Posts Tagged ‘whale watching tour’

Transients in President’s Channel

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Today we had two different whale reports by the time we left the dock; J-pod coming down from East Point, and transients coming through President’s channel. Along the way, we decided to go for the transients, or Bigg’s killer whales. Transients are mammal-eaters, a stark contrast between their culture and that of the resident killer whales (whom eat only fish). They’ll work together to hunt for harbor seals, sea lions, porpoises, or even larger whales. An adult male orca can eat about 400 pounds per day. In theory, that means two harbor seals. However, orcas are very altruistic, and each kill that a pod makes will be shared amongst them. In addition, they’re able to skin and gut the seals, and then eat the more desirable muscles and other meat.

Another difference between transients and residents is their social structure. Yes, both are matriarchal, and in general led by the oldest female in the pod and stay with their mothers most or all of their life. However, the transients have a much more fluid social structure. In fact, today we were able to identify a male that has been separated from his mother and siblings a quite some time now. T77A, the son of T77 was with us today. He was swimming with a pod of 5-6 females and juveniles, whom I had never seen before. They all seemed to be taking pretty long dives, and may have been hunting, but we were able to get some really great looks at them and everyone on the boat was super excited to have seen them!

Naturalist Alex

M/V Sea Hawk, San Juan Safaris

 

North of the Wall: Transients are Coming

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Today was a very exciting day. We left the dock without any reports of whales. No humpback whales, no minke whales and unfortunately no reports of orcas. We started to steam North keeping our eyes out for any signs of marine mammals. We had the most amazing fly-over by a mature bald eagle and enjoyed traveling up the east side of Waldron Island through Presidents Channel under clear blue skies. Suddenly our Northern bet payed off, as some tall, black dorsal fins cut through the waves around Patos Island. TRANSIENT KILLER WHALES! We were lucky enough to join two family groups as they hunted and socialized in the Strait of Georgia around Alden Bank. We were fortunate enough to witness the groups make at least a couple of kills, and watch the two females present with the group spend time teaching their young ones the ways of being an orca… everything from how to best kill a seal to how to breach and slap the surface of the water with their tails. What a treat! On the way home we got to take a closer look at some harbor seals hauled out on some rocks. These small pinnipeds are at their carrying capacity on this ecosystem, meaning that they are at their maximum population that can be supported. They are adorable to see bobbing in the water! These are the days that really make me appreciate our sighting network, and our ability to go the distance to find whales. If you board our boat and we have no report of whales do not be discouraged, a lot of the time we end up finding them… because just like winter in Westeros, the whales are always coming.

San Juan T Party!

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

Much like the infamous night in Boston Harbor, the waters around San Juan Island were full of Ts…. transient orcas that is! Also known as Bigg’s killer whales these impressive creatures eat other marine mammals, with harbor seals making up 60% of their diet. This afternoon and evening we were treated to two amazing transient-filled trips! This afternoon at 12:00 we found the T65A matriline with the T75B matriline, as well as the HUGE male T51 (born 1981). The most exciting sighting of the day was of the new calf in the T65A matriline. This new little one joins a whole host of new orca calves, both resident and transient, here in the Salish Sea!

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

Epic Looks in San Juan Channel

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

A good day on the water is full of tough but ultimately great choices to make. Which whales to see? Southern Residents, Transients, maybe a Humpback Whale? Leaving port with Captain Mike at the helm, our weekend guests were excited for nature on the water.

 

Working our way North through President’s Channel, we had the looming forested slopes of Turtleback to our Starboard and the slanting cliffs of Waldron to our left. It was another gorgeous day on the water, which Pacific Northwesterners know should never be taken for granted, especially when you’ve got whales in your sights. And we certainly did, even before we made it to Succia Island, we turned to meet up with a cast of Resident Orcas.

 

I’m beginning to feel a bit spoiled by this early season, because every day has been so incredible. The J16s we’d seen the day before in the Haro Strait had traveled about 20 miles Northeast in their search for food, their presence confirmed by the big Male J26 with his iconic open saddle patch. We spent more time floating and enjoying their presence than motoring to keep up and were favored with excellent looks at the two calves in the matriline (the smaller dominant female led groups within a pod) and several extended spy hops.

 

By the time we’d spent a good hour with the animals, we cruised off to check out some other sights. En route to the Harbor we spotted multiple adult Bald Eagles, a great number of hulking Steller Sea Lions, and of course, adorable Harbor Seals. Back in port, there were many smiles as guests departed to enjoy the rest of their sunny afternoons.

 

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

 

Southern Residents in the Haro

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Leaving Friday Harbor with reports of whales is always a great feeling and Captain Mike took us off the docks with good vibes for J Pod. We made a few stops along to the way, taking in Spieden’s open slopes, Steller Sea Lions, and Harbor Seal lounging on the rocks, but we had a destination in mind. Before too long we caught up with Orca on Open Bay on the West side of San Juan Island.

 

Being early in the year, the Southern Resident Killer whales, which are largely hunting King Salmon aren’t as predictable in their presence. The salmon that run up the Fraser River in British Columbia aren’t present in larger numbers until at least June, so seeing J Pod foraging on the West Side was a real treat. We spent the most time with the J16s, which includes the newest member of the pod, J52 who stayed close to mother J36 as they moved South.

 

The next hour was spent surrounded by the animals as they traveled South toward Cattle Point. At a certain point it became apparent that most of J Pod was around and Captain Mike took us on a tour of the Matrilines in the Haro Strait. It was a spectacularly beautiful day on the water, with the Olympics beaming in the background as we sped around through Cattle Pass, bound for Port.

 

Naturalist Brendan

 

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

J Pod Time in the Haro Strait

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

The day was sunny, the guests were excited, and we had whales to see! Captain Mike and myself whisked our guests off for a day on the water that felt more June than April. With reports of J Pod on the Westside, we zipped North to catch up with them.

Knowing we had time to see these Residents Killer Whales, we worked our way there, stopping for a few Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Steller Sea Lions around Spieden Island. As the largest privately owned island in the San Juans with no permanent residents, there’s always a lot of wildlife on land and around its shores. After some nice looks, we left a group of sleeping Harbor Seals at Sentinel Rock, set off to see J Pod.

What followed was an early season show to match them all. We followed many members of J Pod, seeing big males like J27, J34, and L84, as well as the newest member of the group, J51 following mother J19 along Kellet Bluff. The rest of the afternoon was spent at a relaxed pace, letting the many whales in the Haro Strait move around us. We were lucky witnesses to spy hops, a few full breaches, and some exciting hunting behaviors. It seemed like everywhere you looked there were dorsal fins slicing through the calm water.

After almost two hours with the Js we needed to head back, but everyone was beaming from the experience. We stopped a couple times around Spieden for better looks at Steller Sea Lions, but I could tell everyone was still in a daze from our lucky encounter that afternoon. It was all smiles all the way home.

Naturalist Brendan

M/V Sea Lion, San Juan Safaris

A J Pod Encounter on the West Side

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Captain Mike, Naturalist Emily, and myself took our guests out on the M/V Sea Lion for what turned turned out to be a stellar trip today. We had reports of members of J Pod in the Haro Strait, so we sped up and around the North end of San Juan Island there right from the Harbor. Not long after entering the open strait we had our first sighting!

L87, who travels with J2, was the first animal we saw. He popped up a few times in the Haro and we followed him South, his tall dorsal fin dipping through the waves with Spieden Island in the background. Soon after following him down the strait, we  ran into a larger group of J Pod and were witness to a bevy of breaches, spy hops, and cavorting youngsters. This was a real treat so early in the season. While it was hard to tell in all the activity, it looked as if the newest youngster of J Pod, J51 was cavorting in the waves. Calves are certainly noticeable by size, but they really stand out because of their coloration, an off orange that is a result of a less developed layer of insulating blubber, apparent on this young one.

After continuing to enjoy the whales as they headed South with the ebb, we took a calm tour through Mosquito Pass between Henry and San Juan Island. Along the way we enjoyed a quick view of a California Sea Lion and some nice close looks at Long-tailed and Harlequin Ducks. Rounding off an already excellent day, we cruised the shoreline of Spieden Island for some looks at the introduced sheep and deer on land, Bald Eagles in the air, and basking Steller Sea Lions in the water. We couldn’t have asked for a better early season tour with Southern Residents and wildlife galore!

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

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

 

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

Friday, August 24th, 2012