Posts Tagged ‘Strait of Juan de Fuca’

Superpod is Back!

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

Caitlin, myself, and captain Mike left our Friday Harbor location today to head to the West side of San Juan Island. There is usually only one reason why we head to the West side. Yep, you guessed it! The Southern Resident Killer Whales are back and we were all VERY excited to welcome them home!

A “superpod” is a phenomenon when all 82 Resident Orcas travel together, usually to get to one area- in our case come back into the Salish Sea! Superpod days are always my favorite, and even if I’m not working, you’ll find me on a boat! It is just so much fun to watch members of all three pods carry on breaching, spyhoping, lobtailing, cartwheeling… It’s a photographers dream!

Today we got some very close encounters with one of my favorite whales, J34- Doubble Stuff. We also spend some close-up personal time with K26- Lobo who was being rather lazy in his pectoral slapping, spy hoping and logging at the waters surface. I guess I can give him a break, they did just travel about 100 miles that night while coming back in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I felt very lucky to have them back. What a great day, I didn’t want it to end!

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

Getting Cultured

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Well goodbye L-22s and hello Transients! I’m very excited for this new change of pace the last couple of days, but still sad to see our last Resident Orcas go back out the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We had the small group of eight transient Orcas come in yesterday and kill a Minke Whale and they were still around to watch today! I’ve never seen this group of nomads before and was just as excited as everyone on board to get some good views in!

Transient Orcas differ from our Resident Orcas in many ways including their diet, social structure, vocal traditions, pigmentology and morphology. It is still unbelievable to me that just yesterday this small family of Orcas took down a Minke Whale. Since these whales are hunting marine mammals they hardly vocalize at all. Today we saw them killing what we think to be  Harbor Seal and heard lots of great vocalizations when we dropped the hydrophone in the water! Being on the water today with our Transients, particularly this evening, was great. It’s so interesting to see how two different species of Orca live, socialize and cooperate. It’s important to be immersed in different culture from time to time!

Often times, transient and resident Orcas have a somewhat adversarial relationship and now you see why. Transient Orcas are not afraid to kill other whales… It’s no surprise our L-22s heard the Transient whales coming in the Strait and booked it out! I hope tomorrow is going to be just as great as today!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Killer Whales off the West Side of San Juan Island

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

We left Friday Harbor today with our hopes set high on encountering our Southern Resident Killer Whales. This was the first time we have seen our Killer Whales since Saturday, and we were very happy to welcome them back. We headed out through Cattle Pass and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Our guests braved the high seas with enthusiasm and wonderful questions while waiting to get on seen with the whales!

L-41 (Mega) was there to welcome us as he appeared out of the water, with his towering dorsal fin cutting through the blue sky ahead of us. He’s always very charismatic and was hopefully getting his fill of Chinook Salmon! Only four members of L-Pod were seen today, they were getting down to business, trying to consume 300-400 lbs of Chinook Salmon. Since this particular type of Orca only eat salmon, the health and movement of the Chinook Salmon will dictate the health and movement of our Resident Orcas.

Even though the seas were a little rough, we all had a wonderful time on the water. We had one family from Australia and a little nine year old boy that was full of questions! I love when we get the opportunity to build long lasting relationships with our guests. A child’s  curiosity is unmatched, we should all try to see the world through their eyes at times. All in all, it was a great day, great sightings, and great people!

Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris



A Minke for this Sunny Summer Day

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

With not a cloud in the sky today, Captain Mike, Naturalist Heather and myself departed Friday Harbor with our guests and headed south, to where Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan De Fuca meet, to check out a Minke whale. This Minke whale was very interesting to watch. I say interesting because usually Minke whales are very scattered and don’t surface in the same area. This Minke looked as though it was traveling in the same direction and kept going that one way. Most guests got some spectacular pictures of this Minke and what made it spectacular was having Mount Baker in the background. I love clear days like this because of the mountains in the area. We were south of San Juan Island and our guests were seeing the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, and even Mount Rainier. Usually being down south we can encounter some pretty rough water, but the water was like glass. It was an absolutely beautiful day out on the water!

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

“Balaenoptera acutorostrata”

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Upon leaving our Friday Harbor location we heard a report of Minke Whales just south of San Juan Island. After watching Harbor Seals and Bald Eagles along San Juan Channel we ventured out Cattle Pass into the Strait of Juan De Fuca where it didn’t take long before we spotted our first Minke Whale.
This is the time of year when we start to see more and more Minke Whales in our area. Minke Whales in our area feed on schools of Herring and Sandlance that can be found in the waters near San Juan Island in large numbers.
Minke whales are capable of consuming 5% of their body weight so at up to 6 1/2 tons that’s about 650 pounds of fish a day. That’s a lot of Herring!
Captain Mike, naturalist Caitlin, myself and our guests had quite a treat watching this small baleen whale circling around in its quest for food.

Kevin, naturalist, San Juan Safaris

Hardcore Whale Watching

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Our guests braved high seas today as we crossed the exposed Eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca in search of the not-so-elusive killer whale. Lately the endangered southern resident population of killer whales have been following their relatively predictable summer activity of salmon fishing on the west side of the San Juan Islands.

We first encountered these whales south of Victoria. Despite the high wind and confused sea state, J and L pod were grouped tightly and displaying resting behavior as they made easterly progress. As the tide came in, the orcas rode the strong currents at a brisk speed of seven knots. Our guests were astounded to watch a large family cruise right past the bow of our boat. We paralleled their path of travel all the way back to the west side of San Juan Island where they became more active, probably turning their attention to their prey.

Learning of another group of killer whales moving our direction from the north, Captain Mike steered us into the relatively calm waters north of Lime Kiln Lighthouse. There we encountered several animals that appeared to be on a tight schedule. They moved so quickly that they porpoised out of the water with impressive grace and power, against the flooding current. Perhaps they were on course to rendezvous with the larger population we had just viewed to the south.

Andrew, Naturalist (M/V Sea Lion), San Juan Safaris

J-Pod and L-12′s once again!!!

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

We left our Friday Harbor location today, hoping for a great day with the whales in the Salish Sea. We headed south towards Cattle Pass where we saw dozens of harbor seals having a great time foraging. From there, we headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait off the south end of San Juan Island where we encountered the L-12′s, a smaller sub-group of the larger L-Pod (our resident killer whales). It didn’t take long before we recognized L-41 otherwise known as Mega who was born in 1977. Close by to mega was L-25, Ocean Sun, who is estimated to be born in 1928!

Research on our Southern Resident Killer Whales began in 1973, all whales born after this time will have a specific birthday that is known. Any whales born before 1973 will have an estimated birth year such. For more information on the individual whales check out the Center For Whale Research at

Another beautiful day on the water while watching some spectacular whale behavior.

Heather, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris

T20 and T21 Tour the Victorian Waterfront

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

We last spotted T20 and T21 on Friday near Active Pass, north of Mayne Island, British Columbia. Today we found the Transient pair enjoying the Victorian Waterfront.  Initially the Orcas appeared to be in resting mode, making slow northerly progress. Then they turned the opposite direction, heading toward the majestic, snow-capped Olympic mountains and the wide-open Strait of Juan de Fuca. The sea state was calm today, with sweeping views in all directions, signaling the beginning of sunny weather trend predicted to continue into the week. We completed our circumnavigation of San Juan Island by scooting through Cattle Pass, stopping to appreciate the sea lion gang that hangs out on Whale Rocks at this time of year.

An interesting side point that I didn’t mention in my previous blog:

The Transients observed today are the same individuals who were involved in an aggressive encounter with the resident J pod killer whales in 1993, in which they were harassed by the residents and escaped only after a high speed chase.  Interaction between transients and residents is rarely observed.  When they do find themselves within a few kilometers, they seem to follow a strict treaty of avoidance.

Naturalist Andrew, San Juan Safaris

Tara’s Final Report

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

Well whale watchers, it’s been a great season! Today was my final tour and a memorable one. We started off with a Minke Whale sighting in the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Salmon Bank. This whale couldn’t seem to get enough of the crowd, surfacing more times than I’ve ever seen a Minke Whale do so. After traveling with him for a while, we decided to head further west in search of more critters. We soon found 15+ Dall’s Porpoise just a couple miles offshore of Eagle Point. This was only the second time I’ve seen these animals in all the 5 months I’ve spent on the water here, so I was running around the boat squealing and pointing like a little kid at Disneyland. They eventually began to play with us, riding with the water of our bow and also in the wake of our stern. Simply awesome! We then headed for home, stopping by the eagles nest on Long Island where a mature Bald Eagle sat perched near the top of a tree just afore the nest and swung by Whale Rocks to see the massive mumbling and grumbling Steller Sea Lions.

It’s been a whale of a season to say the least, and I will deeply miss the water, the animals, the adventure, and most importantly the crew! But until next time my friends… 

Signing off,

Naturalist Tara, San Juan Safaris

Yesterday’s Tour was Nothing Short of Remarkable!

Friday, September 28th, 2012

In fact, the adrenaline was pumping so hard that after the trip no one could even sit down and write a blog! Composure has been regained however, so here’s a summary.

We headed straight for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and found members of J and K pod spread out, foraging northeast of Hein Bank (48°23.07N °12303.07W). The salmon must be good, because I have never seen these animals show off their catch like they did that day.

It all started with a calf…..  him and his mother were foraging and appeared to be doing so successfully. The calf spyhopped four times within five minutes, and each time it came up with a large salmon hanging out of its mouth. Then all of sudden another whale came up on the other side of the boat spyhopping with a salmon hanging out of its mouth! The passengers went nuts, which seemed to entice the animals further as they continued to show-off.

Then we began to slowly motor away from the animals, but not without the calf coming up one last time, without a salmon, almost appearing as if he was trying to see what we were doing or where we were going.

The next group we came upon consisted of 5 whales. We cut the engine and dropped the hydrophone to see if they were communicating, but as we did they turned around and headed the opposite direction. We pulled the hydrophone back up, and just so they switched direction again, this time headed for us. They crossed our bow taking the same breaths and same dives; one of the most remarkable sights to the human eye! You could even see the bubble trails leading to their next breath above water!! Simply amazing.

We then began to head back in, but not without one last sha-bang! It was Mike (J26) a 21 year old member of Jpod being extremely surface active. He was actually, what I like to call, “rolling around” at the surface of the water, moving from an up right direction to his side raising his pectoral fin out of the water, then onto his back with his belly up partially out of the water, and then onto his other side raising his other pectoral fin out of the water. He even vocalized above water!! The coolest high pitched squeak I’ve ever heard! Actually, probably the only high pitched squeak  tolerable to the human ear!

All of that and we were stunned, including the captain and myself. 

May sound awesome, but even the best choice of words cannot describe the actual experience, being out on the water with these animals. So I suggest you book your trip now or start planning for next summer!

Naturalist Tara, San Juan Safaris