Archive for August, 2010

Transient encounter and beautiful weather make for a great day on the water

Our residents were no where to be found today, but we heard there were transient orcas up north and were happy to set off to find them! It’s not often that we get the chance to see this ecotype – the classic “killer” whales. The gorgeous weather made for an enjoyable journey, and our guests got a great dose of a Pacific Northwest summer. As we neared Saturna Island, we spotted several harbor porpoise, all heading south – a smart move with the mammal eating transients in the area! Our first whale sighting was an unexpected minke whale, and in close proximate to the orcas! It must have known attacks on whales are extremely rare within the Salish Sea, and the only time it was documented the orcas were going after a gray whale, and they did not succeed. The transient group consisted of four members in a resting pattern, doing several short shallow dives followed by one longer deeper dive. Unlike the residents orcas, the transients don’t always swim in a predictable line so there was a bit of guess work involved in where they would surface. Fortunately Captain Pete’s experience and instincts were right on, and as we paralleled along side them our guests got several great views of this relaxed family group. The orcas were heading south, and so it let us stay with them for a bit longer, slowly making our way back to Friday Harbor. Eventually it was time to wave goodbye to the family and head home. As we were leaving the scene we saw a small harbor seal swimming around, apparently unaware of the danger in the area. Must have been a new pup – hopefully mom taught it about those dangerous black and whites! The orcas weren’t in hunting mode when we left them, hopefully they stayed that way long enough for our little harbor seal friend to get out of the water!

Transients are ecotype of orcas behind the name “killer whale” since whalers frequently saw them attacking larger whales and other marine mammals. Because of this they were feared, hated, and viewed as extremely dangerous to humans. Because of this fear, they were routinely shot at and killed. Watching this family today, swimming in a socially bonded formation with such ease and relaxation, it was hard for all of us to imagine why people wanted them eliminated from our Salish Sea.

Heather Harris, Marine Naturalist

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August 2, 2010

Nature and wildlife are ever changing, so every trip out on the water is an opportunity to see something new, yet patterns emerge, yielding a little more understanding.
One of our trips took us to Canada, North Pender Island, where we found some J-Pod orcas, cruising right along the shore at Mouat Point. There was a strong flooding tide that they were using to go toward Active Pass. They showed how well their echolocation works to maneuver ships, ferries, boats, and docks, through some narrow areas!
And to find fish, as killer whales from J and K Pods having been spending the last few days back and forth, sweeping the west side of San Juan Island. We have seen the salmon jumping too! Awed to see 19 year old J-27 Blackberry with 1 &1/2 year old cousin? J-45? very active breaching and flopping on his back, as though trying out a new move or view of his world!
On another foggy day, K-21 Cappuccino and friends, seemed to rise from the mist right off of South Beach, for a few mystical moments going southeast then turning northwest, before being wrapped once more in the marine layer.
The ‘westside waltz’ is familiar, but one is never sure; are they going to keep heading north, or turn back one more time, keeping us guessing as to the best route to see them! Today we enjoyed not only a warm sunny summer afternoon, also going all the way around San Juan Island, a circumnavigation, where many marine mammals showed themselves! Harbor Porpoise, Harbour Seals, Dall’s Porpoise, and a Minke Whale off of the northeast end of the Island, zigging and zagging its way northwest! Orcas; J’s and K’s foraging off of False Bay, headlining our tour! We think we saw J-14 with J-45. J-17 Princess Angeline and family with the 3 mom’s and 3 babies all close together, making rapid twists and turns, really looked regal! Were they teaching the calves how to hunt? J-30 Riptide is one big 15 year old- he’s already huge and still growing. K-21 Cappuccino and friends are back hanging out with the J’s. Many marine birds on the water too; Heermann’s Gulls migrating through, (not so common anymore?) Common Murres, and a Kingfisher perched atop a western hemlock. We probably missed an Eagle sighting with our attention on the rest of the Salish Sea wildlife!

Caroline Armon, Naturalist

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