3 Humpback Whales and J-Pod Orcas

Port Angeles: We found 3 humpback whales today on our way to watch J-pod orcas on the west side of San Juan Island!  Within 45 minutes of leaving the dock Capt. Scott spotted our first whale of the day.  It was a humpback whale and he was very cooperative with us.  This whale spent a lot of time at the surface and he raised his tail flukes a couple of times right before taking a few deep dives.  We got a great look at the underside of his tail flukes and this whale was not in our catalog of regular visitors to the Salish Sea. Knowing that we had some orcas within our reach on the west side of San Juan Island we left the humpback whale to continue north.  Half way across the Strait Capt. Scott spotted a humpback whale breaching off in the distance in front of a big tanker.  He veered of in that direction and the whale continued to come out of the water, mostly doing caudal peduncle throws (cartwheels)!  As we got closer it became obvious that there were actually two humpback whales instead of two.  The tanker had passed by the time we reached the humpback whales and they calmed down spending lots of time at the surface.  We got some good views of them at the surface just before Scott decided it was time to head toward the orcas.  He fired up the engines and started to accelerate away from the whales and one of them came shooting out of the water in a big cartwheel right behind us!  Wow!  And then another one!  So we slowed down to watch them again.  Within a few minutes the whales calmed down again so we decided to try to head toward the orcas again.  Once again one of the whales came shooting out of the water!  They were obviously reacting to us as we increased speed away from them, just as they did when the tanker was going by.  These humpback whales raised their tail flukes high into the air and did several tail slaps at the surface!  Then they arched their backs and raised their tail flukes high in the air for deep dives!  What a great show!  Okay, maybe the third time will be the charm – we tried one more time to say goodbye to these two entertaining whales, and this time we were able to sneak away without any whale acrobatics.  One of the whales was BCX1068, but we didn’t get a good look at the underside of the tail flukes on the other one for an id.  It wasn’t too long before the Island Explorer 3 helped dial us in to where the orcas were milling around near Salmon Bank.  We spotted two whales as we approached, one was a female and one a male.  We spent most of our time with the male, J34, Doublestuf, and he gave us some fantastic views as he zigzagged around looking for fish.  After saying goodbye to the orcas we headed straight back to the dock and everybody had smiles on their faces from seeing such a variety of whales today!  Naturalist Bart Rulon

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J pod! And a kettle of turkey vultures! Plus, Stellers to round out our day!


Our trip began with a harbor seal in the marina and a great blue heron perched on the breakwater! We saw more harbor seals and harbor porpoise as we made our way toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Captain Carl took us through the south end of Lopez Island where we saw a “kettle” of turkey vultures. A kettle is a group of turkey vultures in flight, riding the thermals. We, as the crew, had never seen so many vultures in one area! There had to have been over 100 of them over south Lopez and Castle Rock. It was incredible! We spotted a few harbor seals hauled out on the rocks and some cormorants drying out their wings. We pushed further to the west where we found some orcas! They were spread out foraging. The first whales we happened upon were: Princess Angeline, Polaris, Star, Moby, Tahlequah and Notch! They were grouped up together heading south along the shoreline of San Juan Island. Then Doublestuf popped up closer to the boat. We also saw Cookie, Rhapsody and Oreo. Then we pushed offshore to see who else was around and we found Blackberry, Tsuchi and Mako forgaing. Tsuchi came over to say hi! Then Doublestuf came offshore too. He began actively feeding off of the stern, creating quite the waves! As we started to depart the scene and head toward home, Notch popped up next to the boat to give us one last look at the orcas! On our way back home, we stopped by Whale Rocks and saw dozens of Steller sea lions hauled out, making quite the ruckus. We cruised on toward Anacortes spotted a few more harbor seals on our way!

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J and K pods off False Bay Again!

Port Angeles:  We had a double header day today with two pods of orcas and a minke whale!  We started the day out by heading north through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and we spotted plenty of harbor porpoise in different spots along the way.  When orcas were finally in our sights near San Juan Island a pod of Dall’s porpoise popped up and diverted our attention for a few minutes.  We spent a little bit of time with them before visiting the orcas.  The porpoise were swimming quickly at the surface creating plenty of rooster tails behind them.  One of the porpoise even swam over and surfaced right at our bow.  By this time we could see J27, Blackberry, just a few hundred yards away from the porpoise so we pushed forward to take a look at him.  We spent several minutes with this 23 year old male as he cruised along very slowly, allowing the slow trigger fingers on everybody’s cameras a chance to capture him coming to the surface.  Eventually Blackberry swam off toward a female orca and he obviously had love on his mind so we left them alone. Next we spotted a group of orcas closer to shore and we cruised over for a look.  J16, Slick, was the first orca we spotted there, and she swam over to give us some great views, then she darted off quickly with her daughter J36, Alki.  Slick surprised us with a spyhop and then a few minutes later we saw another spyhop! At that same time J34, Doublestuf, swam in with a female right by his side and they speed swam right for Slick and Alki!  We followed this foursome for a few minutes as they swam together.  Next, Slick’s son J26, Mike, was swam in and he was following K16, Opus, and K35, Sonata.  J26 seemed to have love on his mind too, but Opus didn’t seem to be very interested.  Every time Mike would turn upside down she would slap her tail frequently as if to discourage him from mating!  Sonata, seemed to be rolling around in the mix too, but I’m not sure what he thought of the whole ordeal?  Gradually these three whales angled right for us as we had the engines cut off with our hydrophone in the water listening for orca talk.  This trio swam right by us and gave everybody a fantastic finale for our visit with the orcas.  Our day wasn’t over yet though.  On our way back toward the dock we managed to find a minke whale near the border of Canada.  It was a small minke whale, but he gave us a few good views before we had to continue south to Port Angeles and back to our dock.  The water was glassy calm all day today, which made our whale double header even more fantastic!  Naturalist Bart Rulon

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This season we have had over 98% sighting success rate! On the rare days in which we don’t see whales we allow our guests to come back and take a tour again for free until they do see whales. We have been issuing Fluke passes for 15 years. This is one for the records– A passenger saved this Fluke pass for 14 years!!

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J-pod At Salmon Bank

Port Angeles: We had to cut through the fog and then into the clear to watch J-pod orcas today!  The skies were sunny and clear in Port Angeles but half way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca we hit a patch of fog that lasted for about a half an hour.  As the fog finally cleared we could see San Juan Island as clear as day, and the whales weren’t too far away!  They were spread out near Salmon Bank and Capt. Scott assessed the situation and picked a group of whales that looked like a good bunch to start off with.  It was a mother and her daughter, J28, Polaris, and J46, Star, along with J42, Echo.  These three whales did a great job of entertaining us as they swam around in circles, rolling around with each other.  We had the engines turned off and the trio swam over toward us.  One of the young orcas did a big spyhop, and then she followed it up with another spyhop right away!!  Everybody loved that!  Next, Polaris and Star logged at the surface for about 20 seconds and a Steller sea lion swam in and it spooked the orcas.  They shot ahead like a canon and swam away from the sea lion.  The sea lion started splashing, and thrashing around at the surface, while the orcas swam away, but we couldn’t tell what he was doing with all his crazy antics.  That was definitely sea lion/orca behavior that I’ve never seen before, and I have no logical explanation either.  We let this fun group pass by and then we spotted J17, Princess Angeline, with the rest of her family, including J35, Tahlequah, J47, Notch, and J44, Moby.  Princess Angeline and Notch were spending lots of time together, but then Tahlequah swam in and took her son Notch around to the back of the boat while Princess Angeline swam with her son Moby around the front.  We had orcas in both directions!!  At this point time was growing short we decided to look for a male orca to watch for a while.  Scott spotted a few males off in the distance so we cruised over for a look.  One of the males was J34, Doublestuf, and he appeared to be getting frisky with a female orca.  Eventually he started doing some tail slapping and then decided to swim right in our direction.  We got a fantastic view of him as he swam by our stern and everybody got a better appreciation of just how big these incredible animals are!  Other wildlife spotted during our trip today included harbor porpoise, Dall’s porpoise, common murres, pigeon guillemots, harbor seals, and red-necked phalaropes.  What a great day in PA!  Naturalist Bart Rulon

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J and KPod Orcas!

Our trip from Anacortes today started with some pretty thick fog, but eventually the sun burst through and we had an awesome day with whales! With made our way south in Rosario Strait and out to Salmon Bank. As we closed in on Eagle Point we started to see some orcas. The first animals we saw were J34 Doublestuf and K35 Sonata. These two were very entertaining, continually rolling around and goofing off. Next, K21 Cappuccino showed up and started to search for fish in the area. He was followed by J27 Blackberry and J39 Mako. It was the boy’s club today, and we watched these male orcas forage throughout our trip. At one point three of the whales passed right by our boat, they were so close that we could see them under the water! What a day! After leaving the whales we stopped to watch a harbor seal feeding on a very large chunk of salmon! We slowed down near Colville Island and Williamson Rocks to look at more harbor seals. After a close pass of the Burrows Island Lighthouse we ended our day with some active harbor porpoise near home port.

-Michael Colahan

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Orcas and Humpbacks!!!

Wow! Another fantastic day out on the water for the Island Explorer 3 from Anacortes! We saw harbor porpoise right off the bat in Guemes Channel. Traveling west we cruised all the way toward Stuart Island near Canada to visit with a humpback whale. This turned out to be a whale we know well, BCX0298, aka ‘Splitfin’! We saw this whale sound it’s flukes several times before moving on to look for more. Capt. Carl took us through John’s Pass and we passed some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks. Continuing south we encountered some Dall’s porpoise near the Lime Kiln Lighthouse. The seas had built up a bit so we moved on. Soon, Carl spotted another humpback along the west side of San Juan Island. This whale was sitting right along a strong current line, possibly looking for food. We saw two very large bait-balls in the area, with hundreds of birds feeding on fish. We watched this whale fluke for us as it turned north. Just to the south we had Orcas! JPod killer whales were spread out along San Juan Island. We first encountered J35 Tahlequah and her calf J47 Notch. The little 4-year-old orca was dragging some bull-kelp with it’s tail right at the surface! Next we saw some of the J16 sub-pod, Slick, Mike, and Echo. Mike the 23-year-old male was fishing right next to us and his little sister Echo was also close by. Echo popped up on the port side with a fish in her mouth! Mike was also foraging at the stern, quickly changing direction to chase down some fish. Slick passed right along side the boat under the surface, thrilling our guests. As we planned to leave, another group of whales was pointed right at us! Several whales were rolling around and passed so close by that we were all cheering with excitement! J27 Blackberry was in the mix and surfaced right at the bow! As we left the whales the rain slacked off and we cruised home, thankful for such an fantastic day on the water!

-Captain and Naturalist Michael Colahan

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Breaching BCY0409!!! What a humpback whale!


We had a wonderfully gorgeous and flat calm day on the Salish Sea! We began our trip with harbor porpoise swimming in Rosario Strait. Captain Michael turned north up Rosario Strait on the search. We headed through Peavine Pass and through the inner islands. Throughout our trip, we spotted a few harbor seals bobbing around. We made our way toward Canada and found a humpback whale swimming at the western side of Spieden Channel. It was our good buddy BCY0409! We hung out with him for quite some time! We had several great looks as he went down on that deep dive, showing off his massive fluke! He came right over to say hi! A couple of deep dives later, his first surfacing was a huge breach! He came up to breathe on his short dives, then went on that deep dive. Another breach! Simply amazing! Everyone was stoked! BCY 0409 surfaced close to the boat again, giving us some more fantastic looks. Eventually, he headed toward the west and we had to head back toward home port. We spotted some harbor seals hauled out on the rocks off of Sentinel Island. On Spieden Island, we saw several fallow deer and a mature bald eagle took flight! We cruised home under blue skies and sunshine! 

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The IE3 saves the day! Orcas! AND Pacific white-sided dolphins!


Our trip began just as the rain stopped! It soon gave way to blue skies and sunshine! We spotted a great blue heron perched on the breakwater of the marina. Some sharp eyed passengers found some harbor porpoise swimming in Rosario Strait. Captain Carl had a hunch, so he turned us to the south and pointed offshore. Another boat had found some Pacific white-sided dolphins that they passed off to us! It was the most Pacific white-sided dolphins I had ever seen in the Salish Sea in eight years! Our estimates were around 200! They were jumping, playing, riding our bow wake, playing in the stern wake! It was phenomenal! Just beyond where the dolphins were swimming, Captain Carl found the orcas! They were spread out, foraging. The first whales we caught up with were Cappuccino, Mike, Doublestuf, and Cookie. It was impressive to see all those big dorsal fins pop up at one time! Mike and Cappuccino were having fun, splashing around, upside down tail lobbing, porpoising; it was awesome! Then we caught up with Slick, Alki and Echo! One of these whales spyhopped for us twice! Eventually, we had to head back toward home port. We stopped by Whale Rocks and saw several Steller sea lions hauled out; there were a couple of fights happening on the rocks! At Swirl Rocks, a bald eagle was perched on the rock. He took off, revealing the common murre he had in his talons! He was having a little snack! We cruised on home after another memorable day in the Salish Sea!

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