Our whale watching tours have been very successful, with sightings of transient orcas, humpback whales, minke whales, and a few gray whales so far. The resident orcas are back as well, and with the weather becoming more and more summerlike each day, now’s a great time to join us on one of our tours! (The chart above shows the locations of our sightings so far this season)
This season turned out to be one of our best ever, with sightings on nearly 95% of our whale watching cruises. We had three different whale watching tours, all of which were popular, with folks enjoying frequent sightings of Orca, Humpback and/or Minke whales. If you came out with us this summer, thank you! We are already getting ready for another great summer in 2018!
Included here are photos taken by Jim Bachman on the last day of the season – what a way to close things out, with a group of Orcas, as well as harbor porpoises, a Stellar sea lion, and a variety of sea birds, including marbled Murrelets.
The season is going great so far, with lots of great orca and humpback whale sightings. We’ve now done 4 Deluxe whale watching tours, plus several school field trips, and have seen orcas and/or humpbacks on every trip so far, with tours taking us west and north of the San Juan Islands so far. With great sightings so far, and a forecast for sun coming into the weekend, now’s a great time to join us. The Deluxe whale watching tour includes a tour of the San Juan Islands, a shore visit in Friday Harbor and our Northwest salmon & chicken buffet.
What an amazing season this was – the weather was close to perfect with lots of warm sunshine, but this was topped by the number of whale sightings. With the season over we saw whales on just over 95% of our cruises, and there was a great variety of whales to be seen as well. In addition to the three resident pods of Orca whales (J, K and L pods), we saw lots of transient Orcas, Minke whales, Humpback whales (especially in May and September), Gray whales and towards the end of the season we even saw a Fin whale a few times.
This season also saw the resident group grow by 5 – 4 of these babies just received names (Scarlet, Nova, Sonic and Windsong) and a fifth (L-122) was just born a few weeks ago and will be given a name soon.
Thanks to everyone who joined us on a tour this season – we’re already at work getting ready for next summer!
On our final Bird Cruise for the season we went to Smith Island. Smith Island is the only place left in the San Juan Islands where the elusive Tufted Puffins nest and raise their young. It is a remote island and offers the birds an isolated nesting spot. Tufted Puffins usually have the same mate every year and return to the same nesting burrow. Here in the sandstone bluffs of Smith Island they raise their one chick in deep burrows. Both parents take care of the chick and spend their days carrying fish back to the burrow. Within a few short weeks, the chick will leave the nest and start foraging for itself. The thick kelp beds here provide habitat for the small fish eaten by the puffins. By late summer, the puffins will head out to the open ocean where they will spend their winter.
In previous years, Smith Island has always been a place to go and maybe see a couple of puffins. With this nesting colony becoming firmly established, we see puffins on every trip. There were also many other species of birds seen on this trip. There are certain islands where we always see the colorful Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatchers. Rhinocerous Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, and Marbled Murrelets are other Auk species that we see.
(Photo Credit to Jim Bachman). Jim has been coming out with us on nearly every bird cruise for the last three years. (When Jim is on the boat, I don’t even take my camera out of its case) He has always generously shared his beautiful photos with us.)
The day was just right for bird watching. Calm seas and sunshine. We went up Hale Passage and crossed Rosario Strait to Sucia Island. Slowly cruising around the Finger Islands through Echo Bay, we saw a Pigeon Guillemot nesting colony here. On the eastern side of the bay, there was a large congregation of Harlequin Ducks. It was one of the largest flocks that many of us had ever seen. Heading north and rounding the northern tip of Patos Island gave us a great view of Mt. Baker with the lighthouse in the foreground. There were many harbor porpoise and harbor seals feeding in the tide rips. One of the harbor porpoise had a very small calf with her. Harbor porpoise are very boat shy, and they do not come close. However, we had a small pod come right next to the boat. We returned home on a different route and saw many different species of birds to add to our list. The nesting colonies that we observed were Pigeon Guillemots, Double Crested and Pelagic Cormorants, and Glaucous Wing Gulls. There was a pair of Black Oystercatchers at the same nesting spot that we observed last year; they tend to not nest in colonies. Last season we were able to watch the chicks from incubation to almost fledging. We saw two Peregrine Falcon nests and a Bald Eagle’s nest. One of the parents was feeding the chicks. One of our passengers was able to add five birds to her Life List.
The Victoria Star has been out on our deluxe whale watching tour of the San Juan Islands on Saturdays and Sundays in May and has encountered a all sorts of whales throughout the islands! Last weekend we had a great show with a humpback whale off of Saturna Island and also found J-Pod off of False Bay on San Juan Island. Our resident Orca had one of their newborn calves with them and its mother was proudly pushing it up out of the water to show it off to our passengers! Sunday’s cruise was capped off with an extremely rare sighting of transient Orca whales inside Bellingham Bay. As the ship was returning to our Fairhaven dock, we were greeted by a group huge male killer whales looking for dinner! Captain Don “San Juan” Wight described them as “Just massive!”. We will continue to be running our deluxe whale tour featuring our Northwest salmon lunch and 2-hour port call in Friday Harbor on the weekends in May and everyday beginning June 1st. Come enjoy a day in the San Juan Islands with us!
It only took about 35 minutes before we found a group of Orca whales today (thanks to an early morning report from our naturalist who lives on Lummi Island). By the time we got underway they had moved south, but we were able to catch up to them between Guemes and Sinclair Islands. Initial reports from the boat say it’s members of J-Pod, and there’s about 10 of them. It’s great to find them so early – it gives us all day to explore other areas of the islands, and perhaps find some more whales!
NOAA’s latest update on resident Orca Whale L-87, nicknamed Onyx, shows that he’s moving west, along with members of J-Pod. As of January 14th, they were out near Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States. The whales were definitely on the move over the last four days, travelling about 300 miles or so. The chart below shows their movement, heading south, then west, passing by Vancouver, BC and through the San Juan Islands on their way. We will continue to post updates here, or you can look at theÂ NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center website.
(Chart below is from 1-14-2014 – click to enlarge)