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A beautiful Mother’s Day cruise!

The San Juans certainly delivered for Mother’s Day Sunday! We left the harbor with nothing but brilliant blue sky and unprecedented May sunshine and started our course south towards Cattle Pass. Our decks were full as we spotted the bright white head of a bald eagle perched on Whale Rock, as well as both a California and Steller sea lion lounging side by side on the same channel marker at Salmon Bank. Many great photos of the two sun bathing, with friendly cormorants standing guard! A beautiful sunny day on the water, and Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who sailed with us!

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The 2012 season is off to a great start with Orcas and other marine life

We departed Friday Harbor at 12:00pm and with the unseasonably warm weather, knew we were going to have a nice day on the water. The conditions were perfect with no wind, warm weather and a very nice group aboard the Odyssey. We headed northwest toward Haro Strait and were excited to get our first glimpses of the residents in the 2012 season. We were fortunate to watch about a dozen members of J and K Pods in beautiful synchronized breathing and diving patterns resting the whole time. After our time with the whales we saw harbor seals on Sentinel Rock, bald eagles on Spieden Island as well as its other imported wildlife. We witnessed about a dozen Stellar sea lions in the water as we made our way back to Friday Harbor. What a wonderful day in April that will not soon be forgotten.

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July 6th! The return of L-pod!

The return of L Pod (and at least one member of K Pod) to the Salish Sea!!! A beautiful, sunny day as we cruised to Rosario Strait, navigating through the heart of the San Juan Islands. Reports of heavy fog were sent out from the other boats that were already with the whales. However, once we got on scene, the fog lifted and the viewing conditions were spectacular! The whales were in a resting pattern, grouped up into tight formation. When resting, Orca whales all come up together for a breath, then dive back down simultaneously as well. This is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Three large groups were traveling south down Rosario Strait towards Deception Pass. After reviewing some of the photos we took aboard the Odyssey, we were able to identify K 21, Cappuccino. Word on the street is that a new baby calf was born into K Pod the night before our sighting! What great news! As we started heading back to Friday Harbor, the whales started to wake up, and we got to see at least three breaches, including a double breach by two members at the same time! What a great day on the water!

Captain Pete

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Amazing T18 Orcas and Steller sighting!

Today on the “Odyssey” we witnessed a truly amazing act of nature. North of San Juan Island between Patos Island and Eastpoint (Saturna Island, Canada), our wildlife cruise was in the right spot at exactly the right time. Five of the T18 group (transient orcas) were in an amazing display of predator vs. prey with an estimated 2000lb. steller sea lion. As our vessel watched, nearly 45 minutes of circling, diving, and eventually a sheer battle of force played out. We are extremely lucky to witness a moment that many only see on National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. Our two certified naturalists were able to explain the moment to passengers as well as snap photos of the event. For all of us, Captain included, it was a day on the water that rivals many.

Below are photos documenting the many moments that captivated all of us. It reminds us of the power behind these magnificent animals, and makes us truly thankful for the opportunity to watch them in their natural home.

Another wonderful day on the water, with many more to come…

-Captain Pete

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San Juan Wildlife

Wildlife is part of our everyday life here in the San Juan Islands and Salish Sea. Today a Bald Eagle flew right over our group as we were preparing to board the Odyssey. Anemones, jellies, shrimp, and crabs are often visible right in the marina.
The delight of the guests seeing this ecosystem and wildlife, many for the first time, is inspiring! We headed out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, toward the south end of Lopez Island, Many Harbor Seals and male Stellar Sea Lions were hauled on Whale Rocks.

There were reports of Orcas heading south down Rosario Channel, against a strong, 10+ foot, flooding tide. J-Pod families were very spread out and many turned back north. The whales were swimming hundreds of feet from each other, on long dives, coming up to breath. Was it energy saving to stay under the surface while they were swimming against that strong current? As fellow Naturalist Heather said; were they staying under longer to communicate about the hunt for salmon, over that long distance the pod was spread apart? We were happy to watch J-26, J-31, and J-39. A nice day on the water.

Caroline Armon, Naturalist, San Juan Excursions

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Rain or Shine….the whales and wildlife are here.

Sunday May 15th, 2011

Liquid sunshine (rain:) couldn’t dampen our spirits today! We got word that orcas were spotted down by Smith Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca when we left the dock today. Captain Pete headed south and thankfully the orcas kept coming North, we met near False Bay! We were excited to see it was J Pod! We travelled along with Princess Angeline
(J17) and her family, daughters:Polaris (J28), Tahlequah (J35) and new son born 2009: Moby (J44), along with new grandbaby Star (J46) born 2009 to Polaris! Quite the family portrait as they would all surface together. We also got a good look at Cookie, (J38) so his mom was probably not too far off, Oreo (J22). We had about 25 J pods in the area, but well spread out on the West side of San Juan Island in Haro Strait as we left the whales today. We also enjoyed some Stellar Sea Lions hauling out on Whale Rocks near Cattle Pass upon our return to Friday Harbor. Just another beautiful day, liquid sunshine and all!

Debbi Fincher

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Spring has finally arrived in the San Juan Islands

65 and sunny – I think spring has finally arrived here in the San Juans!

In San Juan Channel we saw about half a dozen harbor seals hauled out, basking in the sun, as well as two bald eagles perched on the treetops along the shoreline of Lopez Island. We spent some time around the south end of San Juan and Lopez watching the feeding frenzy of gulls, cormorants, auklets and murres, wondering what kind of ‘bait ball’ of fish was just below the surface. We then traveled to Long Island and checked out a massive eagle’s nest, and saw several more bald eagles, this time all juveniles. The highlight of the trip was seeing the gigantic Steller sea lions hauled out on Whale Rocks. There must have been about 20 or so all sprawled out, growling whenever a neighbor got too close. Amongst the crowd of giants, two stood out; one that had been branded by researchers, and another with markings along its body, likely from a run in with a propeller. The ID number of the branded sea lion has been reported to the researchers so that they can track its movement. After hanging out with the Steller’s we headed back up San Juan Channel and passed by a harbor porpoise, which made for a nice end to a beautiful day!

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Awesome J-Pod!!!

May 10, 2011

Starting out north, on a nice, calm, sunny afternoon, no whale reports. Then, then! a rumor of Orcas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, heading in east! So we turned around, headed south and west, and started seeing killer whale fins off of False Bay and San Juan Island, swimming against an ebbing tide.

We noticed a female staying in the same place at the surface for about a half hour, and the 5 family groups spread out. They started to move and gather closer together, actively spy hopping, turning on their backs, tail fluke and pectoral fin slapping the water surface, and a juvenile breached! They slowed down their swimming, made circles and direction changes. We put a hydrophone in the water and heard non stop vocalizations!

As we watched all the active behavior, we noticed a very small calf and wonder if a birth had taken place recently? My guess for the mom is J-31 Tsuchi. We also ID’d J-2 Granny, the big boys- J-27 Blackberry, J-26 Mike, J-30 Riptide, and J-28 Polaris and their families. J-Pod seemed relaxed and hopefully found salmon!

Caroline Armon, Naturalist, San Juan Excursions

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Sunday May 8th 2011 Happy Mother’s Day!

We had a wonderful day onboard the Odyssey today with families from all around the US celebrating Mother’s Day. We were treated to a special encounter when 2 humpback whales were feeding in the San Juans on their way north to Alaska. It appeared to be a mom and offspring, judging by the size of the larger humpback and how closely the two traveled, almost touching one another as they surfaced. A magical moment for sure when their flukes would rise out of the water and we could see underneath their flukes! Did you know that these whales are identified by researchers from their unique shapes and color patterns they have on their flukes? We took pictures today, so maybe we’ll be able to find out more about these whales. There is a website with a catalog of humpbacks that one can try to match their photos with. These whales travel from Maui to Alaska!
Our other wildlife experiences were as magnificent as our whale encounter in their own way… bald eagles, stellar sea lions, harbor seals and of course, the exotic game animals that are on Spieden Island. We enjoyed sharing this day with all the mother’s of the earth! Debbi Fincher, Naturalist

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September 3

What a great day to be out on the water with our amazing marine neighbors! I was excited to hear our Southern Resident Community was back in town; we’ve been visiting with the mammal-eating “transients” which is always fun, though our fish-eating “residents” feel more like close friends or family, so it’s great to have them back in town! And what a great sunny day for a boat ride! As we headed to the south end of SJI, we were fortunate to see a great variety of marine life. We spotted several harbor seals, including one eating a salmon, along with harbor porpoise, a bald eagle, and a Steller sea lion! We met up with residents who were reportedly spread out from Lime Kiln to the south end of the island. The whales were pretty far offshore, I wondered if this had anything to do with the large amounts of fishing boats along the shore. As we were watching, two whales surfaced in front of us, headed right for our bow! Captain Pete immediately turned off the engine, and we scanned the water in silence, wondering where they might surface. They had split directions, so K26 Lobo surfaced right along our starboard side, while the other female surfaced on our port side. How amazing to see Lobo so close! It’s difficult to get a feel for just how big they are when watching them, but the tip of Lobo’s dorsal fin being at eye level with our guests (and still growing!) really helped to put it in perspective! We moved along and met up with another group of orcas, and enjoyed watching them for a while. A female and a calf surfaced towards our stern, and while the angle and sunlight made it a bit tricky to ID the two, it appears they were L83 Moonlight and her calf L110 Midnight, her three year old son. The seas started to pick up a bit – those of us on the bow caught a wave! I guess you can’t see the whales up close without getting a little wet! Everyone was in great spirits thanks to the whales, and it was like a fun “interactive” tour! As we headed back in to gentler water, we stopped by Whale Rocks to watch the Steller sea lions hauled out. Amazing to not only see 11 foot long sea lions, but to hear them roaring at each other as well! Most of these males are likely bachelors who weren’t strong enough to hold down a territory and have females to mate with, suppose I’d be a bit grumpy too! Heading back to Friday Harbor we again saw several harbor porpoise, and lots of common murres in their dramatic black and white breeding colors. They’re like the penguins of the north! As we got back to the dock we all agreed, this was definitely a great day to be on the water in the Salish Sea!

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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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