Seattle Whale Watching Conservation

San Juan Islands Whale Watching
Blog & Photos

July 26th, 2014

Minkes and Humpbacks!

Humpback Duet

Humpback Duet

Saturday is another day of incredible weather in the Salish Sea.  In the morning we head north and find a minke whales up near Boundary Pass and Waldron Island.  This whale is good a guessing games.  Today’s game is called “Where Am I?”  This is one talented whale, as on our first looks, we are surprised each time it surfaces in a very different location!  A circle around a wildlife refuge island turns up over 100 harbor seals, including moms and pups in the water.  The eagles are also out and about.  Then, what do you know…return of the minke whale.  This time there is no guessing game, just lots of great viewing as it surfaces and dives many times around us.

Our afternoon trip turns up two humpback whales, way way off toward Victoria, B.C.  It’s a long run, but out by Middle Bank we are treated to three minke whales all surfacing and diving in the same area.  Arriving four miles off the Victoria shore, the humpback spouts are visible in the air ahead of us!  Today we watch as a mother and calf travel to the west, all the time into the flood tide, which means none of us went very far west.  Can you pick out the calf dorsal fin, right next to mom?

Mama Humpback Travels with Calf

Mama Humpback Travels with Calf

Here’s one more photo of the “wee one.”  Guess there is never really a “wee” humpback whale!

Humpback Calf

Humpback Calf

July 25th, 2014

Surprise! Tufted Puffins….and More!

Tufted Puffin With Groceries

Tufted Puffin With Groceries

Friday morning takes us out to Salmon Bank for our whale and wildlife search.  We find a very elusive minke whale and after a bit, decide to look closer into the shoreline.  What do we find?  Wow!.. a tufted puffin is shopping for groceries right on the south shore of Lopez Island!  And that’s not all…it turns out to be four tufted puffins!  I count myself as lucky to have a sighting or two a summer, but four at one time is very very lucky!

Does it see us in the rear view mirror???

Does it see us in the rear view mirror???

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What flashy dressers with the amazing and bright orange beak…feet too…and then…the striking white and special long head feathers.

Right near the puffins, two marbled murrlets pop up in the water.  Since these tiny birds only nest in old growth forests, they must  fly about 70 miles from their nest sites to the waters right here in order to fish for the same food the puffins like.  Small bird…with a mighty flight mission every day.

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We head back out toward the bank and find the minke whale circling along the edges of the more shallow area, where the bank drops off to deeper water.  Everyone gets some wonderful looks at this adult minke, busy collecting today’s catch.

On our way back to Friday Harbor we cruise by a wildlife refuge and find gull chicks perched on the rocky top and harbor seal pups with moms on the shore below.  Those soft grey chick feathers and spotted heads are excellent camouflage for a bird born and raised on these grey, spotted rocks!

"Three chicks on a ledge and the little one said...."

"Three chicks on a ledge and the little one said...."

Lending a flipper....

Lending a flipper....

The orca whales remain somewhere out in the open ocean today, both residents and transients.  The weather is fabulous, the water flat and glassy, and it’s a perfect day for being out on the Salish Sea.

July 22nd, 2014

Dinner is Served at Salmon Bank!

Today is Tuesday.  Tuesday is a good day to spend with whales…and it’s seems that’s true!  We have an early morning charter today and what luck, a whale report to begin the morning.  We head off to the north and find Southern Resident orcas traveling down the side of San Juan Island.  They are using a travel pattern we have seen many times before, cruising close to some of the bluff areas, through the big open bays with stops for foraging, and then swiftly across the channels.

Southern Resident Female

Southern Resident Female

It’s good to see the Center for Conservation Biology out with their scat sniffing dog, Tucker, ready to go into action!

The Orca Poop Collection Team!

The Orca Poop Collection Team!

We encounter whales early, have a great whale watch, and have the luxury of finding other wildlife on the trip home.  We even take a senic cruise through Mosquito Pass and Roche Harbor.

In the afternoon the whales draw us again to the south end of the island and Salmon Bank.  There’s a reason it’s called “Salmon Bank” and hope the fishing is very, VERY good for our Southern Resident orcas today!

Lobo Goes on a Deep Dive

Lobo Goes on a Deep Dive

We find both J pod and some of K pod fishing together this afternoon.  They are very spread out in small groups, and eventually, head out for the Salmon Bank bouy together.

First there was “one”….and….”then there were three”!  The magic of now you see it, now you don’t…and, then you DO!  Those whales!  Magic!

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July 19th, 2014

Transients! You’re Back!

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Sometimes you have no idea of the detail in a photograph until it appears on your computer screen.  Look who is popping up in the back of this group!

Today we spend the morning searching and searching for the Resident orca whales that were last seen traveling to the north.  We see abundant wildlife on our trip and search many miles in both U.S. and Canadian water, but the elusive whales remain elusive to all the boats.

Then….suddenly Transient whales are found in Rosario Strait…and not one, but two family groups and an adult male often seen alone!

Racing Along Shore

Racing Along Shore

It doesn’t take too long to arrive on scene and lucky us…the whales are traveling in the direction of Friday Harbor!

So, we all travel along together headed for the same destination…as it turns out.

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Adult Male Transient Orca Whale

The lighting doesn’t help much  in this photo as far as noticing the large nicks out of the trailing edge of this male dorsal fin, but the identifying marks are there.  We have two family groups this afternoon, the T-137’s and the T-124’s and then T-77A.

We have time this afternoon to also admire harbor seals and an eagle.  Often with the word “wildlife” the word “surprise” enters into the conversation.  By the end of the day, our Resident orca whales, so elusive in the morning, are discovered racing right past the place we had gone to find them….and the Transient orca whales made a pass right up San Juan Channel and Friday Harbor!

July 18th, 2014

Whales and Wildlife Abound!

We are lucky to find whales to the north this morning and spend a wonderful hour or more traveling along with them.  We encounter them before we expect to so the first fin sighting is a big surprise!  It is a little bouncy for photography this morning, but later in the day it’s a different story!

Who is Watching Who?

Who is Watching Who?

There is a lot of wildlife out and about this morning!  Harbor seals are always some of our favorite marine mammals to watch…but today…who is watching who?

We are lucky to encounter lots of eagle action out and about some of the low lying rocky areas around the islands.  Here’s an adult bald eagle taking off from a spot where several eagles are challenging each other for the prize!

Taking Home the Prize

Taking Home the Prize

Morning Break Time

Morning Break Time

Where's My Prize?

Where's My Prize?

Heading south this afternoon we find this little harbor seal out for a swim in a kelp bed.

Morning Swim Exercises

Daily Swim Exercises

What a perfect place for hide and seek in the kelp forest underneath the surface!

Got Fish???

Got Fish???

In the afternoon the whales take us way down to the south end of the island where the water is flat and the fishing must be good!  Here is a mother and calf pair rounding up dinner.

The High Speed Chase is ON!

The High Speed Chase is ON!

K-21 Cruises Slowly By

K-21 Cruises Slowly By

Airborne!

Airborne!

Wow!  We’re about to leave the whales…and in the distance an airborne whale!  Beautiful!

Good Afternoon!

Good Afternoon!

In the distance we see whales moving north, as we are moving south toward home.  Seems it’s easy to admire these incredible creatures both from near and far.  We have both opportunities!

July 14th, 2014

Misty Monday Morning Super Pod!!

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It’s another one of those….surprise morning trips!  No reports to begin the day…and then…J pod appears heading south from the Fraser River.  We head north to find them, but they are traveling so fast, we have no sign of them as we round out into Haro Strait.  When they turn up the dial on speed…they really move.  But why so fast?

Once on the west side of the island, our light breeze turns to big breeze….the waves increase some…and big splashes land on the foredeck.  Ok!  Soon, the waves disappear, but the fog rolls in as we roll on south.  Slowing down to move through the fog we soon see other whale watch boats floating around us…and then…our first big black fin…and BIG it is…and many there are!  We have found a super pod in the mist!  Members from all three pods are here…including that fast moving J pod, who are now just lazily swimming around with the other southern resident pods.

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Here’s Granny now going north along the shore of San Juan Island with another female right ahead of her.  So was this what all the hurry was about?  They definitely arrived before we did!

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Here’s a tail slap along the shore.  Then this group of the K-14’s move up the shoreline too.

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As the morning goes on, the fog disapates and the sun gets brighter and brighter.  Now there are whales on all sides of us.  This is one of my favorite situations….surrounded by whales…in every direction.

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OH….Soooo Many FINS!

July 12th, 2014

Active Saturday

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Oh J pod, you are headed north again!  Here’s Granny in the lead with Onyx, her steady companion boy.  This morning the whales take us from the northern end of San Juan Island into Haro Strait.  It’s a lovely time watching as they travel through the Salish Sea.

It’s always great to see our newest J pod calf, little T’ileml’nges, (J-49 2012).  See that little head popping up by mom?(J-37, Hyshka) Grandmother (Samish J-14) is in the lead of the threesome traveling together.

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Enroute back to Friday Harbor we have time to discover harbor seals on haul out rocks, two eagles perched near each other on the tip of Spieden Island and a few seals in the water diving right by the boat!

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By afternoon we have to travel way up into Canada to find the same whales.  No passports for them!  Here are two females in Active Pass heading east toward the Georgia Strait.

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Here’s Granny as she rounds the corner heading into Active Pass.  It was a long trip up here, and that makes getting to the whales even more special.  The water is calm, even in the pass, and the lighting is fabulous in the late afternoon.

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FInally, here’s Onyx cruising from one side of the pass, and then right over to the far side, as if he owns the entire waterway.  I can’t say he seemed to pay much attention to the boating traffic…including those big Canadian ferries!

July 11th, 2014

Aloha Friday Whales

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It’s two trips on this beautiful summer Friday.  The morning trip takes us out to the westside of San Juan Island, with a stop along the way to admire a few harbor seals from a good distance.  We want to be sure not to “flush” a new pup into the water and seperate it from mom.  More and more pups are appearing daily and some are now swimming  around cvery close lose to mom, keeping track of her every move!

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It’s J pod for us this morning right off False Bay, back and forth along the shore.  Here’s one of the adult males getting close to shore!

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Wow!  What a fin cutting through blue water!  This morning is full of foraging for the J pod whales we watch, in flat calm water.

We find a chick in the eagle nest on the trip home, and some additional harbor seals.

The afternoon trip takes us back out to the same area, but on the way in we find something very interesting.  There are two steller sea lions hauling out on Whale Rocks!  I don’t expect to see this until late August….but this year, my log will say, “July 11th”!

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Every day has a surprise element and this is the entry for today!

July 9th, 2014

What a Wednesday! Whales….and More Whales!

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Wow!  We see whales and more whales…as we cruise with them east in Boundary Pass toward the Fraser River.  K pod has been back in our waters for a week now and they are here again today, traveling with some of J pod.

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This part of the shore along Saturna Island is magical in the afternoon light.  Part of J pod and all of K pod headed up into Canada today in search of their favorite food, Chinook salmon.  We are in hopes they find many many fish!

On our way back to Friday Harbor we are lucky to find a group of well over 50 harbor porpoise busy in the open water “shopping” in the tidal currents.  These elusive and fast porpoise pay no attention to us today and we have the pleasure of watching them pop up, blow and dive again over and over.

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Wait!  There’s more wildlife, even though we are steadily making our way back to Friday Harbor!  Here are a few harbor seals taking advantage of a bit of rock still above the tide line for their daily haul out. This is pupping season so we keep a good distance….thank goodness for a telephoto lens!

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And just as we are rounding the bend into the harbor…a white head appears up high in a shorline tree.  What a great spotting post for this adult bald eagle!

July 5th, 2014

Fabulous 4th!

Heading for the pass?

Heading for the pass?

We find many J pod whales headed south in Rosario Strait.  We know they went north to “the river” yesterday, and here they are on July 4th…on one of their regular routes.  This day is grey with high clouds and the water matches the sky.

Toddler Tail Slap!

Toddler Tail Slap!

Can’t you just imagine the energy from this young one traveling alongside mom?  We spend the morning traveling alongside too.

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These two beautiful female J pod members are taking their time as they move to the south.

Southern Resident Orca!

Southern Resident Orca!

We are fortunate on both July 4th and 5th to have encounters with the Southern Resident orcas.  On both Friday and Saturday we have two trips and on all four trips we spend time with the Southern Residents.  You never know exactly where you are going on any given trip, as it’s all determinded by the wildlife.  These two days we cover a lot of territory between the westside of San Juan Island the the eastside in Rosario Strait!

Can you find the hidden eagle???

Can you find the hidden eagle???

We always look for all the wildlife we can find and here’s a surprise that only showed up to me, after I looked at the photos closely on my computer!  See that immature bald eagle sitting below the adult bald eagle?!!

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Here’s a “happy harbor seal” for you!  These seals are hauled out to get a little “R & R” away from the threat of Transient orca whales on the hunt!  Don’t you just think that’s a “SMILE”???

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Just one more look…here’s Mike and Slick heading south along the shore of Lopez Island on the afternoon of July 5th.

What great trips on a great weekend…full of whales and wildlife….and wonderful passengers!

July 2nd, 2014

Ohhh, K’s…It’s So Good to See You!

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What exciting news!  K pod is back in town….or…on the water!  I have not seen K pod yet this year as they have only been around one other day so far…I can hardly wait to get away from the dock!

Anytime two or more of the resident pods are together, there is bound to be some high life socializing.  Today we have all of K pod, J pod and some of the L’s too!

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Wow!  Look at that big male fin…and who is that surfacing right next to that big beautiful boy?  They are keeping it a secret.

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Here is J27, Blackberry cruising across Boundary Pass.  He’s not alone!  Can you spot the other fin?

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K21 in the lead, and J34 bringing up the back of this great big “kissin’ cousin” family group of K’s and J’s and…

It was wonderful to see so many whales together, traveling fast and heading north.  They were in tight groups and together again here for the first time in months and months.

Today the Salish Sea feels “rich with whales”….

June 28th, 2014

J Pod Appears from the West!

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We leave the dock with no whale report, only what we know from where they were last seen last night.  The first hour is spent scanning and scanning.  Luckily we decided to position ourselves to the western area, and the radio comes alive with a call from a whale watching boat headed to Victoria.  Many many orca whales…heading east…right toward us!

Look who we find first!  Granny, J2 is headed our way with more of J pod.  What a sight!

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Oh!  A little look around to enjoy the Royal Canadian Yacht Club way in the background?!

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And then along comes J34, Doublestuf….with the rest of the “Cookie Family”….

Hey!  Wait for me!

Hey! Wait for me!

Feeling so lucky to spend a good hour traveling along toward San Juan Island with the Southern Resident pods J and part of L, we have to pick up the speed and head for home.  But, there’s still some time to appreciate some more wonderful wildlife.

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Looks like it’s nap time for harbor seals…including these wee ones!

June 27th, 2014

Fantastic Friday!

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Fantastic Friday starts off with a report of Southern Resident orca whales headed north.  We head north too!  This turns into a wonderful experience traveling along with J pod and, of course, L-87.  The rain clears away, sunshine joins us too!

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Here’s L-87, Onyx crossing Boundary Pass and no passport necessary for Canadian waters for him!  Granny, J2, is nearby.  Oh, and Rapsody, J32 doing her breaching thing!

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The afternoon continues with a lot of other wildlife sightings.  Take a look at this sea bird, a pigeon gullimot, coming in for a class landing.

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As usual, another landing full of drama!  Do you think the female is impressed?  Maybe….

The bald eagles are searching around Spieden Island for any tidbits of food.  Here’s one adult on the ground and a juvenile in flight.

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Before we turn the corner to head home we spot these young male fallow deer.  What handsome boys!

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That’s what I call a fantastic Friday!

June 21st, 2014

Sunshine on our Shoulders…Fins, Flippers and Wings!

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Snow White the harbor seal takes an afternoon nap

This turns out to be a fabulous weather weekend…oh, and fabulous whales too!  The combination of warm days, sunshine and wildlife just can’t be beat in my book.  On this Saturday we travel twice to find our Southern Resident orca whales and along the way we enjoy harbor seals and bald eagles….and two groups of Transient orca whales!

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We stop to watch Mr. Eagle and his eye must catch something to check out as he lifts into flight!

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Whales are abundant today and we are lucky to see both J and L pod individuals as they make their way north again.  Orcas can travel up to 125 miles per 24 hours and these whales are proving it!  In the morning we see them near the lighthouse on San Juan Island.  By afternoon they have moved up to Boundary Pass.

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Here are some J pod whales as they cross Boundary Pass later in the day.

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Here is a mix of J’s and L’s as they head north in the morning.

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And I can’t forget the surprise sighting of two groups of Transient orca whales on our way back!  How about this big boy?!  It’s been so amazing to see both types of orca whales on the same trip…twice today!

June 20th, 2014

J’s and L’s Head for the River

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This morning we find some J pod and L pod whales on a northbound mission.  There must be fish around as the Southern Resident orca whales have been gracing our waters almost every day in June so far!  Today we travel north into Canadian water and catch up with the whales off the shore of Pender Island.  When I say “shore”….take a look at the next photo!

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What a great sight to see the surprise breaches right next to the island shoreline!  A little further up we find this little whale in a spy hop…maybe a game of “follow the leader”?

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We follow the whales until they head off to a pass that leads between two Canadian islands and into the Strait of Georgia.

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Wait a  minute!  I catch a last glimpse of  a farewell “high five” with a pec fin?  Who is that?!

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June 17th, 2014

J Pod Aerobics

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Today…a perfect day for doing water aerobics in the San Juan Islands!  And what better way to spend an afternoon than to observe Southern Resident orcas in seemingly playful behavior as they cruised up and down the west side of San Juan Island in Haro Strait?!

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This J pod male is having quite a time and we are amazed at the size of his pec fins as he easily rolls over and gives us a “high five!”

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Then it’s back to some inshore traveling behavior and his cousin, J-32 joins him.  Soon, off in the distance….multiple breaches!!

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On this calm and sunny afternoon, we are so fortunate to enjoy a large group of the J pod family.  We are enjoying ourselves…but how could you not believe the whales are doing the same?!

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Why does it always seem that time spent in the company of whales goes SO fast?  And…it’s time to go!

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June 9th, 2014

Day Starts with No Reports–Ends with One Of Best Whale Days!

OK, so it’s not unusual to leave the dock with “no reports of whales in our area.”  And we are always on the lookout for all types of wildlife–sometimes we find the wildlife, and sometimes the wildlife finds us!  So we left the dock on the Western Prince and got a report of “one orca over near Lime Kiln.”  This followed by “a few orcas up in Canada near Blundeon Island.”  But we were not prepared for “hey Western Prince, we have whales 3 minutes from Friday Harbor!”  So we made a right turn out of the harbor and encountered a group of 3 Transient (mammal-feeding) orcas moving up the channel.  It was so great to have them right at the start of the trip. We followed them for about 2o minutes and then left as our owner, Ivan called and said he had Resident (fish eating) orcas up near Stuart Island!!!  WOW!!  The reports were just pouring in!  We just couldn’t believe our good fortune so off we went to see J Pod.  Along the way past Speiden Island, we managed to see a few bald eagles as well!

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Well, when we got there it was a bit choppy, but we did see the J16s and the J22s (known affectionately as the “cookie group” since Mom is J22 Oreo, and her offspring are J34 Doublestuff and J38 Cookie).  We were just settling in when we get ANOTHER report of orcas in San Juan Channel near Friday Harbor?  For real?  Wow!  So off we go and there were two distinct groups of Transients–one near Yellow Island (a group of 3-4) and one nearer to Friday Harbor (group of about 7).  We were watching this group foraging, and then they appeared to have made a kill (but we couldn’t see what).  Soon after, the “fireworks” began as the whales began to get very active–spyhops, tail lobs, cartwheels, and breaches.  And more breaches!  Here are some of my shots from the day.

No whale reports?  That’s ok with us!  It’s always a great day on the water.

John Boyd (JB)
SSAMN Marine Naturalist, Western Prince

PS–I’m also throwing in a few shots from Saturday when we had a pair of humpbacks named “Big Momma” and her calf.

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June 6th, 2014

It’s Big Momma and….Big Baby!

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There is a report before we leave the dock.  A humpback whale we sighted last summer has returned to our waters…only this year she has a calf with her!  This is one big humpback and so she is aptly nick named by those of who have been watching her, “Big Momma”!  We didn’t know how appropriate that would be…as now she has a calf with her…also big in the scheme of animals in our world.

The “blow” from a humpback can be seen a long way off and these two are no exceptions.  Dives today average about 5 minutes inbetween surfacings.

img_16531img_1649img_1676 We’re not the only ones watching all the activity!  A harbor seal pops up nearby!

On this sunny day we also have good looks at some sea birds.  Here’s a rhinocerous auklet in fancy breeding       plumage!  Check out the classy white feathers above the eye and on the cheek.

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This California sea lion really surprises the stellar sea lion.  He makes sure he maintains total control over the shore.

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img_1658This is our last look at Big Momma and her calf today.  Perhaps this final dive is her way of saying “see ya later”?

Why does time spent in the company of whales always seem to go so fast?

June 4th, 2014

Oh J Pod…It’s So Good to See You!

These first days of June are incredible as J pod graces our waters with many appearances.  On this day we join some of the J family on the west side of San Juan Island as they head north.  Hopefully they are finding salmon to fill their bellies.  It’s possible that an adult male orca, weighing up to 8 tons, eats up to 300 pounds of fish in 24 hours.  Here’s J-34, Doublestuf racing along the shore.

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On this day we watch the J-22’s heading to the north together.  They are such a welcome sight!  Look closely and you will find all four fins.

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Surely there must be a salmon out there in front of this whale!?  Orcas can really put on the speed when after prey.

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And finally, another good look at J-34 and that tall male fin he has acquired, alongside of mom, J-22, Oreo.

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Oh, J pod….it’s SO good to see you!

June 1st, 2014

Whale-A-Palooza Type of Day

grannyThe first whale we see today is J-2, Granny!  She has been in the news lately as she sports an estimated birth year of 1911, which makes her an estimated 103 years young!  She is in the lead, and that’s not unusual.

We are lucky to see a lot of surface behavior today!  Here’s one of J pod doing a “spy hop.”  Yep, looking around above the surface of the water.

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Then in the distance we see a breach!  One whale sure can make a huge splash!

breach2j-pod-maleWe are busy watching L-87, Onyx, when we hear there is a group of Transient orca whales heading for Friday Harbor!  How lucky…right on our way home!

tsThis group of four Transient orca whales is definitely in travel mode.  They are moving at a good clip, and pass right by us.  But wait!  There is now another pod of Transient orca whales and they are right up ahead of us!  This day just keeps getting better and better.

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As hard as it is to believe that we are at the end of our trip…the whales “wave goodbye”…and we are on our way back to Friday Harbor.

Truly a “whale-a-paloza” type of day!

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