Posts Tagged ‘whale watching near seattle’

Humpys in the Strait of Georgia

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

The Sea Lion left the dock today crewed by Captain Pete and Naturalists Mike and Alex.  We had clear skies, a fantastic group of passengers and reports of a humpback whale to the North. We began to see wildlife right outside the harbor with a bald eagle regally perched in a tree and a pod of harbor porpoise close behind the boat. As we motored north we passed several more groups of the little porpoises, which are the most common and smallest cetacean found in the Salish Sea. Unlike their active and exuberant cousins the Dall’s porpoise, harbor porpoise are shy, reserved and most active at night when they feed on small fish that make a nightly migration to surface waters.

Once we were in view of Patos island, we began to look out for the spout of our humpback. This spout, or blow, is actually the result of several gallons of seawater that gets trapped above their blowholes. The whales clear this water by exhaling at 300 miles per hour! this massive sneeze vaporizes the trapped water to form the ten to twenty foot “spout” that we typically see.

Despite our knowledge and expertise on what to look for, none of us were expecting what we saw next. I looked out to see a massive tail flailing in the air, coming down with a huge splash! Captain Pete took us toward this spectacle and we realized that there were actually two humpbacks lobbing their tails, or flukes, around in the middle of Georgia Strait. These animals are so massive (up to 45 feet) that barnacles regularly grow on them, especially on the edges of their flukes. Tail lobbing behavior might be a way to try and knock some of those hitchhikers off.

We caught the “tail” end of that show, as after the excitement things settled down. We got to watch and listen to them take some deep breaths and then raise their enormous flukes as they both dove to feed. Humpbacks regularly feed on herring and sandlance (same as the harbor porpoise) and will take several hundred pounds of fish in a single mouthful during a feeding dive!

After a while of watching, we decided to say goodbye to the Humpbacks and make our way back home. We stopped to look at some harbor seals hauled out near East Point, and they looked right back at us!

All in all a great day, had a Whale of a time! (the jokes just get worse from there)


Naturalist Mike J

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris

Transient Brotherly Love and Puffin Power

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Any day on the water can be full of surprises and as we left the dock, intending to go find Humpback Whales, Captain Mike got word of two male Orcas in Rosario Strait. Humpbacks are wonderful creatures, but any chance to see black and whites shouldn’t be taken for granted. So, we headed for the East side of the San Juans with high hopes.

When reports of lone or small groups of Orcas come in, they can often be Transients. Also named Bigg’s Killer Whales, after the first researcher who studied this ecotype, Transients while still very closely related to Residents have a very different style of hunting and different social dynamics. While they do form matrilinal groups, their dynamics are less static and you can frequently find small or even lone animals around the San Juans. Largely this has to do with their main source of food, which are marine mammals like Harbor Seals which require different foraging techniques and in turn influence social dynamics.

Arriving in Rosario Strait, we found flat water under blue skies, and the two males cruising around in search of food. After several surfacings, we figured out that these were T097 and T093, presumed brothers. We followed them through the strait as they zip-zagged around between Lopez and Fidalgo Islands. It was fun to see two males traveling in such close association, coming up for breaths within seconds of each other.

We had a great rest of the trip too. The South end of Lopez is one of my favorite coast lines in the San Juans and we followed that back to Cattle Pass. Lots of seals, sea lions, and eagles are typically seen, but as a birder I’m always excited about birds on the water. As we rounded Iceberg Point, Captain Mike stopped the boat on a dime, and there they were, a pair of Tufted Puffins! As an infrequent, charismatic bird, this was the best possible way to round out the day!


Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion San Juan Safaris

Orca Chess Match!

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Today Captain Jim and I set out on the M/V Kittiwake with two reports of orcas: one of transients to the north, and one of residents to the south. Oftentimes we joke that deciding where to go is a like a chess match…. the whales will make one move and then we have to respond. We are a member of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, so we are in constant communication with other captains on the water getting the most current information about the whale’s movement, which aids in decision making. Today we opted for the southern route to meet up with the resident whales. On the way out to meet up with the whales we encountered some Steller’s sea lions. These pinnipeds can weigh over 2,000 pounds, and are just returning from their breeding grounds in Alaska. After observing the sea lions for a few minutes, we traveled across Haro Strait to meet up with J-pod just outside of Victoria. It was great to see the “ressies” again after a few days of watching transients! The whales were being very playful… spyhopping, breaching out of the water, and breathing all together! J2 “Granny” (She’s estimated to be 103 years old, cool, right!!!???!!!) was right in the middle of the pod having a grand old time. We spent about 45 wonderful minutes with the joyful whales, and everyone on board was absolutely enthralled! We left to head back to Friday Harbor and ended up finding a minke whale! They are the second smallest species of baleen whale, and we got to see it feeding! Overall, it was an amazing day on the water and everyone agreed that we had definitely played a good chess game!

Sarah, M/V Kittiwake, San Juan Safaris Whale Watching

Sunny Sunday with WHALES!

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Today Captain Mike, Aimee and I started the day off with a lively charter out of Roche Harbor! We brought the M/V Sea Lion up from Friday Harbor to pick up a wonderful group. After a couple of days of no killer whales, it was awesome to see the Residents back in the Salish Sea. Oftentimes guests ask us when the whales will get to a certain area at a certain time, and no one can really answer that! The whales don’t work on the same time frame as we do, they work completely on salmon time! Residents eat only salmon and their movements are completely dictated by the presence, absence and movements of the salmon. We got to see many whales frolicking around Boundary Pass today, but most notably the K13 matriline and for the first time this season the L54s!!! We had a blast out on the water with such a festive group of whales and people!

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

Transients North of the Border!

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Captain Jim and I got to the Kittiwake this morning with zero reports of whales. We were planning out an awesome wildlife tour where we would be looking for the orcas, other whales, and some of the other wildlife in the area, when we got a call that there were transient orcas north of Sucia Island and Alden Bank in Canadian waters! I was super stoked that the transients were back in, as I had not seen them in a while. We had beautiful smooth water as we traveled north from Friday Harbor, and the scenery was just as gorgeous. We got to see some great feeding behavior, as the transients munched down on what looked to be a harbor seal. Transients eat solely marine mammals, with harbor seals making up right around 60% of their diet. We also got to see the orcas travelling a bit! We enjoyed the scenery on the way back and I personally really enjoyed getting to know our guests on board today!

Naturalist Sarah, M/V Kittiwake, 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


Whale Search!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

Today we arrived at the M/V Sea Lion with a report of Resident orcas traveling quickly to the southwest. Naturalist Aimee, Captain Pete and I consulted and decided that we would try to catch up with them! Orcas can swim over 100 miles in a single day and can reach speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. We had a great group on board today who were very excited to be out on the water. We all were hoping that the orcas stayed close enough so that we could catch up with them!

On the way out to the reported orcas we took a slight detour to see a humpback whale! Humpbacks were once plentiful in this area, but were extirpated when the area was heavily whaled. It has only been within the last two decades that humpbacks have begun returning. We reached the orcas just in time to witness the most breaches I have seen on a trip yet this season. The whales definitely put on a show for the boat! Guests were certainly left extremely impressed with the whales’ acrobatics. On the way back to Friday Harbor we got to see some harbor seals and porpoises. Overall it was another amazing day on the Salish Sea!

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

L-pod basking in the sunshine…

Friday, August 31st, 2012

We had a fabulous trip to the south side of San Juan Island today.  Sunny skies and calm waters in the Strait of Juan de Fuca made for incredible whale watching!  After seeing several harbor seals cruising through Cattle Pass, we encountered the Steller sea lions on Whale Rocks.  At least ten were lounging in the sun.  As we headed into the strait, we saw several members of the resident L-pod actively feeding offshore of South Beach (48°26N, 123°00W).  First we saw members of the L12 matriline, including L41 “Mega”.  He was switching directions and slowly coming to the surface.  At one point he rolled on his back and slapped the water with his pectoral fins and tail.  It looked like he was doing the backstroke!  We also saw L94 “Calypso” with her calf L113 “Molly”.  “Molly” was very active, splashing, rolling, tail-slapping.  L77 “Matia” was also spotted with her calf L119 born earlier in 2012.  After observing these special mammals, we headed back to Friday Harbor.  So thankful for another day to see these orcas in the wild.

SJS Naturalist Jenny

What a day on the water!!

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The weather was perfect: high around 70 degrees, clear blue sky, and very light breeze.  The only thing that could make it better would be a day with the Orcas.  Did you order up Orcas?


Yes, a large order, please!


Coming right up.


We ran north – through beautifully calm water, enjoying the spectacular scenery.  Mount Baker was a clear and crisp as I’ve ever seen it.  Along the way, we saw harbor porpoise, common murre, pigeon guillemot, and harbor seals swimming about.

As we got nearer to our destination, members of J & K Pods showed themselves.  Plenty of porpoising, a breach, a spy hop, another breach – lots of activity.  We identified K-25 (Scoter), K-27 (Deadhead), J-27 (Blackberry), and a host of other gorgeous Orcas.  The boat rang out with ohhhhs and aahhhhhs, as the animals were all around us!

We had to “go the extra mile” today, because that’s where the action was.  It’s what we do.  48 47.91N,  122 46.7436W.  Lots of happy guests aboard!

Happy Whale Watching to You!

Captain Jim (Captain, Naturalist, all ’round fun guy)


Enter to Win – Win by Having Tons of Fun Seattle to San Juan

Friday, August 24th, 2012