. Our guests walked off our boat with great pictures of playful J-pod and smiles on their faces!

Aimee-Naturalist, M/V Kittiwake
San Juan Safaris

Transient,Transient, and more Transient Killer Whales- April 13, 2013

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Our 2013 Whale Watch season is off the a great start. We’ve hosted guests on four Whale Watch tours in the past week and encountered Transient mammal-hunting Orcas on each tour. Today was no exception!

We departed Friday Harbor without any reports of killer whales in the area and were having a great wildlife tour encountering Stellar’s sea lions, bald eagles, and harbor seals galore. We were about to leave Spieden Channel to head North into Haro Strait when (to our surprise!!), I looked towards Roche Harbor on the port side on the vessel and holy cow! WHALES! The T65s and T49B surprised us all! We observed this small pod of six traveling east down Spieden Channel, on the northern end of San Juan Island. We witnessed tons of fast moving feeding behavior and I even thought I saw a glimpse of a porpoise being pushed around by T49B.

This time of year, we most often see Transient (also now known as Bigg’s) mammal-hunting Orcas, which travel is small family pods and can sometimes be difficult to spot. When we do though, it’s very exciting!

-Naturalist Kevin

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Although the beautiful, sunny skies were replaced by clouds and grey skies today, our spirits were not dampened; we were all equipped with a sense of adventure and eager to spend the afternoon exploring the Salish Sea.  And, we were not disappointed. 

Within minutes of departing Friday Harbor and entering the San Juan Channel we were rewarded with a large, male Steller Sea Lion enjoying his lunch.  The Sea Lion would emerge with a fish in his mouth, aggressively thrash the fish about at the surface, tearing bits of meat off the carcass, and send the fish remains flying.  He would then retrieve the fish and repeat his foraging routine. 

As we cruised along Spieden Island, we saw dozens of the exotic Mouflon Sheep and Fallow Deer.  And as we turned the corner of Sentinel Island, over 30 Harbor Seals were crammed on a small rocky outcrop, enjoying a relaxing afternoon. 

Our journey continued along Stuart Island where we had our first sightings of Killer Whales!  Over 20 Southern Resident Killer Whales were spread out between Haro Strait, Spieden Channel, and Stuart Island.  The whales were initially headed north before they changed direction and began to travel east through New Channel. 

We were surrounded by whales; they were seen in all directions.  Among the whales we identified Scoter (K25) and Cali (K34), Scoter’s younger brother.  Also, we identified Onyx (L87) another large male born in 1992.  Although the whales seemed to be spending most of their time foraging or traveling, a few individuals were performing aerial displays: breaching, lobtailing, and pec-slapping.  With so many whales in the area and the flat calm waters we decided to drop the hydrophone, an underwater microphone, to see if we could hear the whales vocalizing.  While sitting with our engines off listening to the whales exhale at the surface and vocalize and echolocate from below, a group of four whales changed direction and came in for a closer look.  We were mesmerized as the whales traveled along the port side of the vessel, while their vocalizations echoed throughout our boat.

Boy, my job sure is amazing!

Naturalist Amy, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching and Wildlife Tours