Humpbacks in Canada!

Anacortes

What a beautiful day full of sunshine and flat calm waters! We headed north in Bellingham Channel and spotted several harbor porpoise enjoying the current lines. We found a maturer bald eagle on one of the Cone Islands. We pressed on toward Canada. On Clements Reef numerous harbor seals and one California sea lion were hauled out enjoying the sunshine. As we cruised the Saturna Island shoreline, Captain Carl found us our first whale of the day! It happened to be our good buddy, BCY0324, known as Big Momma! She was pretty consistent at the surface, giving us great looks! She fluked many times for us! She was swimming in circles, then eventually she decided to swim toward the south. There happened to be two other humpbacks headed our way! These two humpbacks  hugged the shoreline as they passed by where Big Momma was hanging out with us! She started coming directly for us, circled again and continued south.  We caught a couple more looks at our other two humpbacks before we headed off back toward Anacortes. We saw a couple California sea lions hauled out on two channel markers. One last mature bald eagle rounded out our trip! What a great day!

Photos to come!

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Protection Island Wildlife makes the Day

We traveled east today, as far as Protection Island, where we spotted a variety of birds and some harbor seals.  The wind was strong and the waves were many, making our options limited for areas we could look for whales.  We gave it our best effort in scanning effortlessly over Eastern, Partridge, and Dallas Banks, but we could not find any whales.  Half way through our trip we took a break to check out the wildlife at Protection Island – a national wildlife refuge.  We found harbor seals on the beach, hundreds of pigeon guillemots in the water, two species of cormorants, a pair of harlequin ducks, two pair of gadwal, and a rare sighting of two blue-winged teal!  Bald eagles were scattered along the hillside on the island, and while we were looking at one of them, one of our season pass holders spotted a pair of tufted puffins!  That was an awesome sight!  Within a minute another pair of puffins surfaced from a dive, and we had a total of 4 of them!  Protection Island is one of the last good spots to find tufted puffins in our area, and we were certainly hoping to find some.  During the trip we also spotted harbor porpoise in several spots today, rhinoceros auklets, and common murres.    

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Big Mama feeding!

 Anacortes

Leaving the dock today from Anacortes, we spotted a California sea lion at the edge of the marina and two mature bald eagles on the Saddlebag Islands. Harbor porpoise were everywhere today, and we visited our massive California sea lion buddy sleeping on a navigational marker, whom I have named ‘Big Daddy’. He is a full-on brute, and he had a big drop of drool dripping from his mouth as he woke up! Capt. Carl avoided the fog once again and took us on a great route on the eastern shores of Guemes Island. The weather has been exceptional this month and today was no exception, with sun, sun, sun all day. The waters were calm as we cruised north to look for some whales. We searched and searched and ended up north of East Point, Saturna Island to visit with our favorite humpback whale, ‘Big Mama’. Almost immediately she began to put on a great show with a big cartwheel as we watched! She soon settled into into a rhythmic breathing pattern and showed her tail quite often. She also thrilled us with some very, very cool feeding displays at the surface. She ended up with a high rostrum lunge-feeding maneuver on four separate occasions, which was just awesome! Our guests were cheering her on as she brought her massive head out of the water. Watching behaviors like this is really hard to beat! After leaving we watched as a gazillion harbor porpoise swam in the strong currents where Boundary Pass and the Georgia Straits meat. It wasn’t long before we were on scene with more whales, as another boat nearby had found two more humpback whales! We hung out with them for some nice looks, as they were lined up with Mt. Baker in the background. Finally leaving, we turned toward home and watched as a bald eagle swooped in from the islands to try and pick up some food from the surface. We saw three more bald eagle on Guemes Island before arriving in Anacortes to say goodbye to our lucky guests! Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

-Michael Colahan

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Amazing day with JPod Orcas!!!

Anacortes

What a fantastic day we had aboard the Island Explorer 3 with a huge variety of wildlife, sun, calm seas and ORCAS! We left the dock and encountered some fog in Rosario Strait. Approaching Thatcher Pass, we broke out from the pea soup and almost immediately encountered a California sea lion that was a having a meal of spiny dogfish! This animal thrashed about with its meal for about 15 minutes as we watched, consistently bringing to the surface to try and rip it apart. Gulls swooped in to try a catch a morsel as the sea lion guarded its lunch. Moving on we traveled through the San Juan Islands and eventually exited Cattle Pass into the Starit of Juan de Fuca to try and meet up with JPod as they were spotted southbound in this direction. We saw a mature bald eagle near Lopez Island and almost a dozen Steller sea lions hauled out on Whale Rocks. The entire day was filled with wildlife from start to finish! JPod Orcas have not been seen for a few days in the region, so we were thrilled to have a chance to visit them! As we got closer we realized the killer whales were spread out in several different big groups, and Capt. Carl was able to maneuver us into a viewing sequence with all them today! It was so cool, as every group we encountered had some pretty spectacular behaviors that they were displaying. We saw whales breaching in one direction, and some others with tail-lobs in another direction. One of the whales breached right next to us and J27 Blackberry, brought his massive tail out of the water in close view. Another did a huge spy-hop right next to us as well! We moved up tho the front of the line and watched as J2 Granny, the oldest animal at @104 yrs. old was searching for fish with L87 Onyx. Sweet! Some of our favorites moments occurred when we visited the J19 sub-group. J41 Eclipse, and J47 Notch were side-by-side next to little J51, the very young calf of Eclipse. Notch did a huge tail-lob as well! We last visited with the J16 family, including both of the new calves in that group, J50 and J52. J26 Mike, brought a huge amount of bull kelp out of the water, draped over his dorsal fin as he swam close by. After saying goodbye, we passed by Castle Rock for a nice slow down to take in the beauty of south Lopez Island. Our guests were thrilled, and the crew was stoked as we love every day out here on the water!

-Michael Colahan

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Three Humpbacks in picture perfect conditions!

Anacortes

Leaving the dock today we noticed thick fog to the south, but we stayed in perfect, sunny conditions all day and found three humpback whales in Canada. Passing Huckleberry Island to start our trip, we watched about a dozen harbor seals in the water, feeding on something as the birds moved in to try and steal some scraps. We slowed down to visit our newest fried in the region, the GIANT California sea lion that we have seen here for over a week. He was lazily hauled out on a marker and barely opened his eyes to check us out. The waters were flat-calm as we pushed into Canada to look for whales. Another boat had spotted two humpbacks and Capt. Carl was just getting us outside when he hollered “Breach”, as we saw one of the whales jump out of the water! We were still a few miles away and the whales breached several times and cartwheeled as well! I was able to catch a couple of cartwheels from the distance as we hastily continued toward them, our passengers stoked to see these cool behaviors, even from afar! When we got to their location the action had cooled down, and we watched as they surfaced side-by-side and brought their tails out on deep dives. Tyson had spotted another whale in the area and we cruised over to check her out as well. This was a whale we know well, BCY0324, aka ‘Big Momma’. She also showed her tail, and we circled back to visit our first two buddies. They passed right by the boat as we planned to say goodbye, and we were able to ID one of them as BCX1057. After leaving we passed by several dozen harbor seals near Sucia Island as well as two bald eagles. We also visited with another California sea lion, whom I think was our first guy we saw, but he had moved to a different marker to continue his restful day in the sunshine. Awesome, awesome trip!

-Michael Colahan

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Going the Distance… FOR ORCAS!

Anacortes

The Island Explorer 3 has never been further south on a trip out of Anacortes than she made it today! We got the boat off the dock and head through Rosario Strait where we spotted several harbor porpoise and harbor seals. We made our way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca where we slowed down at Smith Island and found numerous cormorants enjoying the shoreline. We pushed even further to the south into Admiralty Inlet. We passed lighthouses we haven’t ever passed on the IE3 (Admiralty Head Lighthouse, Point Wilson Lighthouse, Marrowstone Point Lighthouse)! They were beautiful. At Bush Point, along the Whidbey Island shoreline, we saw our first dorsal fin come into view! It was a marine mammal eating orca, T87! He passed right by the boat as he continued northbound. We spotted another group of orcas just a little further to the south and we made our way in that direction! It ended up being a superpod of orcas! The T124s (T124, T124D, T124D1 and T124E), T124A, the T36s (T36, T36B and T36B1) were all present and headed right for us! We had some amazing looks as the youngsters, T124D1 and T36B, kept playing around, rolling, swimming quickly! It was awesome! We spent some quality time with them as they continued northbound and maintained a very rhythmic breathing sequence. We eventually had to leave them and cruise on toward home. We enjoyed flat calm waters and sunshine as we made our way home! What a day, definitely worth the long trek to the south!

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Doubleheader in Anacortes!

Anacortes

We got off the dock this morning and found several harbor porpoise swimming in the flat calm waters of Rosario Strait. We stopped by Colville Island and spotted several harbor seals hauled out. We headed to the west on our search today. It was all eyes on deck as we crossed into Canada there was an earlier report of a possible animal in that vicinity, we searched and searched. No luck. So we headed back toward the east and we found our first whale of the day! It was a minke whale! We caught a few good glimpses of him, before he disappeared. We continued on our search. As we made our way north in Rosario Strait, we came across a couple of humpback whales that had moved into the area! One of the whales looked like one of our good buddies, BCZ0298, affectionately known as Split Fin. The other whale was a little more difficult to ID, so we are still working on that. We had a some great looks as they headed north up Bellingham Channel. We could hear them exhale. They were magnificent! The whales surfaced simultaneously a couple of times! Amazing! We cruised on home after seeing two different types of whales on our trip! What a gorgeous day in the Salish Sea!

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