Posts Tagged ‘Stellar sea lion’

Fantastic Day Filled With Orcas and Humpacks….And A Tufted Puffin!

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

We had fantastic weather and wildlife viewing today aboard our afternoon M/V Sea Lion trip.  We found our resident orcas, humpbacks, minkes, stellar sea lions, and even a tufted puffin! We headed to Salmon Bank and found J pod cruising the waters looking for food and were even lucky enough to witness some mating behaviors, and followed them along the west side of San Juan Island.  After an incredible show from J pod we came across a mom and calf humpback whale, and the calf was extremely playful.  We had repeated spyhops from the little calf as it played with the kelp patties!!! Quite a treat.  On our way in we spotted several stellar sea lions sunning themselves in the warm mid afternoon sun.  While watching the sea lions we even had a surprise minke visit.  Then we started cruising back, and just when we didn’t think we could possibly spot anything more exciting we spotted a tufted puffin, perched beside in the San Juan channel.  What a trip!!


Caitlin, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris, M/V Sea Lion

From Harbor Seals to Orcas

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

As soon as the radio in the wheel house was turned on, there was all sorts of chatter about Orcas milling at False Bay! Captain Mike took Caitlin, the guests, and I around the south end of the island through San Juan Channel and into the Haro Strait in order to see the Orcas. On the way, we encountered Harbor Seals playing in the currents and a Stellar Sea Lion perched majestically on Whale Rocks. While in transit to the Orcas, we also received rumors of a Minke Whale at Salmon Bank! When we arrived on scene, we were not disappointed! The Minke surfaced several times, giving the guests plenty to look at. After an impressive Minke show, the Orcas provided a glorious second act. We got to see Nyssa, L84 and the L54′s, Ino and her children, doing lots of foraging behavior. I sure hope they were getting lots of good salmon! We saw several tail slaps and pectoral slaps, which the Orcas use to stun the fish. Once the fish is stunned, it is easily snapped up!

With Harbor Seals, a Stellar Sea Lion, a Minke, and Orcas, we had a fabulous trip looking at the larger marine fauna the San Juans have to offer!

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

Steller Stellers and Mischevious Minkes

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Captain Mike, Naturalist Kevin, the guests, and I were lucky enough to have the rain let up as soon as our engines started! With clouds that were only threatening, we headed out to Whale Rocks were we spotted 4 Steller Sea Lions! They were all big boys and were enjoying themselves on the rocks as well as playing in the current. After a time with the Stellers, we headed towards Hein Bank where we spotted several Minke Whales! We got some great views of the Minke surfacing! On our way home we found another Minke at Salmon Bank and some Bald Eagles on Point Davis. All in all, a beautifully gray day in the Pacific North West!

Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

Minke Whales spotted over Salmon Bank

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Heading out of Friday Harbor on this gloriously sunny day, passengers and crew aboard the M/V Kittiwake didn’t have to go far to meet up with some Minke Whales! Sitting over Salmon Bank we were able to kill the engine and enjoy the silence while waiting for the minkes to surface. Generally a good way to spot Minke Whales is to scan the horizon for birds feeding on bait fish below the surface. Both the Minke whales and the birds are feeding on the same type of fish. Lucky for us, our boat was surrounded by birds, both gulls and rhinoceros aucklets, foraging for bait fish. Using this method we were able to spot not one but two Minke Whales foraging in the area! Great day for whale watching!

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

Waving Steller Sea Lions!

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

With our 1:30 departure today, Captain Mike decided to head south with our guests, Naturalist Heather and myself. With heading south we were able to see a couple of Steller Sea Lions hanging out around Whale Rocks! Steller Sea Lions are endangered animals and most the time we see males, aka bulls. Bulls can get to nine feet long and weigh up to 1.2 tons!
After seeing the Steller Sea Lions we motored to Salmon Bank to look at Minke whales. Minke whales are known to be very fast whales and they were showing us that today! Everyone kept their eyes scanning the waters for the Minke and finally it surfaced right at the bow of our boat near a bait ball. A bait ball is when a school of fish is tightly packed together and the Minke whales love to feed on these schools of fish! After spending quite a bit of time checking out the Minke we headed to Long Island to see the nesting pair of Bald Eagles. They were perched on the branches just a few trees away from the nest!
Finally on our way back home we stopped to get one last look of the Steller Sea Lions and they started to wave goodbye to us! It was a perfect way to end our trip.

Aimee-Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris

A Warm Spring Day of Whale & Wildlife Watching from Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

California Sea Lion

California Sea Lion

A Warm Spring Day of Whale & Wildlife Watching from Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

Today we took off with reports of our resident orcas coming north on the west side of San Juan Island.

We headed out of Friday Harbor going north making a stop at NWR Yellow Island, and rock outcroppings with 43+ snoozing Harbor Seals.   We made our way along the coast of Speiden Island. Often times this is a great place to spot Bald Eagles – no Eagle this time.  But we did see about 10 Sea Lions. All but one was a Stellar. The other was a California Sea Lion -deep dark brown in color with the telltale knot on his forehead as if he had been clobbered.

We made our way slowly into Haro Straight between Henry Island and Stuart Island. Up came dorsals. Out came whale breath. Over all there may have been 15 – 20 animals. They were traveling in small groups of 6 – 8 and it appeared to me that they were in a resting-style mode. 

Residents can be very vocal. No vocalizations today – we dropped the hydrophone three separate times.
Residents can be very playful and energetic. None of that today. Lots of slow “up” and sinking back “down”.  The water was glass-like. No wind. No noise. It felt very peaceful bobbing in the water with the engine off.

On the way home we did see at least two mature bald eagles, one in a nest. The boat made another quick stop on the end of Speiden. The Stellars and California Sea Lions were still in the water where we left them.  Just before pulling into Friday Harbor we spotted a California Sea Lion hogging a red buoy. I think I saw some zzzzzz’s over his head.

And there was one Common Murre fishing next to the buoy to complete our wildlife viewing for today.

Naturalist, Colleen Johansen
San Juan Safaris Whale & Wildlife  Watching

Humpback Whale at Halibut Island, Canada for our last tour

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

No orca whale reports today, BUT as we pulled out of Friday Harbor the Captain received word of a humpback whale by Halibut Island, Canada. It took us nearly an hour to get to the location but there it was – a beautiful humpback whale. It looked as though it was feeding the entire time we were with it – almost ½ an hour. When it dove down, one could see many of the ‘knuckles’ on it’s back.  Two of the many dives it waved it tail gently before disappearing into the water. Speaking of water, the depth of the water in that location was about 150 feet deep.

This was the last tour of the season.



We will reopen for whale & wildlife  tours April 14, 2012. See you next year!

Naturalist, Colleen Johansen


An “A” Whale and Wildlife Charter Tour

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

  Today with beautiful weather the two Kenmore Air sea planes touched down at the dock and we were there waiting to take the guests for a wildlife tour.  The group included people from Denmark, Sweden and Japan.

We went down the east side of San Juan Island stopping a few times to view birds and harbor seals. We had a good look at a mature bald eagle, solo, at the top of a tree. As we neared the southern-most tip of the island, we stopped (turned off the engine) and sat to watch some big stellar sea lions.  10-15 sea lions sunning on a rock outcropping with 100’s of pelagic cormorants. The rocks were literally covered with animals.

We started up again heading north. There were a number of commercial vessels out fishing today with nets out. The guests and I saw several orca whales go right up to one of these boats. I wondered if they were going to try to get fish out of the net, but then they just moved along. There were also many markers bobbing about as crabbing season has RE-opened.

Further north up the west side we saw a male orca solo.  We were stopped and watched him for a bit.
We started up going slowly north were we encountered a few more orca whales. I remember a group of 3, either all females or females with a young male. The whales were not coming out of the water – just enough to breath. There were many small groups of whales and seemed to be spread out over a large area.

With the engines off and the hydrophone down (50’) we were treated to the whale calls/song/clicks. I can never grow tired of this.  There was a good deal of vocalization today too!

We moved a bit more north were different whales were seemingly on a northern journey. Again, with engines off, we sat just staring to the coast of San Juan Island where whales were popping up and sliding back down. We even saw 2 tail slaps that looked like a juvenile.

We came home stopping near Speiden as one of the guests spotted 4 Harlequin Ducks swimming by. The captain turned the boat around so that Peter, the birder, with a 400 mm lens, could get a really good photo. He was thrilled and so was I. (hope he sends us the photo).

How would I grade this trip? The fog from the morning lifted and the planes came on time, it did not rain, it was not cold, we saw Stella Sea Lion, Cormorants, Harbor Seals, Bald Eagle, Orca Whales, Harlequin Ducks, Heermann’s Gull, Loons, Common Murres, Pigeon Guilemots and more. It was an “A” Trip.

Naturalist, Colleen Johansen

Orcas Island and Orca Whales

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Today, even the Kittiwake had an adventure!  We traveled over to Orcas Island to pick up a family of ten for a private charter and from there on, we were surrounded by a continuous showing by Pacific Northwest wildlife!

First, it was a little harbor seal between Lopez and Shaw Islands.  Next, it was one then two stellar sea lions (BIG ones too–they can weigh up to 2,200 pounds and be ten feet long!) swimming in the currents between Lopez and San Juan Islands.  Further into the Cattle Pass, we discovered two bald eagles perched side by side above a water-front home.

Out into the waters off Salmon bank, where the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro straight meet, we found exactly what we were still holding our breaths for: L-pod of the Southern Resident Killer Whales!  The pod was spread out near and off shore and from Cattle Pass up towards False Bay.  It was every whale for itself, with a few being social and in pairs and trios.  Some seemed to be traveling, others hunting and one frisky pair may have been mating (was he an outsider from J or K pod?).  They were heading south but after thirty minutes of viewing, they all of a sudden went offshore and started traveling north.  At this point we decided to test our wildlife luck and moved on away from the orcas.

The visibility was excellent (we could see Mount Rainier and Mount Baker!), the wind was a mellow breeze and the ocean was flat: a rare and perfect combination for Minke whale searching!  We found “bird balls” (high densities of birds sitting on the water, potentially on a ball of bait fish like herring).  One bird ball took off all at once and minutes later, we found out why: a minke whale had come in to eat their herring!  We watched it for about twenty minutes and then moved on.

On the way back to Orcas Island, the wildlife continued to appear!  More stellar sea lions and harbor seals swimming and sunning at Whale Rocks; and our finale of harbor porpoises between Lopez and San Juan Islands.  Whew, we were exhausted after that (as evident by the six passengers–teenagers–napping on the ride back in)!  A truly wonderful day on the water.  Big thanks to the Lower family!

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris

Feasting Transients find Stellar Sea Lions

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Today was the first day of Memorial Day Weekend and we celebrated it by nearly filling both of our vessels, the Sea Lion and the Kittiwake, for an afternoon whale watch.  Throughout the day, the weather went from gray clouds and overcast to nice white fluffy clouds and sunshine.  We boarded the boats and left Friday Harbor heading north towards the Canadian border.  After an hour of solid travel, several sea birds, numerous islands and a swimming harbor seal, we edged up to East point off Saturna Island.  And there they were: a pod of transient orcas!

As we approached the area, we heard through the vessel radio grapevine that the pod may have made a recent Stellar sea lion kill.  When we got to the scene, the whales were zig-zagging and milling about; no obvious foraging activity was seen.  While observing the pod, we noticed a very large adult male dorsal fin that had significant lean to the left and was very curved for a male.  The other individuals in the pod appeared to be females and juveniles.  Later, another vessel identified one of the orcas as T18.

After ten minutes or so, the pod started traveling faster towards the south, moving more erratically and then thrashing about.  The hunt was on!  And it looked like another Stellar sea lion was the target.  We saw the pod of four orcas thrashing about, throwing their bloody red tasty morsel in the air.  At one point, it looked like the sea lion had gotten away and it made some headway with about forty feet of distance from the whales.  But then the transients caught up to their meal and continued thrashing and tossing it around.  Eventually, the male and a second orca split off from the other two, leaving the latter to contend with the sea lion.  Time was running out for our whale watch and we began making our way back to Friday Harbor.

All in all, quite an exciting day.  Seeing transient orca whales feed is never a boring event, especially with the thrashing, breaching and tossing of a bleeding sea lion in the air!

Serena, Naturalist

San Juan Safaris