2013 Trip Reports & Updates
8 Transient Orcas & 100 Steller Sea Lions!
What a fantastic way to end our 2013 Orca Whale Watch Season! Saturday, October 5th was our last individual whale watch day before our last two private charters on Sunday and Monday.
We had sunshine and calm weather and encountered eight marine mammal-eating Killer Whales! We first spotted the whales off of Eagle Point on the southwest side of San Juan Island and then followed them up to Lime Kiln Lighthouse. They were putting on a great show, with one of the highlights being a DOUBLE SPYHOP! In addition, passengers aboard the Mystic Sea witnessed an amazing and very unique maneuver by one whale . . . he came up like he was going to do a spyhop, but then as if in slow motion, turned upside down and swam upstream and backwards! What?! And then as if that wasn't enough, a little while later he came up and did the same thing again!
We also had Dall's Porpoise playing in our wake and a spectacular show of over 100 Steller Sea Lions sprawled out on Whale Rocks. They were growling and snarling and arguing with each other.
Steller Sea Lions & Harbor Seals, photo credits: Jill Hein
Humpback & Minke whales plus both Harbor AND Dall's Porpoise, all in one day!
Not only one but two, three, four Minke whales between Deception Pass and Castle Rock, south of Lopez, between noon and 1:30 pm. They were feeding in leisurely fashion with seals and harbor porpoise before speeding Dall's porpoise broke up the party! It didn't end there... Nearing Victoria, two magnificent humpback whales cruised along side-by-side, the sound of their blows resonating across the glassy sea surface as they dived and surfaced in harmony. Passengers on the Mystic Sea enjoyed the bonus of seeing the undersides of both tail flukes as the whales prepared to take a deeper dive - a fitting farewell as we turned for home.
Freeland, Whidbey Island
Photo credti: Sandra Pollard
Over 100 Steller Sea Lions and a Great show of Minke Whales today!
The fall weather was kind to us yesterday as we headed out in search of whales; we had sunshine and calm seas as we cruised down towards Deception Pass. At Lawson Reef a huge group of gulls, murres, and cormorants alerted us to the presence of a Minke whale!! Not one minke, but two! We spent about half an hour with a couple of Minkes that put on a good show for us before cruising across to the south end of Lopez and Davidson Rock area where we saw lots of seals, deer, and eagles. Then we went over to Long Island, off of San Juan Island, and spent some time with 2 more Minke whales there.
One the highlights of the day was seeing OVER 100 STELLER SEA LIONS ON WHALE ROCKS! SPECTACULAR AND UNBELIEVABLE! The island was just covered with them, real estate was really at a premium. What an amazing sight, fun to see so many, listen to them, and of course, smell them! There were lots more harbor seals hauled out enjoying the sun, and friendly harbor porpoise greeted us in San Juan Channel. From there we went up to Shark Reef, circumnavigating Lopez, and back home. Nice to see sun and such calm waters again, another beautiful day on the water. It was a great day and we had a great group of passengers onboard.
Captain Monte Hughes and Naturalist Jill Hein
Beautiful Heermann's Gull, photo credits: Jill Hein
3 Dall's Porpoise and 25+ Steller Sea Lions!
This morning we headed south past Burrows Island Lighthouse, towards Whidbey Island, and then cut across Rosario Straights towards Colville Island. From there we headed down to Hein Bank where one of our passengers spotted 3 Dall's Porpoise! Captain Monte drove the boat in a big figure-8 pattern and we all watched with delight as the porpoise played in our wake. The water was very dark and really clear -- which meant that there was very little sediment and phytoplankton -- and we could see the distinct black and white bodies of the porpoises as they sped through the water before launching themselves out in a wonderful acrobatic leaps! Two of them were adults and one was a juvenile (he was smaller and did not yet have the distinct white markings yet). Our wake was also a neat color, almost a teal or bright aquamarine blue, caused by the higher salt content at the end of the flood tide; the salty ocean water was moving in, pushing back the river water. We also saw 25-30 Steller Sea Lions on Whale Rocks, and an Eagle and a ton of Seals on Mummy Rocks before making our way back up through the center of the San Juan Islands.
Today was AWESOME. Out on the water, one dreams of having weather like we had today. Crisp fall air, sunny, and calm.
Several Lpod adult males were doing big pectoral slaps on the water, right along the northern shoreline of Orcas Island. They were doing tail lobs, cartwheels and half breeches!
Photo credit: Jill Hein
We didn’t even have far to travel find them . . . the Orcas were waiting for us near Lawrence Point on Orcas Island. What a treat, finding many L-pod members slowly traveling towards Cypress Island, cruising south, then heading back across Rosario towards Lopez, dodging the ferry. We identified Mega, Mystery, Crewser, Wavewalker, Ocean Sun, Nyssa, Racer, Matia and quite a few others.
In between visits with the frisky whales, we found lots of harbor seals basking in the autumn sun on Peapod Rocks, along with Bald Eagles, and Great Blue Herons. Oh and many harbor porpoises also. A beautiful day on the water, calm seas, warm temperatures ….. and wonderful passengers!~ Naturalists Jill Hein and Noel Larson
Photo credit: Noel Larson
Tucker the research dog, sniffing for whale poo! Photo credit: Noel Larson
Photo credits: Jill Hein
Magical Day! Whales all over, lunging, foraging & mating!
As Captain Phil says, "It was another great day in paradise!" This morning the ferry Elwah spotted whales in Haro Straight, moving out. When we arrived on scene the whales were between False Bay and Eagle Point and they were super frisky! Yup, it's that time of year where we are seeing a lot of mating action. The waters were swirling all around and we saw all kinds of whale body parts out of the water! A few of the whales we saw included K26, K13, K33, and K27. We also had the most adorable close-up sighting of a little Harbor Seal down at Colville (among a bunch of others), just staring at us with his big innocent eyes. He was posing so still we could've counted his whiskers. Above him there was a huge Bald Eagle, scanning the dark green water below, waiting patiently for just the right fish to pass by. Beautiful day!
What a WILD, WINDY, WHALE ADVENTURE!!
White caps pummeled Cap Sante head as we left the marina. Winds from the southwest started at 25 knots and topped out at 35 knots before tapering off at the end of our highs seas adventure! The weather couldn't make up it's mind, we had both rain and sun throughout the day. Captain Monte Hughes piloted Mystic Sea safely across Rosario Straight to Peavine Pass and across the north end of Lopez Sound. Excited Mystic Sea passengers got an exhilerating ride and some even chose to ride out on the bow to feel the sea spray on their faces! We hid out from the mighty gusts in Harney Channel and then... there was a report of WHALES. Moving fast 10 knots northbound at Kellet Bluff. The Lime Kiln hydrophone station had picked up the voices of J-pod!
We met up with part of L-pod and some of J-pod. Fluke, (son of Racer) and Indigo showed us how they could quickly porpoise through and over 3 foot rollers. Our passengers were champs and were totally into the whales and the wild weather! It was so neat because we could see the whales' huge bodies through the water! We were the only boat with them; Victoria Clipper had just left as we came on scene, north of Turn Point Light. As we left we passed the baton to Rockfish II out of Eastsound, Orcas Island, and returned via Pole Pass. We took the northeast side of Stuart both ways and returned to sunshine back in Anacortes. It sure was an invigorating day on the water!
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
Photo credit: Noel Larson
Gorgeous day! We couldn't have asked for better weather today!
The excited chatter of many Murres, juvenile Heerman's Gulls, and Red Necked Phalarope made us chuckle. Sounds like whew, kew, click and quip would be the closest way to describe their conversation.
Our first sighting of Minke Whales came at Lawson Reef. We picked out the young whale and the adult based on their dorsal fin shape and overall size. Everyone on the boat got a good look and many passengers got good photos. Sandra Pollard- Snowberger, volunteer WSU beachwatcher naturalist, and her husband Dick were on board today, giving out great information and answering questions. It turns out the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) headed to Seattle today, we wondered why? Something in the water or a change in underwater scenery maybe? We had really good bird sightings today and there was reportedly a Brown Pelican in the area too! We saw big brown Pelagic Cormorants with the Super-Steller Alaskan Sea Lions. We watched them play in the water and climb on to the rocks using their hind and pectoral fins.
Throughout the day we saw Porpoises porpoising with purpose . . . plus more Minke whales at Salmon bank . . . it was Minke madness all 'round! We saw sights including Burrows Island Lighthouse, Deception Pass bridge, and Cattle Point Light house. From Salmon Bank we cruised by Whale Rocks, and our return trip took us up through the middle of the San Juan Islands, past Armitage Island, Pointer Rock, and out Thatcher Pass.
Ah the Steller Sea Lions were so cute! Both in and out of the water, it looked like everyone was having a good time!
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
Alaskan Steller Sea Lions, Photo credits: Noel Larson
Photo credits: Noel Larson
Captain Monte Hughes, enjoying another great day on the water!
LOTS OF ORCAS!
The whales were great today, going above and beyond the call of duty in showmanship! When we first came on scene we were greeted with 5 spy hops in a row and dorsal fins everywhere . . . big ones too! It was like the whales acted out, "Oh hey look the Mystic Sea is here, let's go check 'em out!" Naturalist Noel Larson said it was such a great show, that she was dumbfounded, speechless, at a loss for words on how to describe the day and the whales we encountered!
Roll call... we saw L-89, K-42, L-86, L-94, and J-26, among many many others. It was all very exciting, but the last part with Kpod was simply the best. They played in this little cove just before swimming around Turn Point. They were having a ball in there! She says that September is her favorite month to watch whales, and that all the passengers loved listening to them breathe. In addition, it was sunny, calm, and cool, with a pleasant breeze. Mount Baker was like a beacon, providing a perfect photo background all day.
Orcas 'porpoising'! Photo credits: Noel Larson
Mount Baker and sailboat, photo credit: Noel Larson
5 Transient Orcas, a Minke Whale, and lots of Steller Sea Lions!
This morning we had reports that there were whales southwest of us, way out by Port Angeles. So we made our way that direction, first going through the center of the islands. We stopped by Pointier Rocks on the way out, where we saw some Harbor Seals and their pups, Cormorants, and Oystercatchers. From there we went ALL the way out to Dungeness Spit, west of Protection Island, where we could see Sequim on the hillside. Along the way we had so many Steller Sea Lions in the water through the south end of San Juan Channel, all around us, and hauled out on Whale Rocks. On the rock next to the one the Sea Lions had claimed there were several dozen Harbor Seals, making it easy to compare the incredible size difference between the two species . . . Harbor Seals weigh about 150-250 lbs, and male Stellers can weigh up to 2200 lbs!! From there the long trip out to Dungeness Bay definitely paid off because we saw 4 Transient females with a juvenile. There was T46d and T46e, T122, T49b, and T49b2. On the way home after spending time with the Transient Orcas, we also spotted a Minke Whale, who surfaced a handful of times. It was a long but very fun day aboard the Mystic Sea!
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
One, two, three . . . and four breaches!
We headed out in foggy conditions Sunday, through Thatcher Pass, then to the west side of San Juan Island. We found members of K and L pods - possibly J pod too - as they traveled north past False Bay and Lime Kiln. There were many whales spread out over a large area; we had the L22s, Spirit and Solstice, K22 Sekiu and L54 Ino, among others. What a treat to see these whales, fun to watch, several breaches and tail lobs kept our passengers happy. Also, as we passed Shark Reef we saw a large Steller Sea Lion in the water and Harbor Porpoise. It was fun to have Thomas, a previous Mystic Sea deckhand, and Dalon Heath, a return customer onboard today. The fog lifted, we avoided the rain – coming back through Pole Pass - and the sun was out by the time we reached home port. Another great day aboard the Mystic Sea!
~ Naturalists Jill Hein and Noel Larson
Photo credit: Jill Hein
Orca Whales Over here, Over there . . . Everywhere! Breaches, cartwheels and more!
"Thanks for a great trip today. A lot of respect and credit to the captain and crew. With the fog and clouds, I didn't think the day would turn out very well. I was mistaken. It was an amazing show of whale acrobatics! You have a customer for life. I will never stray onto another charter boat!"
~ Bryce Yamashita
This morning we went up into the Straight of Georgia, just south of Point Roberts. It was foggy yet calm and we were lucky to see members of all three Resident Orca Pods putting on an amazing show of breaches and cartwheels! The whales were all spread out so it was difficult to get an accurate count of how many we saw, but it was somewhere between 35 and 60. We even had two breaches really close to the boat and one male jumped super high out of the water - the entire body of the whale cleared the surface of the water by several feet! They were doing cartwheels too, and we even saw one male breach and land on his back! Beachwatcher Naturalists Sandra and Dick, and Mystic Sea Naturalist Noel, identified J27 Blackberry, L85 Mystery, J41 Eclipse, J22 Oreo, J34 Doublestuff, K20 Spock, and K38 Comet. We were so happy to see them popping up everywhere, being playful and tactile, and pushing eachother around in a gentle 'dogpile'!
Photo credit: Sylvia Hutson
Another Superpod Day!!!
K-26 Lobo and K-14 Lea passed by the Mystic Sea within a body length! Wicked Cool.
"Thank you for a fantastic day on the Salish Sea! I have never seen so many Orcas together in one place and for such a long period of time; I am still 'floating on air' from the wonderful experience. You guys are the best!"
~ Ronaye Tylor
It is so magical to hear an Ocra whale's breath and see their black and white bodies through the dark teal water. What luck to encounter Bigg's Southern Resident Killer Whales multiple days in a row . . .
We took the scenic route through the San Juan Islands, up towards Stuart Island –- where we clearly saw Fallow Deer (Dama dama), native to Europe, on the ridge of Speiden Island -- and what a good choice, thanks to Capt. Monte! Not only did we escape the fog, but we found many of the Southern Resident killer whales out by Turn Point, and had particularly close encounters with members of K and L Pods! We had K14 Lea, K26 Lobo, K36 Yoda and other K pod members, and L53 Lulu, L72 Racer with several other L pod family members, spread out over a large area. There were many oohs and ahhs while we were with the whales, evidence that folks were having a good time and were in great appreciation of the chance to view the whales as they came to the surface for a fresh breath of air! We spent quality time with them under beautiful sunny skies, and left them as they headed towards Swanson Channel. Lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise on our return trip. Another spectacular day aboard Mystic Sea!
~ Naturalists: Noel Larson and Jill Hein
Harbor Seal, photo credit: Jill Hein
L72 Racer, photo credit: Jill Hein
K26 Lobo, photo credit: Jill Hein
"The most memorable and exciting whale watching day ever!"
~ Leizel Grant has worked as a Naturalist and Deckhand for Mystic Sea Charters for 4 years. She was excited to say that today's experience on the water was as good as it gets, with the perfect combination of everything from sunshine and flat calm seas, to whales, whales, and MORE WHALES!
Captain Phillip chose one of the more scenic routes through the center of the San Juan Islands, stopping to see all kinds of wildlife along the way. He maneuvered the 100ft. Mystic Sea up close to Leo Reef where we got some great looks at a bunch of lazy little seals, soaking up the last of the summer sun. The "Rock Sausages", as Captain Phillip calls them, gave the passengers some good laughs as they squirmed their way up out of the water and onto the reef. We also saw a fantastic variety of birdlife and lots of marine mammals, including 2 Great Blue Heron and several Harbor Porpoise, rocketing themselves out of the water in unison!
After rounding the northern end of Lopez Island, we turned and cruised south to meet up with the Orcas. They were reportedly travelling very fast (8-10 knots), in Haro Straight, following the ebb tide past Lime Kiln Lighthouse and Eagle Point. We were all so excited to see a SUPERPOD heading our direction! It was perfect because the 'Black and Whites' were nice and spread out so no boats had to jockey for viewing space and we got our own private show for the entire afternoon!
J22 Oreo was most definitely the breaching star of the show, leaping out of the water several times right next to us and then surprising us all by swimming right under our bow! Then K14 Lea, our spy-hopping show-stopper, gave us one of the best views of her pearly-whites that we could ever hope for! She and K26 Lobo were doing some very active fishing along a tide line near Salmon Bank, and popped up in 2 slow motion spyhops, each time with huge salmon hanging out of her mouth! WOW! WOW! WOW!
Being with all three pods was exciting because the Southern Resident Orcas have been seen less frequently in the San Juan area this season than in other recent years. Researchers and whale-watchers alike, have been hoping the residents would not continue to stay out of reach, and today brought relief to that concern. In fact, as you may have gathered from reading about our day, it was a spectacular September show!
~ Naturalist Leizel Grant
Photo credits: Leizel Grant
Lunch with the whales!
We had a special salmon lunch for our private party onboard the Mystic Sea and topped it off with delicious Blackberry Cobbler and vanilla ice cream. Yum!
We started off with eerily-thick morning fog as we were heading out Guemes Channel and across Rosario Straight, but as soon as we entered Thatcher Pass the center of the San Juan Islands was clear as a bell! We cruised northwest up through Pole Pass and met with a large group of Biggs Transient whales on the northeast side of Johns Island. There were three groups - T136A, T137, and T185.
It was magical seeing the whales exhalations backlit in the sun against the dark rocks behind. It was also a very active show! The whales were circling and splashing near the rocky shore. We noticed some Harbor Seals hauled out, first on Ripple Island, then on Cactus Island, both of which seemed to be what the whales were looking for. They spyhopped and breached a couple of times showing their excitement for their full bellies.
Fantastic day all-around, great group of people onboard! They were from four different cities in China, and were clients of IQIYI.com, the 2nd biggest video website in China (like YouTube in the U.S). Everyone had a great time and enjoyed the nice warm weather.
Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Feature Creatures: Killer whales, Steller sea lions, and a mighty Minke!
"The salt filled air is stimulating my olfactory senses," declared one Mystic Sea Passenger as we cruised along, taking in yet another sun filled day. Following out a gentle ebb tide, the Mystic Sea topped out at 15 knots. Captain Kent took us between Castle Rock and Colville Island on the South end of Lopez Island, then took a wide swing out in to the open water.
Members of L-pod were milling offshore of San Juan Island at Middle Bank. The whales were traveling in tight formation with their matriarchal lineages. From the L-12 sub group we observed L-25, L-55, L-84, L-85 and L-86, L-89, L-94 Ocean Sun, Nugget, Nyssa, Mystery, Surprise, Solstice, and Calypso. Some of J pod and more Ls were north of us about 1/2 mile, but we decided to stay with the L-12s and enjoy their rhythmic breathing. We were rewarded when we saw two head-in-the-water cartwheels. Wow!! Even the naturalist nearly leaped off the top of the wheelhouse!
As we floated we watched a cute little harbor seal drifting on a mini seaweed island before abandoning it's water hammock.
We were not far from Cattle Point Light house, as we moved in the direction of Whale Rocks for some more great photo opportunities. We cruised by the Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks and actually the best part was seeing all them in the water. It was like they were playing water polo for Steller Sea Lions! Maybe 20-30 one-ton beasties that are brown, furry and full of growl and bark.
Captain Kent spotted and stopped the boat for a Minke whale on our way home, making for 2 types of whale sightings in one day! We traveled back long the shore of Lopez Island to seek out whatever wildlife we could find in Alleck, Hughes and McArdle Bays and behind Blind Island and Castle Island. Slowing down and getting super close, gave us all the rare opportunity to examine the glacial cut rocks and enjoy Captain Kent's great narration. Our last stop on the way back was at the historical Burrows Island Lighthouse.
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
Photo credits: Noel Larson
Check out a new photo album "WHALES!" that Beachwatchers Naturalist, Jill Hein just posted to our facebook page today . . .
Whales, close-enough to see the white baleen in their mouths! Wow!
Today we found our whales at the end of the day at Lawson's Reef, outside Deception Pass. We could clearly see the famous Deception Pass bridge and picturesque state park. During our whale encounter we saw parts of the minke's mouth; white baleen, two blow holes, and lots of good glimpses of them rolling as they came to the surface to breathe. We could hear and smell their breath, oh so mystical! There were even small bait fish making the water bubble at the surface. We stayed with the minkes as long as we could until the fog descended like a curtain, last call!
In case you didn't know, a day without Bigg's and Balcomb's transient and resident Orca or Killer whales can still be a glorious day in the San Juan Islands, truly. Why? Well, Mystic Sea rides 6 feet above the emerald green waters that surge through Puget Sound and these beautiful waters are teaming with life!
We were able to get very close to the sea life on Peapod Rock, and saw a camouflaged juvenile eagle, about 100 harbor seals, and thousands of red-neck phalarope. Evidence on the surface that the water below is thriving! We spent a lot of time traveling along the shores of Orcas Island and Lopez Island. Captain Monte took the boat through one of my many favorite places in the San Juan Islands, including the very scenic Peavine Pass. Along the Lopez shoreline we saw many slick, black cormorants roosting in the vertical rocky cliffs. We pondered how the sea birds kept their eggs from rolling off!
It is so awesome when we see things like salmon jumping and manned reef net towers. Floating in the tidal debris there were lion's mane jelly's, Fucus (rockweed), and bull whip kelp in Upright channel. We saw two things of military interest, one: the large green historic cannon behind the backstop at Odlin County park and two: a US coast guard cutter and accompanying zodiac addressing and interacting with motor vessels. So cool to check out their turrets binoculars.
The weather was sunny and flat calm, with places of thick fog down at the south end of Lopez and Cattle Point Light house.
Really Great Day! Looking forward to tomorrow too
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
With an early start on Friday, we traveled through the San Juan Islands in heavy fog, past Speiden Island with exotic animals in view, on to Stuart Island where the Superpod (J, K and L pods) were foraging. As we came around Turn Point we were in for a treat . . . out of the mist a big male headed towards our boat, he surfaced right beside us and then went UNDER the boat – WOW – L84 Nyssa gave us the best view of the day!! A little further to the west, the fog disappeared and we found members of all three pods. K-21 Cappuccino seemed to shadow us, and J-27 Blackberry was close by, J-28 Polaris with J44 Moby, and many many other whales – it was an incredibly beautiful afternoon and so GOOD to see so many of our Southern Resident population. Beachwatchers Naturalist, Jill Hein and Mystic Sea onboard naturalist, Noel Larson were able to identify several of the other whales that came close to the boat, including Mystery, Wavewalker, Marina, Moonlight, Cruiser, and a juvenile (either Midnight or Mystic, part of the L21 family). Lots of harbor seals and harbor porpoise were found on the return trip – nice to return to the dock in sunshine!
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist.
L84 Nyssa, photo credit: Jill Hein
Orca breach and spyhop photos, credit: Jill Hein
Splendid day aboard the Mystic Sea, with all 3 Resident Orca Pods, Sea Lions, Porpoise & more!
Joe and Barbara Eckert celebrated their 65th anniversary and Joe's Birthday aboard the Mystic Sea today. Congratulations to 65 years on September 4th!
It was an awesome day with the Southern Resident Orcas! Lots of breaches, spy hops, tail lobs and active fishing off San Juan Island.
Check out our Facebook page to view a short video of an Orca fishing...
L41 Mega, photo credit: Leizel Grant
We couldn't ask for any more . . . Beautiful, flat calm seas and afternoon sunshine, a FANTASTIC sighting of several Dall's Porpoise (with a baby too!) surfing our wake for at least 1/2 a mile in Rosario...
A jaw-dropping experience watching Biggs Transient Killer Whales feasting on Harbor Seals on Leo Reef . . . Whoahh!! And 20-30 Steller Sea Lions swimming all around our boat as they were munching on Salmon at Whale Rocks! We also saw a wonderful variety of birdlife, including a couple of Red Necked Phalarope and a Mew Gull (lucky to spot, as they are on their migration from Alaska to California).
Although there were many highlights of the day, the most exciting was seeing the Transient Orcas hunting. They moved from Thatcher Pass to Upright Head, stopping at Leo Reef for lunch. There were 8 whales from 2 different pods - the T185 pod and the T137 pod. They were circling the rocks as several Harbor Seals slid into the water (an unwise move on their part), and quickly became food for the big whales. It was amazing to see nature at its finest, and from such a close vantage point! Most definitely a memorable day for everyone onboard the Mystic Sea!
Steller Sea Lion having lunch, Photo credit: Dona Forney
Red Necked Phalarope, photo credit: Nicole Perkins
Steller Sea Lion just being cute! Photo credit: Nicole Perkins
Biggs Transient Killer Whale and baby, Photo credit: Nicole Perkins
Humpback and Minke Whales, plus 12 Steller Sea Lions!
Photo credit: Nicole Perkins
It was a beautiful day in the San Juan Islands and we saw a huge variety of wildlife! We started out our day with reports of a Humpback whale heading south, towards us in Rosario Straight. Because he was so close to Anacortes, it was not long before everyone was outside on the rails enjoying taking photos in the sunshine. The Humpback, who appeared to be a juvenile, was giving us some great looks at his tail fluke and was feeding along the shelf on the east side of Blakely Island. We stayed with him as he crossed Thatcher Pass and then joined up with him again on the other side of James Island, just a little further south along Lopez.
After that we headed south to find 3 Minke whales off of Iceberg Point and also saw several Harbor Porpoise, Harbor Seals, and best of all . . . 12 Steller Sea Lions around Whale Rocks! (see photo above) Today we saw a fantastic variety of birds including one Pacific Loon, an Osprey, a White Winged Scoter, a Bald Eagle, 2 Belted Kingfishers, 3 Greater Yellowlegs, 3 Red Necked Phalarope, and several Common Muir, Pelagic Cormorants, Heermans Gulls, Bonaparte Gulls, Western Gulls, and Pigeon Guillemot.
Transient Orcas up close today!
On this beautiful sunny day, we headed north up through Rosario Straight and found 5 or 6 Transient Orcas . . . they were about 5 miles north of Patos Island, up towards the coal docks and Point Roberts. They were moving really quickly, making about 7 knots, 'porpoising' or 'running'. One time we even saw a whole body out of the water, skimming across the surface! There were probably 4 females, one male, and a calf, all with very unique dorsal fins. On our way back we came down via the back side of Guemes Island. It was such a pretty cruise, passing Clark and Barnes Islands, and Sucia and Matia Islands, and we also got some great views of Mount Baker. We saw a few porpoises around the boat, but the best part was definitely seeing the Orcas up so close to the boat! We were just sitting in one place when the whales must have turned underwater and then they surfaced right in front of our bow! Everyone onboard the Mystic Sea was Ooooohing and Ahhhhing!
Transient Orca with baby, Photo credit: Vikki Fonteno
Dall's Porpoise, Minke whale, Transient Orcas, and 20 Steller Sea Lions!!! . . . all in perfect conditions!
On our way out to see the whales today, our Mystic Sea passengers were all treated to see a Dall's Porpoise!! It was an awesome sighting! On the south end of Lopez we also saw a Minke Whale and lots of Harbor Porpoise. We caught up with the Transient Orcas north of Hein Bank and identified a couple of the largest males of the group; T137 and T185 both have huge dorsal fins! We spent at least 45 minutes with the orcas, watching them as they were searching for food. It was sunny and flat calm, and it was overall just a spectacular day! There was one lucky little Harbor Seal who happened to surface near the meat-eating whales, but they had already turned and were swimming the other way. On our way back we stopped at Whale Rocks and saw 20 Steller Sea Lions! That is the largest group of those giants that we have seen since the springtime! Cheers to an AWESOME DAY FILLED WITH WILDLIFE!
We started off today with light rain, but ended with sunshine! Today we searched for Minke whales, and caught a couple of brief glimpses of one near Salmon Bank, but the hit of the day were the 12 Steller sea lions at Whale Rocks, along with many harbor seals, Harlequin ducks, Black Turn Stones, Glaucous-winged gulls, Heermann’s gulls, Common Muir, Cormorants, – AND a flock of Oystercatchers (at least 14) sitting on the rocks, what a treat! We added Belted Kingfishers, several bald eagles and harbor porpoises to the list of wildlife spotted today.
~ Jill Hein, naturalist
5 Transient Orcas, 2 Minke Whales, and 3 Steller Sea Lions!
This morning we had everyone on the boat early so we beelined it out to Victoria, BC, where a group of Transient Orcas, the T60 group, was reported to have been seen travelling east, up toward Oak Bay. It was the perfect day for it ~ we took advantage of the nice weather and calm conditions. On our way out there we saw a couple of Bald Eagles, several Harbor Porpoise and some Harbor Seals. We also saw two Minke whales and three Steller Sea Lions swimming off of Salmon Bank. The calm seas made for a very pleasurable cruise out west and we made it out to Victoria just in time for some action . . . there was a clump of Bull Kelp where one unlucky little Harbor Seal was taking refuge from a swirling sea of Killer Whales. We could see the little guy looking around, trying to anticipate the attack, when all of a sudden one whale lunged up on the kelp and tipped the seal off. Voila! Just like that, the whales had their lunch. Altogether we spent about an hour with the whales, watching them do multiple spy hops and tail lobs. We also saw quite a variety of birds including Marbled Murlets, Red-Necked Phalaropes, Glaucous winged gulls, Heerman Gulls, Bald Eagles, Pelagic Cormorants, Rhinocerous Auklets, Pigeon Guillemot, and a Great Blue Heron. What a great way to spend a day on the water!
Discovery Island Lighthouse off of Victoria, B.C.
Great Blue Heron & Transient Spy Hop, Photo credits: Leizel Grant
August 25 & 26
Mammal-eating Killer Whales, 2 days in a row!
Our last two trips took us through Thacher Pass and the San Juan Islands, all the way north (to Swanson Channel on Sunday, and to Presidents Channel on Monday), where we caught up with 8 Transient/Biggs killer whales. They were traveling fairly close together all day, with T037A mostly in the lead, and her two offspring, T037A1 and T037A2 always beside her, almost porpoising as she surfaced. Fun to watch! We had all six of the T037s, T034 and T034A. On Monday we were lucky enough to get on scene with the whales just in time to see them make a kill . . . they were splashing, breaching, spyhopping and doing forceful tail slaps all over the place, really close inshore to Waldron . . . oh boy, that was exciting!
The sea was calm both days in the San Juan Islands, with harbor porpoises on both sides of the boat, and many harbor seals hauled out on various rocky islands. We also saw an Osprey in Pole Pass and several of the exotic animals, including some Mongolian deer that inhabit Spieden Island. We never know for sure what we’re going to see, and our passengers were thrilled that we found those mammal eating killer whales!
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
Transient Orcas, including T03A2
Photo credits: Jill Hein
15 Transient Orcas with very playful, breaching calves!
Today we headed out through the middle of the islands and we were in Harney Channel watching Bald Eagles as we cruised along, when and all of a sudden Captain Monte spun the boat 180 degrees and headed south down through San Juan Channel, to try and catch up to 15 Transient Orcas that were reported to be about 5 miles southwest of Hein Bank. And yes, we got them!! Naturalist Noel Larson identified the T36s travelling with 3 generations of T37s. There were mostly females and juveniles, including Grandma T37 born in 1979, Mom T37a born in 1994, her 2nd offspring T37A2 born in 2009, and T37b, the younger sibling of T37A born in 1998. It was a very exciting day for all the passengers aboard the Mystic Sea, watching the calves play; they were breaching, porpoising, spyhopping and giving us a fantastic show! The scenery out in the open water was also interesting because over Victoria we were seeing a 'seawall', the optical illusion that can be seen over the water that looks like a fog bank or eroded cliffs if its on land - it looks like something solid, but its not. Today we also saw several Harbor Porpoises playing on the surface, and passed by Cattle Point and Burrows Island Lighthouses for some additional photo opportunities.
Photo credit: Tara Buehring
Steller Sea Lions, Minke Whales and a Tufted Puffin!
On yet another great day, Captain Monte took us through Thacher Pass, into the middle of the San Juan Islands. We continued out through San Juan Channel, passing many hauled out harbor seals en route to Whale Rocks, where we found at least four Steller sea lions. Continuing on to Salmon Bank, we found three Minke whales, lunge feeding, giving us a quick, but good look at their heads as they pursued their food. We then headed over the Smith and Minor Islands and found yet another Minke on the way. At Smith Island “eagle-eye” Noel spotted a Tufted Puffin! Wow, what a treat! Minor Island seems to have given up the only known ground-based eagle nest – given up to the many cormorants who have built their nests at the foot of the old tower. Lots of birds and harbor seals again. Another wonderful day aboard the Mystic Sea!
~Jill Hein, naturalist
Photo credits: Jill Hein
PARTY WITH THE TRANSIENT ORCAS!
Our trip today was AWESOME! We spent time watching a transient group of about 15 very active Biggs killer whales up near Stuart Island. Just as we passed Spieden and Battleship Islands Captain Monte slowed the Mystic Sea in the ripe tide to watch the whales forage and play. The black and whites were very active and playful and performed many spyhops, breeches and tail lobs. They maintained a pattern that was easy for us to follow; after diving deep three or four whales would breach and tail lob, stunning fish, herring, sand lance, and whatever other unlucky marine creatures happen to be in the way. They all looked like they were having a party out there!
Towards the end of our time with them, three or four whales took our stern and swam towards Haro Straight. The rest of the pods stayed along Stuart Island traveling north along the shore towards the Lighthouse.
Onboard Naturalist, Noel Larson identified the T-30, T-35, T-36 and T-37 pods.
The big male, T-30 born in 1986, has a huge dorsal fin! The Transient Orca females also have really cool dorsal fins that arc backwards into a sharp point.
Transient Orca photos, credit: Noel Larson
August 21, 2013
Breakfast, Lunch, and Whales!
Sunny San Juan private cruise today with a crab feed for lunch . . . our passengers started the morning out with fresh doughnuts and pastries, fruit salad, eggs, juice and of course, hot coffee from Starbucks.
After breakfast everyone flocked to the bow rails to enjoy the scenic cruise around the southern end of Lopez Island. We spotted Harbor Porpoise, Steller Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, a Belted Kingfisher, an Osprey, Pigeon Guillemot, Rhinocerous Auklet, and lots of Cormorants and gulls. On Blind Island we even saw three big Turkey Vultures feeding on the remnants of an unlucky baby seal. By lunchtime we had made it up to Open Bay on the northwest side of San Juan Island and turned to ride a fast tide south, following the shoreline. Everyone enjoyed fresh crab and chicken fettucini for lunch, with green salad, potato salad, and hot rolls.
Back at Salmon Bank we spent time watching 4 Minke whales lunge feeding and plowing through huge bait balls, scattering hundreds of birds into the air with each strike! On our way back up Rosario Straights we topped the perfect afternoon off with homemade blackberry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream. YUM!!
August 20, 2013
4 Minke Whales and 8 Enormous Steller Sea Lions!
Another beautiful sunny day on the Salish Sea . . . We started heading up the east side of Guemes Island under clear skies, watching several harbor porpoises along the way. We then turned and headed west through the incredibly scenic Peavine Pass, between Obstruction and Blakely Islands, then went south in San Juan Channel out towards Salmon Bank. Near Deadman's Island we found a Steller Sea Lion enjoying a feast of salmon, and six more Stellers hauled out on Whale Rocks. As we watched, a fifth Steller lumbered out of the water to join the other five. Down at Salmon Bank there were several Minke Whales, one of them was lunge feeding over and over, and the many birds were enjoying the fish feast the Minke was providing. Another Steller sea lion flirted with us – he kept on popping up almost dancing in the fast tide rip with the Minke whales! On our way back to port, we found many turkey vultures, more harbor porpoise, and a harbor seal welcomed us back to port. Another great wildlife viewing day aboard the Mystic Sea!
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
Photo credits: Jill Hein
August 19, 2013
5 Transient Orcas and a Minke!
It was a long but very enjoyable day on the water today . . . we took the scenic inner-island route and then turned south in Haro Straights towards Victoria. We finally caught up with 5 Transient Orca Whales swimming in the strong current around Discovery Island. We got some great looks at the big male and paralleled T30, T30A, T30B, T30B1 and T30C for about half an hour. The sea was so nice and calm as we angled up towards San Juan Island, which allowed us to stop for a Minke Whale off of Salmon Bank. Several little Harbor Porpoises were performing in the ferry wake as we returned to Anacortes, and we saw 3 bald eagles, one of which gave us a nice low fly by, just inches off the water!
Transients off Discovery, photo credit: Leizel Grant
August 18, 2013
All 3 Resident Orca pods!
There were a lot of whales off San Juan Island today, all three Southern Resident pods were back in town, spread out over a very wide area. Mystic Sea passengers caught up with some of the Lpod members south of Eagle Point, and were able to identify the L12s, including L41 Mega and L85 Mystery. Also L88 Wave Walker was with them, and quite a few others too far away for good ID photos. We found 3 Steller sea lions fishing near Cattle Point, and another big Steller at Whale Rocks. Harbor seals, harbor porpoise, and eagles rounded out another beautiful day in the Salish Sea.
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
Steller Sea Lion fishing off the rocks, photo credit: Jill Hein
Surfs Up!! Photo credit: Jill Hein
Baby spy hop, photo credit: Jill Hein
August 17, 2013
Breaching Orcas, Breaching Humpbacks, AND wine tasting aboard the Mystic Sea, WOW!
This morning we started our wildlife cruise by heading out through the middle of the islands and as we turned south at Upright Head we spotted 3 Bald Eagles. We took the scenic route down through San Juan Channel and out past Cattle Point Lighthouse. Then at Lime Kiln we visited with 5 of our fish-eating Orcas from the L53 Subpod. Naturalist Noel Larson identified L54 Ino, a female born in 1977, with her newest calf L117, and her son L100 Indigo, born in 1993. In addition there was L88 Wave Walker, a male born in 1990, and L84 Nyssa, another male born in 1990. L117 gave us quite a surprise and breached a couple of times, thank you little one!
After spending a nice amount of time watching the 'Black and Whites' forage and play, we crossed Haro Straights, where we had reports of two more whales. We found a mama and a juvenile out at Johnson Reef, off of Discovery Island. We were absolutely thrilled to witness one of the Humpbacks come flying completely out of the water in a mighty twisting breach! Holy Moly!!
We topped our day off with an evening wine tasting cruise and a lovely sunset. How can life in the Pacific Northwest possibly get any better!?!
Humpback photo credit: Jill Hein, Orca photo credit: Leizel Grant
August 16, 2013
All kinds of Feathers, Fur, and Fins today!
There were many highlights of our day . . .
An Osprey gave us a nice close fly-by on our way out Guemes Channel and soon after that we had Harbor Porpoises riding in our wake and we could actually see them through the wave! We also spent time with 3 Minke whales at the entrance to Deception Pass and then we drove under the BRIDGE! Oh yeah. Captain Monte pointed out a hole going deep into a cliff and told us about how it used to be a prison mine. That was really cool. Then we came back through Burrows Bay and between Allan and Burrows Island to get to the lighthouse.
The feathered and furry life around Colville Island was fantastic and out of the ordinary today. There were two turkey vultures camoflauged, the same color as the rocks, and there was still a fair amount of fog when we went by Swirl Rock, but an eagle sat atop! We saw several Harbor Seals and pups too, one of which was very brave indeed, sitting only 15 feet from the turkey vultures. 2 Kingfishers called out as they flew low and fast along the cliff of Castle Island. As we were returning to the marina we also saw a Red Phalarope, salmon jumping, and a fried egg jellyfish in the water. It was a very lovely day and we got to see whales and lots of other super cool coastal creatures. Plus, the sea was nice and calm!
Red Phalarope (above), photo credit: anonymous (google images)
Deception Pass Bridge, photo credit: Leizel Grant
August 15, 2013
Two resident Orca pods back in the San Juans!
Today we were excited to have both J and L pods back in our neighborhood. We spent the afternoon with 40-50 whales near Hannah Heights, on the southwest side of San Juan Island. It was calm and foggy, and there were whales everywhere, doing all kinds of acrobatics all around us. They did a lot of breaches and tail lobs and we even saw some mating action!
Of the dozens of whales, the ones we spent the most time with were J17 Princess Angelina, L25 Ocean Sun, L85 Mystery, J37 Mako, and J39 Hyska.
J37 Mako, fishing right next to our boat! Photo credit: Leizel Grant
August 14, 2013
Double Breaching Humpbacks!!
Wow! How can we ask for any more? This morning we headed southwest around the southern tip of Lopez Island and out past Hein bank to find two Humpbacks just off of Port Angeles . . . yes, it was definitely a long run, but sooooo worth it! They gave a fantastic show and every passenger onboard the Mystic Sea was in complete awe. Our jaws dropped as the pair of Humpbacks, 50 feet long and 40 Tons worth, came flying out of the water together in a huge burst of energy . . . Neither the Captain nor any of the crew had ever seen anything like it!!!!!
This amazing event came as such a surprise to all of us that we weren't ready with cameras, but here is a photo of a single HB breach from earlier this year... photo credit, Jill Hein
August 13, 2013
15 Transient Orcas!!
Everyone is dying to know . . . what was the whale watching scene on the Salish Sea?
Last night our Southern Residents Killer Whales left the neighborhood and went out to sea again. Fortunately though, two groups of Transient Killer Whales nudged their way into Mystic Sea's northern range. One group was off Discovery Island near Oakes Bay and the other transient pod was entering US waters near Active Pass, possibly heading south. So Captain Kyle decided to go for that northern group because it had more whales. Right off the bat, along Huckleberry Island we saw an eagle and two great blue heron perched in douglas fir trees. Really Cool!
When we reached our destination we were very thankful that it was a neap tidal cycle and the currents weren't running strong. The killer whales were restful and elusive, but we counted as many as 15 black and whites! There were calves, females and males, including T-100 and T-124. They changed directions several times and we could hear them breathing when they surfaced, which was absolutely magical! Our viewing time was well over and hour and it went by fast.
On the way home we slowed down and checked out a few sights like Patos Island Lighthouse and we observed harbor seals (with their quickly-growing pups) and cormorants at Parker reef just outside the kelp beds. Then as we approached Lawrence Point we spotted 4 eagles, two kingfishers and a river otter.
The trip was overall a long day, but the crew and the passengers made it fun. Today's wildlife sightings also included many playful harbor porpoise, a huge lion's mane jellyfish, and even a tiny little hooded nudibranch!
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
Transient Orcas above, Patos Island Lighthouse and Mount Baker below, Photo credits: Noel Larson
August 12, 2013
Dozens of breaches, tail lobs and spyhops from all 3 Resident Orca pods!
L25 Ocean Sun (above) estimated to be born in 1923, Photo credit: Leizel Grant
L41 Mega (below), swam right under our boat today! Photo credit: Jill Hein
"Awesome!!! Staff was extremely nice and helpful and had great knowledge of all the animals and area. Boat was clean and ran smooth, I get motion sickness easily and I was extremely surprised I didn't get sick all day. We had over 60 orcas swimming all around the boat! One even swam under us!!! Great experience! Captain even let my 6 yr old son steer the boat! Love love love these people and the trip was amazing. A+++++++" ~ Mystic Sea passenger, Andrea Pearman
Yes, Andrea is right, it was a great experience to see such a big orca in such close proximity! We were enjoying our sunny afternoon, drifting quietly with our engines shut off, listening to the blows and watching members from all three of our resident pods put on a great show . . . with dozens of breaches, tail lobs and spyhops . . . when all of a sudden a HUGE orca turned and swam right towards us and under the boat! WOW!!
We also were happy to see Steller Sea Lions and Harbor Seals really close too! We had yet another perfect day onboard the Mystic Sea.
~ Naturalist Leizel Grant
Breaking news on Sunday morning, the Superpod (J, K and L pods) had returned to the Salish Sea - wow! We headed out towards a small group north-east of Patos Island – thought to be part of J-pod – but it turned out they were the L12s and L22s – what a treat. Mystic Sea passengers were thrilled when Solstice (L89) and Spirit (L22) ‘exploded’ to the surface right beside the boat, there were screams of surprise and delight! Another amazing day out there …..
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
L89 Solstice and L22 Spirit (above), L89 (below). Photo credits: Jill Hein
L22 Spirit (below) photo credit: Jill Hein
What a great surprise!
We could see Mount Baker as we left the marina and we didn't have any fog today! It rained in the morning, but by the time we left the dock it was done raining for the day. The temperature was warm 65-70 degrees.
As we slipped behind Castle Rock, a male Belted Kingfisher flew across our bow.
Excuse me Mr. Bald Eagle! At Blind Island there was a mature bald eagle scavenging on a dead harbor seal pup. The seal had been dead for a few days. We got some awesome photos! 30 feet away were three living, chubby, fuzzy harbor seals pups escorted by two adult females. One female in the water and one lady with the pups on the rock. Looks like they are laying on a bed of barnacles and seaweed. Ouch!
Nice female Minke whale at Salmon Bank made lots of rolls. Her feeding pattern followed in the rip tide forming off cattle point San Juan channel. We had just passed a lively, splashing bird pile of gulls and auklets. There had to have been tons of food in the upwelling waters at the bank. The waters were boiling and swirling.
The Orcas whales did a really cool thing; a BIG male either L-57 Faith or L-79 Skana surfaced then rolled over showing both pectoral fins, exposed his white underside, and then flung up his tail. It was big tail, and all white and black, flimsy like licorice. Our time watching the whales seemed to go by really fast, but the clock told us it was an hour. The other boats were just as entertaining to watch.
Also, the Stellar SeaLion numbers at Whale Rocks is growing. The males are returning early this year from the Bering Sea beyond Alaska. So far the count is five. When we arrived there was a dive boat with two divers in the boat, on the NW corner of the rocks. One sealion napping in the sunshine on the south tip. Were there divers in the water with FOUR, ONE TON sealions? Can you imagine?!!!
~ Naturalist, Noel Larson
Our first wildlife of the day was a mink darting in and out of the water, right at the dock - how cool is that? We pushed through fairly heavy fog across Rosario Strait, and broke loose by Lopez Island – not too far from 6 members of L-pod, the L54s (L54, L100, L108 and L117) who were hugging the shoreline, and L84 Nyssa and L88 Wave Walker who were fishing further out. What a treat! Sadly, Nyssa and Wave Walker have no close living relatives, but seem to be tagging along with the L54s which is great news. We had some really good viewing of the whales, then headed towards Whale Rocks to see Steller sea lions, harbor seals, harbor porpoise, and on the way back home found a Minke whale! Another “WOW” day for passengers aboard Mystic Sea.
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
Minke (above) and Steller Sea Lion (below) Photo credits: Jill Hein
L108Coho and L88 Wave Walker (below) Photo credits: Jill Hein
August 8 Orcas lunging and tail lobbing!
It is so thrilling to be back amongst Orca Whales! We had our work cut out for us though . . .
The sea swelled, becoming rough on an ebb tide and at noon the current switched to a flood. The Mystic Sea topped off at 16.6 knots on the ride out in the morning past Blind Island. Harbor seals greeted us as we quietly scanned their rocky perch. Over at Hughes Bay we spotted two young bucks with antlers just left of a mature eagle and after just a bit we watched the eagle fly gracefully away.
Photo credit: Jill Hein
Our species list for the day includes Orcas ~ active L-pod members, harbor seals, black tail deer 2 males with antlers, harbor porpoises, ochre seastars, bald eagles, gulls, rhinocerous auklets, pigeon guillemot, and last but not least, turkey buzzards. Today was a truly marvelous day and all of the passengers were having so much fun. Naturalist Noel Larson estimates that there were 6-8 whales, a sub group of L-Pod. The salmon where jumping and we saw 2 King salmon swim under the boat! The orcas jumped, lunged, and swung their tails around out of the water. The sight of such and event is truly fantastic. We identified L-54 Ino (the only one left in her family group), L-87 Onyx, L100 Indigo, L108 Coho, and L-79 Skana and L22 Spirit, among other females. There was at least one salmon-colored calf in the mix of 3-4 mature females and 2-3 mature males. Their saddle patches were very distinct in the good lighting today.
We crossed Inner Passage north of Salmon Bank, passing right next to the Cattle Point Light house, on our way to Whale Rocks. By that time, the tide had switched full force and the flood waters were forming 4 foot waves around the southern tip of Whale Rock. No Steller Sea Lions today but we were lucky to see at least 50 harbor seals, half of them in the water the other half hauled out on the warm rocks.
Great day all in all ~ we are looking forward to a good weekend!
~ Naturalist Noel Larson
OUR SOUTHERN RESIDENT ORCAS CAME BACK TODAY . . .
COHO GAVE US THREE BREACHES IN A ROW!
This morning our wildlife cruise took us through the center of the islands and out west of San Juan Island, between Lime Kiln Lighthouse and Cattle Point Lighthouse. It was really foggy at first but it quickly cleared and turned out to be a gorgeous day as we cruised through the scenic channels. We were so happy to find a group of Southern Resident Orca Whales foraging out at False Bay! We saw L84 Nyssa, the only surviving member of his family group, L88 Wave Walker, L100 Indigo, L108 Coho, and probably even L79 Skana (but we didn't get a photo ID on him and he wasn't with Spirit and Solstice, his brother and mother, whom he usally travels with). We also saw several L pod females tail lobbing, breaching, foraging and swimming with them, making for almost a dozen Orcas!! After saying goodbye to the whales we headed back a different route, stopping at Castle Island, eventually circumnavigating Lopez Island. Throughout the day we saw a variety of other wildlife including a Tufted Puffin, baby Harbor Seals, and a Bald Eagle gave us a nice show, gliding gracefully right in front of the boat! We had a fantastic group of people onboard the Mystic Sea and a great day overall!
August 5 & 6
More Minkes lunge feeding at Waldron! A super close Bald Eagle swoop off of Willow Island, lots of Harbor Seal pups laying out in the sun with their mothers on reefs throughout the San Juans, and great Porpoise shows in Presidents Channel! . . . not to mention our fantastic calm seas and 85 degree days . . . yup, we are loving it out there!
Photo credit: Jill Hein
Another “Steller Minke” day aboard the Mystic Sea. On super calm seas, we watched 3-4 Minke whales show their stuff, near both Salmon Bank and Hein Bank. We found Steller sea lions near Whale rocks, and again in Rosario Strait, what a nice surprise. Harbor porpoises, harbor seals, Bald Eagles, rounded out the day, with many seabirds who have returned to the area after breeding season. A great day!
~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
Calm seas and mild weather welcomed us into August. One morning this week we had our first rain in over a month! Our Minke whales seem more active this year than ever before, and we have also seen Steller Sea Lions scattered throughout the season, which is very unusual! Normally those guys are here in the spring for a few weeks but then they leave and go up to Alaska for the whole summer. They usually only come back in September, returning to Whale Rocks to feed and bask in the autumn sunshine for a few weeks. We have been lucky to see a couple Stellers recently, swimming amongst the Bull Kelp and claiming space up on the warm rocks.
Steller Sea Lion & Cormorants, Photo credit: Judy & Lyle
The air most definitely carries a mid-summer feel . . . the islands are beautiful and velvety-looking with blond grass waving in the afternoon breeze, and the teal colored waters swirling below hide dinner for huge flocks of Rhinocerous Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Muirs, Pelagic Cormorants, and even the odd Belted Kingfisher and Tufted Puffin. The once-tiny Bald Eagle fledglings that we have been keeping a keen eye on have quickly trippled in size, and most of the Harbor Seal mothers are already teaching their pups how to fish. Mount Baker has lost most of her seasonal snow cover, leaving only the big crevass-filled glaciers to cover her shoulders. Ahhhh.....August, what a wonderful time of year to explore the San Juan Islands!
July 31, 2013
Two big Bald Eagles perched in a tree on Broken Point, Shaw Island, gazed over us as we cruised by. We headed up through Pole Pass, which was named after the system that the Native Americans used to trap low flying birds; they used to set up two tall poles on either side of the pass and then tie nets spanning the narrow waterway to catch dinner. We also saw three more Bald Eagles perched in snags on the north side of Spieden Island and one more on Cactus Island. After that scenic little detour we cruised across open water to Waldron Island where we found our whales. We spent an enjoyable sunny afternoon in calm waters watching two Minke whales feed in the convergence area northeast of Waldron. It was sure a relaxing day on the water today!
July 30, 2013
This morning we got a report from one of our fellow whale watching boats, the Victoria Clipper, that there was a Humpback southwest of Hein Bank. Thank goodness for that report, because Anacortes still had really dense fog that would have made the search a lot more difficult.
We were very lucky to be on scene with the Humpback Whale for almost an hour completely by ourselves! No other boats were anywhere around due to the thick fog, which made for such an eerie feeling on the water! Visibility was down to less than a mile, but that didn't hinder our show at all . . . Mystic Sea passengers had a great time, hot cocoa in hand, watching the Humpback feed in 300-400 feet of water. Captain Kyle was timed the many surfacings to be at about 3 1/2 minute intervals. The whale would surface over and over again, showing us his HUGE arched back and GIANT tail flukes! It is amazing to think that Humpbacks get up to 50 feet long and weigh about 80,000 pounds! WOW!!
Once we came back in towards the south end of Lopez Island the fog had lifted, giving way to gorgeous sunny blue skies, just in time for us to see a huge Bald Eagle perched on top of Swirl Rock. The rocks below were teeming with wildlife; we saw 2 Oystercatchers, 2 Harlequin Ducks, several Cormorants, one Belted Kingfisher, and dozens of Glaucous Winged Gulls, amongst several little families of Harbor Seals and their adorable little pups.
Photo credits: Leizel Grant
Midsummer Minkes and Surprise Stellers!
Weekend highlights: We have seen Minke whales up so close we could see their tail fins through the water and we also had a pair of large females lunge feeding and surfacing in unison!
Believe it or not . . . we have our Steller Sea Lions coming back into the area already! We saw three swimming in the swirling waters off of Whale Rocks, heads and noses just above the surface, scouting for their next meal.
In addition, we have seen so many adorable little Harbor Seal pups squirming around and sunbathing at their mamas' sides, lots of seabirds gathered in large flocks feeding on bait fish, several Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Blue Herons, and even a Tufted Puffin!
Mighty Mouth! ~ Minke whale and gulls feeding
Surprise! Steller Sea Lions in the middle of summer, wow!
Photo credits: Jill Hein
July 26, 2013
We had a beautifully clear day today, and passengers aboard the Mystic Sea were treated to amazing wildlife viewing - harbor porpoise, a fledgling Bald eagle with parent nearby, baby gull chicks, many harbor seals with pups, three Steller sea lions, and amazing seabird frenzies while watching five Minke whales feeding at Hein Bank. Check out the different shapes of dorsal fins on some of the Minke photos. Thanks to Captain Monte and Noel for such a great day.
~ Jill Hein, volunteer naturalist
Different dorsal fins of Minke Whales, Photo credits: Jill Hein
Wonderful week on the water!
We have had some fantastic sunny days this week ~ starting out with fog in the mornings (typical for this time of year), and soon clearing to perfectly blue skies . . . revealing the spectacular San Juan Islands and bountiful wildlife.
In addition to visiting with T20 and T21, two Transient Orca Whales feeding and playing together on the southwest side of the islands, we have seen tons of other wildlife; dozens of Harbor Porpoises put on some great circus-like shows, lots of Harbor Seals basking in the sun with their little pups, herds of Gazelle grazing peacefully, Bald Eagles circling off the bow and fishing right in front of us, and bait balls swarming with gulls, cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, and Rhinoceros Auklets in complete feeding frenzies!
Burrows Island Lighthouse, photo credit: Leizel Grant
Monday, July 22, 2013
TRANSIENT ORCAS & A FANTASTIC DAY ON THE WATER! One of our first wildlife stops of the day was at Pointer Island, where we saw several dozen sleek little Harbor Seal pups basking in the warm sun next to their mothers. We also slowed down at Armitage Island to take photos of a big Bald Eagle perched in a silver snag, towering high above a beautiful grove of red-barked Madrona trees. So picturesque! That just set off a string of Bald Eagle sightings . . . one on Blakely Island, two on Willow Island, one on Upright Head on Lopez Island, and three more in Aleck and Hughes Bay on the south end of Lopez. Wow, lots of Eagles today!
The highlight of the day was most definitely our whale show. We started off with just one Minke Whale milling around Salmon Bank and then a call came in from Olympus, another whale watching boat in the fleet. They were excited to share that they had found a group of Transient whales just a couple of miles south of us, so we beelined it for the meat-eating Orcas. Soon after we got on scene we were all surprised to have 6 whales turn from their course and start swimming right towards us! By the time we saw them it was already too late to get out of their way, so we just shut down and drifted like a log as we watched them swim right underneath us!! Everyone onboard was in awe, and we could barely get our cameras out in time! We continued to have a good show as we followed them north towards San Juan Channel, and finally said good bye as they passed Whale Rocks.
Transient Orcas, Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Transient Spyhop, Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Sunday, July 21, 2013
The marine fog kept us wondering about visibility as we headed towards the San Juan Islands, but once arriving in paradise, the sun won! We found Biggs/Transient killer whales at the northwest end by Stuart Island Light House. One of the biggest males we identified was T30 - his dorsal was HUGE! It was neat to watch them as they made big circles around our boat, first staying close to shore until Prevost Harbor, then making their way north towards Canada. Passengers aboard the Mystic Sea had great photo ops as the whales traveled between rip-tides and calm waters. They were heading towards South Pender Island when we left them. It was super calm all day, not a ripple on the water ~ perfect day overall!
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Our route today took us through Thatcher Pass, Harney Channel, and Pole Pass, then up past Spieden and Battleship islands. We met up with most of J Pod and some L pod members travelling southbound very fast (12-13 knots!!). They darted around chasing salmon, eating and fleeting, spread out nearshore and inshore. They ate their way past Kellet Bluff and Henry Island and then went in through Mosquito Pass. We also saw Bald Eagles along the shoreline of Shaw Island and saw lots of Harbor Seals and their adorable little pups along the way both directions.
Sandra Pollard Snowberger was our volunteer naturalist. She identified Hyshka or Hysqa J-37 and her offspring, J-49. Also, we most likely had L-22, L-79, L-89, and Onyx L-87 mixed in with J pod.
Everyone had a lot of fun and handled the seas well; there were 10-15 knots winds on the west side San Juan Island. You know it is windy when sailboats are SAILING!
Friday, July 19, 2013
This morning we headed north and caught up with L pod and K pod just past Patos Island. We came around the corner at Turn Point Lighthouse and it seems like all those whale were just waiting for us - two pods, somewhere between 40 and 60 whales! We saw LOTS OF BREACHES, TONS OF JUMPING AND PLAYING, SO EXCITING TO SEE ALL THE ACTION AND SUCH A LARGE NUMBER OF WHALES! There was a strong riptide with the flood tide coming in, and the water was going around Patos Island causing two big long rips and the whales were cruising around there looking for food. We had the L4 family, including L92 Cruiser, L55 Nugget, L86, and L82 Surprise. Everyone had a great time today and on the way back we saw porpoises and harbor seals and it was a really sunny, nice day out!
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Transients T-39 and T-34 were identified among the group of about 10 whales swimming closely together in Haro Straights. They came close to the boat a couple of times and gave us an impressive show, darting this way and that. The whales rode in the large rip tide as the current finished out the flood cycle.
The young one in the group surfaced way out of the water every time it came up to breathe, showing it's tail a couple times! Good day all in all ~ we had Eagles, Seals, and Porpoises, and wonderful weather to boot!
Transient Killer Whales, Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Wow!! Incredibly unique day aboard the Mystic Sea . . .
Another amazing day aboard the Mystic Sea! Not too often does an event such as yesterday’s happen in our area – our passengers were so lucky to watch several Biggs/Transient killer whales (T037A’s and B’s) feasting on what is presumed to be the remains of a Minke whale, killed earlier in the day. No scraps to be seen on the surface, no deep dives, just a lot of back and forth surface action, with shallow dives. The whales had been in the same area for several hours before we arrived, and still there when we left. Hmmm, I wonder which of our “resident” Minke whales is no longer with us….
~ Jill Hein, volunteer Naturalist
T37A's and B's, Photo credits: Jill Hein
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Orcas and Minke Whales again!
We had beautiful weather today and again, two kinds of whales. The mother, Spirit L22, and her two sons, L79 Skana and L89 Solstice were feeding in big circles off of False Bay heading towards Salmon Bank. We saw a couple of spyhops, several big tail slaps, and tons of Salmon jumping high out of the calm waters. We also saw two Minke Whales heading south in the tide line, two mature Bald Eagles at the southern end of Lopez, and lots of Rhinocerous Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, and even some Marbled Murrelet sitting in little clusters on the water. On our way back north in Rosario Straights we had a fantastic sighting of 5 Harbor Porpoise speeding around, splashing and fishing in a tight circle. It was another fun and peaceful day aboard the Mystic Sea.
100 ft. Mystic Sea with Orca, Photo credit: James Gresham
Monday, July 15, 2013
Orca and Minke Whales playing together!
....And dozens of Harbor Seals with their brand new pups!
Today was one of the warmest days of the summer and the seas were nice and calm. Our route took us down Rosario Straights, around the southern end of Lopez, and out to the west side of San Juan Island. We found the L22 family again; they were feeding, throwing huge tail lobs, and splashing all around! Just about when we were going to leave to check out some other wildlife, we spotted two Minke whales...swimming right towards the Orcas....what?? So of course we had to stick around to see what they were doing together. It almost looked like they were playing in the tide line as they were heading southwest out towards the Straights. Soon after that unique little show we cruised over to Whale Rocks and saw probably 120 Harbor Seals! There were at least 30 brand new little pups, so cute as they poked their tiny noses up through the kelp and then sprawled themselves out in the warm sun. Perfect day in the San Juan Islands!
Orca splash! Photo credit: Jill Hein
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Another perfect day in the Salish Sea! Mystic Sea passengers were treated to Minke whale sightings throughout the day, and the L22’s of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. L22 Spirit and her two sons L79 Skana and L89 Solstice have been in the area for several days, hopefully the rest of L pod will be back soon to join them. Solstice traveled close to shore, but Spirit and Skana fished out further, to the delight of our guests. We’re barely into summer, and this year’s Bald “Eaglets” are about ready to fledge, many harbor seals have had their tiny pups, lots of Heermann’s Gulls have arrived, and Common Murres are showing up again. It’s always worth checking out the “bait-balls” to see which birds are vying for a tasty morsel. When returning to Anacortes we passed the schooner “Adventuress” under full sail, what a beautiful sight. ~ Jill Hein, Naturalist
Saturday, July 13, 2013
The L22's, Spirit (L22) and her sons Skana (L79) and Solstice (L89) maintained a serene pace as they took part in the 'west side shuffle' off San Juan Island today. Skana stayed close to his mother while Solstice foraged a little further inshore. As "Mystic Sea" left the tranquil scene Solstice joined his mother and brother, and all three whales traveled northbound in harmony. Lots of boats present, also Soundwatch was busy educating boaters and WDFW was keeping a watchful eye. Three Minke whales made fleeting appearances off Salmon Bank as we headed homeward, so we had a mixture of baleen and toothed whales today. Then there were the Pacific Harbor seals, harbor porpoise and eagles - just another perfect day in the Pacific Northwest. ~ Sandra Pollard, Naturalist (SSAMN)
L79, Photo credit: Jill Hein
Friday, July 12, 2013
So far this summer, today was the most amazing and spectacular day of whale watching!! From the boat we could see so many whales and were able to join them right away in Rosario Straights!
We first cruised with Granny J-2, and her family. Naturalist Noel Larson was able to ID several out of that group of 15 or so; J-14 Samish, J-37, J-30, J-40, J-8 and L-87 Onyx (mature females, two males and a calf).
Then we sped up and went around Colville Island to look at seals before continuing on to Iceberg Point, where we met the rest of J pod. They had shorter more curved dorsal fins and were a little further offshore from us so they were hard to ID. One of them was most likely Tahoma or Echo. They were super active, doing cartwheels, and two breaches back to back, and their tails were out of the water a lot.
Before we went out to find Granny’s group again we slid along John’s Point and also checked out Richardson’s Fuel tanks on Lopez. We went through the narrow passage between Charles Island and Lopez. Behind the rock breakwater was a salt water swimming pool and we talked about the old salmon canneries and the days-gone-by of the smuggling era, and what this area might have been like 100 years ago.
Later in the afternoon we saw Pelagic Cormorants, lots of gulls, and more Harbor Seals all basking in the sun on Whale Rocks. Then as we left Salmon Bank and headed southwest we had a wonderful time drifting in a riptide and watching Solstice L-89 dive under the boat. It was so cool to see the whales down through the water....almost better than seeing them jump out of the water! We saw Harbor Porpoises and more Bald Eagles, but the Killer Whales put on a killer show and stole the show!
All told, we had two and a half solid hours of OCRA Whales!! Wow!!
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Today was a great to see whales in large numbers!
The water in the marina was very clear and it was beautiful with the sunlight shining through the water. Our journey on the Mystic Sea took us through the middle of the San Juan Islands. We spotted a Bald Eagle in a tree at Upright Head as we turned to head south to Cattle and Pile Point. Down there we saw about 50 whales! We had all of J and K pods and some L pod members too; L-22, L-79 and L-89 were all showing a mix of spy hops and breaches, and we even got to see a couple of tail slaps from calves! It was most definitely a family affair. Then a group of 4-5 branched offshore and came right behind the boat. Everyone loved it!
After an awesome show we went back along the south end of Lopez. We stopped at Whale Rocks and visited a nice big Stellar Sea Lion. There were the two eagles at Hughes Bay; one sitting on the rocks and the other in a tree near a large nest in the yoke of a tree. One of the best parts of the day (aside from so many Orcas of course!), was seeing BABY Harbor seals, Awe. Captain Monte found two adults and a fuzzy dry pup on Blind rock. Right after that we also saw a mother and pup at Castle Island and he was still so young it looked like the little guy could barely swim.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
ALL THREE SOUTHERN RESIDENT ORCA PODS . . .
INCLUDING 103 YEAR OLD GRANNY!!After making our way up through the center of the San Juan Islands (in order to stay out of the wind and rough seas that were down south), we met up with members from all three Southern Resident Orca pods! We spent most of our time watching J pod forage between Battleship Island and the picturesque Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island. We were able to ID Blackberry and Doublestuf, surfacing with 10-15 other orcas all at once! It was awesome to see so many dorsal fins and blows all at the same time! After a while we moved a little further south and spotted Granny! She is estimated to be 103 years old this year and still looks just as healthy as ever. We also saw Spieden and Onyx, and several members from K pod, including Lobo, one of the bigger males. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, and we saw lots of wildlife in addition to the whales.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
J and K pods are back in the area and they are as playful as ever! Our wildlife viewing started immediately today when we an adorable little Mink with a fish in his mouth, an Osprey, 2 Great Blue Herons and a couple of Bald Eagles all in the Cap Sante area! On our way north towards Canada we saw several Harbor Porpoise and a couple of seals too. Then up around Alden Bank we saw 4 tight groups of Orcas heading towards us. Captain Kyle stopped the boat so we could decifer where they were headed and then all of a sudden 6 J pod members came up about 200 yards off of our port side...then not a minute later 3 more from K pod on our starboard side, and more up ahead and off in the distance too! They were breaching, doing huge tail lobs and making giant splashes! After spending a good hour with them, watching them play and feed in the warm afternoon sunshine, we tried to leave the scene to head back to Anacortes but it took us a while to navigate safely away from all the whales spread in every direction. On our way back we passed by Lummi Rocks and got a good look at 3 mature Harbor Seals with their 2 tiny little pups basking on the rocks nearby. What an awesome day!
(Lots of cool photos coming this evening... keep posted!)
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Orcas and Minkes again today! We found our whales on the west side San Juan Island, off of Eagle Point and south of Salmon bank.
Skana (on the left) with his mother, Spirit, Photo credit: Jill Hein
The female L-22 Spirit (born around 1970) is part of a very active family consisting of her two offspring Skana (L-79) and Solstice (L-89), and their younger brother Onyx L-87. According to some interesting information that the Whale Museum offers, Skana means "killer demon" or "supernatural power" in the language of the Haida tribe of the Northwest coast of British Columbia; they also use the word to mean "killer whale". This little family sticks together and seems to be very playful with each other. We saw two tail slaps from the orcas and enjoyed watching them zig zag while fishing. As we pulled up to the Minkes the first time, we got an awesome look as one stuck it's mouth completely out of the water while feeding!
We had a lot of Washington locals onboard, as well as a few people from afar. One adorable little boy on the boat asked the Naturalist, Noel, why the sea was green. She told him little plants in the water made the sea green ~ Emerald Sea, Salish Sea, plankton soup. Ahhhh, the joys of sharing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest!
Bald Eagle photo credit: Naturalist Jill Hein
Saturday, July 6, 2013
During this past week we have been watching Spirit L22, the mom of Solstice L89, and Skana L79, born 1989 and 1993. Today was unique though, with volunteer Naturalist Jill Hein onboard and fun several highlights . . . our first wildlife stop was for FIVE Bald Eagles on Swirl Rock and lots of Harbor Seals resting in the sun.
When we arrived on scene with the whales Spirit was spy hopping (three times!) and made a huge splash as she did a tail flip. It was a foraging, feeding frenzy! They were riding and milling around in the rip current created by the flood tide. We spent about half an hour between Eagle Point, False Bay and Pile Point.
Then just south of Salmon Bank we found Minke Whales! There were about three or four zipping around and chasing forage fish bait balls. Sand Lance, Surf Smelt, and Pacific Herring. Yum.
As we turned the boat back towards home we checked out 2 Steller Sea Lions on Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass. One was sitting up watching us go by, perched on the south end of the outside rocks. His buddy was sleeping around the corner. Captain Monte got us nice and close and the boat rolled and pitched in the water sweeping over Whale Rocks. That was fun! The kids particularly enjoyed that part of the day, noticing that the sea lions' bodies are as big as two cows and golden brown like a lion. We definitely found some good action today and the sea state was calm with little ripples, 5 mph wind SE.
Steller Sea Lion, photo credit: Jill Hein
Friday July 5, 2013
Orcas, Minke Whales and Sea Lions too! Plus Belted Kingfishers, Bald Eagles, and Harbor Seals...
This morning we started our day by cruising past Burrows Island Lighthouse on our way to the southern end of Lopez Island. We got word from our fleet of whale boats that the same three Orcas we had seen yesterday were still off of the southwest side of San Juan, so we headed that way. Sure enough, we met up with Spirit L22 (mother of the two other males), Skana L79, and Solstice L89. They were feeding in the rip tide and we got to see some great tail lobs and some cool porpoising action as they sped across the surface of the water! Before turning back east towards port, we took a gander down south and were lucky to find some Minke Whales too! Then as a perfect cap to the beautiful warm day on the water we saw 4 California Sea Lions on Colville Island.... the month of July is most definitely treating us right!
July 3 & 4, 2013 Orcas, Sea Lions & Eagles!
Happy Independence Day!
Over the last two days our seas have calmed down and the weather just keeps getting warmer ~ perfect conditions to enjoy Independence Day on the water! We travelled down Rosario Straights and saw two Steller Sea Lions and lots of Harbor Seals on Colville Island, and then caught up with the Resident Orcas off of Eagle Point on the south side of San Juan Island. We visited with Spirit L22, Solstice L89, and Skana L79. At first they were really active, doing lots of tail lobs and spy hops, before they started fishing closer to shore. Then a bit later this afternoon Solstice came up so close to our boat that we could see the distinct black and white markings skimming just below the surface of the water. It was beautiful . . . we could hear the deep breaths and the water was outstandingly clear and green ~ surreal, almost like a painting!
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Wow! Resident and Transient Orcas in three seperate groups, all in one day! We had the fish-eaters, the L12s off of Eagle Point, feeding on Salmon on the southwest side of San Juan Island. The first group was off of Eagle Point and the second group was off of Salmon Bank. Then on Whale Rocks we got some good looks of 2 large Steller Sea Lions ~ amazingly still in the area, long after the majority of them left on their migration up to Alaska for the summer! Then after we made our way up through the middle of the islands we found the T137 pod and the T36A pod swimming in nice tight groups off of the east side of Blakely Island . . . and what an incredible show that turned out to be . . . all of a sudden the Transients changed their behavior drastically and began to hunt an unlucky Harbor Porpoise. Mystic Sea passengers witnessed everything from the first splash to the last, when the waters turned red from their afternoon meal. Many passengers got some amazing (and very graphic) photos of the event.
Mount Baker, clear as a bell today! Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Transient Orcas hunting a Harbor Porpoise, Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Steller Sea Lions here in July?!? Wow! Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Monday, July 1, 2013
What an awesome and adventurous day Orca show! From Middle Bank we travelled west with 3 Transient Orcas (about 5 miles south of Victoria), and got some amazing views of a family of 3 up super close! The seas were not calm - actually we had 3-5 ft wind waves - which was fine with us because the 100ft. Mystic Sea is an ocean-rated vessel and does really well in those conditions, but most other whale watching boats had to turn around before even getting to be with the whales for 5 minutes. We felt so lucky to be out there with only two other small Canadian boats for a good half hour and we had front row seats to a fast-paced exciting show!! Everyone onboard the Mystic Sea was outside enjoying the ride, taking great photos. Naturalist, Leizel Grant was able to ID the big bull as T72 by looking at the two notches out of his tall dorsal fin.
Photo credits: Leizel Grant
Spectacular weather for our last weekend in June!
We had 2 kinds of whales and birds galore
The mornings were foggy which cleared nicely, and by the afternoons we could see the Olympics, Mount Baker, Whitehorse, Three Fingers, and even Mount Ranier!
It also was very calm so we could see Harbor Seals, Porpoise, and multitudes of seabirds very well . . . we even saw a Marbled Murrelet amongst many others, including a beautiful Belted Kingfisher, a couple of Black Oystercatchers, several mature and immature Bald Eagles guarding their nests, a handful of Turkey Vultures hovering above Hughes Bay, dozens of Rhinoceros Auklets scattered in groups, and lots of Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, and Common Murres all around the whales. It was a fantastic, picture-perfect weekend for bird enthusiasts!
We found Minke whales in several different areas near Salmon Bank and around the Hein Bank traffic lanes. It was cool to watch the Minke whales feeding on the bait balls around Hein Bank.
Then on the west side of San Juan Island we found L pod Orcas travelling south along the shoreline, giving us quite a show with pec slaps and lots of big tail lobs! One of the whales we identified is named Ocean Sun . . . what a fitting name for such an amazing warm weekend on the water! We couldn't have asked for better wildlife viewing conditions!
Thursday, June 27, 2013
"What a bonus! A humpback whale (BCY324) near Bird Rocks, only 30 minutes from leaving Anacortes on "Mystic Sea". Passengers enjoyed hearing the powerful blows and seeing the flick of those magnificent tail flukes before they disappeared into the depths as the whale headed around the south end of Lopez."
~ Sandra Pollard, Beachwatchers Naturalist for Mystic Sea Charters
Large female Humpback, BCY324, Photo credits: James Gresham
Mystic Sea passengers got to see the two spots, one on each side off the tail, that helped us ID this large female Humpback as #324. We were with her from Colville Island until Iceberg Point, then we went over to Salmon Bank to look for Minke. No luck there, so we kept an eye on the boats with the Humpback and cruised back over for one more look.
After that we went over to Whale Rocks, Mummy Rocks and Deadmans Island. On the rocks we saw tons of Harbor Seals with their brand new little pups. Captain Monte Hughes took the boat in the narrow passage between Shark Reef Sanctuary and Deadman's Island before heading back to port. Everyone had a great day!
~ Mystic Sea Naturalist, Noel Larson
Harbor Seals, Photo credit: James Gresham
June 24 & 25, 2013 Minke Week!
This week we were lucky with our numerous Minke whale sightings and several hours of private shows with no other boats around. We even caught a couple that came close to our boat as they were lunge feeding! On Monday and Tuesday we had Minkes down south, in several different groups between Partridge Bank, Eastern Bank, and Salmon Bank. Some of our passengers got a first hand example of why we sometimes call them "Stinky Minkes", as we turned and happened to be downwind of them we were hit with a waft of their stinky breath!
Before leaving the dock though, we saw a seagull that had just caught a big eel. It was interesting to watch because the eel was too heavy for the seagull to pick up and fly off with, and it appeared that he started to get frustrated and then proceeded to squak at everyone that would listen. Then soon after we departed we saw a Kingfisher plummet at full speed into the water to catch a fish, and as we rounded the Cap Sante point we saw two Bald Eagles put on a fantastic swirling-dance in mid air right off our bow!
On our way south we saw about 80 Harbor Seals clustered together with their adorable little pups on Whale Rocks. We got several great close-up views of Rhinoceros Auklets and enjoyed flat, calm seas!
Rhinoceros Auklet, Photo credit: Jill Hein
Sunday, June 23, 2013
What an outstanding, super calm day with sunshine and whales. We spent time with several Minke whales off of Salmon Bank and it was remarkable how still the water was...we could clearly see our reflection, which made it a perfect wildlife-viewing day.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
Mystic Sea Charters hosted the Lopez Island Museum's Historical Tour today. We took passengers on a circumnavigation of Lopez while Captain Monte Hughes narrated, giving us insight into a wide variety of history; he told us about the natural and geogical history, as well as hundreds of years-worth of cultural history, including the fishing and farming industries. Monte also shared the history of the first families to settle on the island, and many generations-worth of his own family's history. One of the highlights of the day was hearing some of his and some other passengers' funny personal stories about their lives growing up on the island. It was a great day filled with laughter and learning! We started out in Shoal Bay Marina and headed west around Humphrey Head, then south into Lopez Sound, then around Watmough Head and Iceberg Point, before cruising north in San Juan Channel, enjoying warm sunshine and blue skies all day.
Lopez Island Chart Remnants of old powder mine
Absolutely beautiful day on Spencer Spit, Lopez Island
Friday, June 21, 2013
Happy Solticse, Summer is Here!
MEGA L41 leads the L12 Sub Pod for a very exciting day! It was sunny and calm on the west side of San Juan Island, and flat as a pancake . . . or bathtub. At first we were offshore of Eagle Point when we saw a large male and female. Photographs clearly caught a glimpse of Mega up close along the boat! The female L11 traveling with Mega L41, was easy to identify, as her distinct deep V-shaped saddlepatch and the a notch in her fin from where she and Mega were both been tagged was clearly visible. They were milling around in the seawater, swirls of mixing water from Straight of Juan De Fuce and Haro Straight. Super cool ~ everyone loved it!
After that we went further in shore, and kept our distance stationed between False Bay and Eagle Point. We witnessed three more smaller groups with some of them breaching! To the south there was a single mature female and two calves hanging together in the middle and at least one other male and female over by False Bay. After milling around for a bit the calves and females went back over towards the rear male and female to do some fishing which was cool to watch because there was a lot of splashing, porpoising, and there were lots of tails!
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The Mystic Sea got the show of the day! Today we went north all the way up to Saltspring Island, which is one of the Canadian Gulf Islands. It was a long trip but our whale show made every minute of the cruise worthwhile! On our way north we passed by Spieden Island, a.k.a. Safari Island, where we saw at least 20 Dall's Sheep resting peacefully beneath a scattering of trees. Then as we were heading up Harney Channel we saw 2 mature Bald Eagles perched in a tall Douglas Fir. We made it up into Fulford Harbor, near the British Columbia Ferry Terminal, and that is where we caught up to a large group of Transient Whales. They had swam into the harbor and most of the other whale watching boats followed them very closely, but Captain Monte Hughes decided to hang back a little way, so as not to crowd them.... well our patience and respect really paid off when they took a deep dive and must have turned underwater, because all of a sudden they came up right next to us! The other boats were all further inshore, but the Mystic Sea passengers were thrilled to have such a close encounter with these KILLER WHALES! Onboard naturalist, Noel Larson, was able to ID #'s 62, 63, and 65, amongst at least 10-15 others. On our way back we passed by the scenic Turn Point Lighthouse and shared photos with each other.
(Lots of photos to come soon!)
Monday, June 17, 2013
We had one of the very best days yet this season! We had veered away from the majority of L pod, after enjoying an amazing, lengthy whale show off of San Juan Island, when we had 3 female Orcas turn and follow us! They were porpoising in our stern wake! We kept trying to stay away from them but they continued to turn with each turn of ours, lunging and playing as they followed us all the way from Salmon Bank to Iceberg point! Then finally when we thought they had slacked off of our stern we paused to take a look at a Sea Lion in the water, when all of a sudden a 10 TONS OF WHALE CAME LAUNCHING OUT OF THE WATER IN A FULL BREACH, ONLY 20 FEET FROM OUR BOAT!! Captain Kent exclaimed, 'that was by far, the best show I have seen all year!' and Naturalist, Leizel, was absolutely stunned, saying that 'in 4 years of working with Mystic Sea Charters, I have never seen an Orca breach so close to the boat!' In addition to that, we also saw some very obvious mating going on and we lost count of breaches by the time we got to about 35 breaches!
Sunday, June 16, 2013
FANTASTIC FATHER'S DAY!
We encountered Transient/ Biggs whales super close to our home port of Anacortes today! They were in Griffin Bay, right in front of 4th of July Beach. Just beyond Cattle Point Lighthouse, we were able to ID T69 and T65 amongst a group of 7- 10 transients. At first they rolled and tail lobbed south along the beach. At Harbor Rock we came close to some seals on the rocks and there were also some seals in the kelp bed watching the whales. The pod swam along the shallow shore and off into the south end of San Juan Channel.
One very large female was fantastic . . . she spy hopped and did a HUGE tail wag up in the air. Most folks were lucky enough to get photos of breaches, spy hops and tail slaps. The Orcas did so much in the air, it was an awesome show! All of a sudden they picked up speed and two broke off the pod as the whales headed into the Straight Juan de Fuca.
Mount Baker and the Olympics were in view all day, thanks to perfectly clear skies and warm weather.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Bald eagles, seals, harbor porpoise, and at least 7 Transient/Biggs killer whales! Another great day aboard the Mystic Sea, with the whales being close to home port of Anacortes! The whales have been identified as the T-65s and T-75s – the photo is of T65A and her calf.
~ Jill Hein, volunteer naturalist on the Mystic Sea
Friday, June 14, 2013
TRANSIENT ORCA AND MINKE DAY . . . Another double-whale day! Today we found our first whale all the way inshore of Discovery Island, in Baynes Channel, BC. We also cruised out to Trial Island and were rewarded with a Transient Bull, T103. It was so cool to see that he must have been playing in a kelp bed because each time he would surface we would see more Bull Kelp wrapped in front of his big dorsal fin. Later in the day we saw our second type of whales; and adult Minke with a younger one nearby, feeding in the shallows of Salmon Bank. We covered 90-100 miles today to get whales, thank goodness it was so nice and calm and and as the day progressed it became nice and sunny too!
Thursday, June 13, 2013
TWO TYPES OF BALEEN WHALES! Six Eagles after whales, Whoa! The emerald seas revealed a young HUMPBACK whale with a solid black fluke to those of us lucky enough to be aboard the Mystic Sea. What a beautiful, sunny day in the eastern end of the Straights of Juan de Fuca. We saw TWO types of baleen whales today which was very impressive! After viewing the Humpback for a while Captain Phil Jensen took us over to a mystery Minke whale. It was moving quickly; bolting, zipping and scooting around in search of bait. In addition to the two types of whales, we saw several Bald Eagles, one of which was having lunch on an exposed intertidal rock near Swirl Island . . . the prey was white like fish or octopus. Near Bird Rocks in Rosario Straights we were also lucky to get a close look at a nice bunch of cormorants, harbor seals, and even a few harbor porpoise. It was a splendid day!
Monday, June 10, 2013
Double 'Stinky Minkes' and a big California Sea Lion! Well today we found out first hand why Minke Whales are sometimes called "Stinky Minkes"!! We had perfect weather . . . sunshine and calm seas . . . with a slight breeze off of Salmon Bank that brought the whales' aroma drifting towards us. Gotta love nature :) Another highlight of the day was seeing a big California Sea Lion at Whale Rocks, amongst hundreds of Harbor Seals all basking in the sun.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Rocking, Rolling Rip Tide: Today we saw J pod foraging for Chinook salmon along the steep shoreline of San Juan Island. A strong flood current created a raging rip tide. We had a great rear view of the orcas surfacing in swirling emerald waters. They would come up three or four times and then do a deep dive. We saw individuals and pairs all the way from Pile Point to Hannah Heights, passing Lime Kiln state park, a.k.a. whale watch park, along the way.
We would like to thank two returning guests Kimberly and Myron whose presence made the trip special, and Sandra Pollard-Snowberger, volunteer naturalist from the Washington State University beach watcher program for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm. The children on the boat today were superstars. Thanks to everyone that came for a cruise out into the Salish Sea today!
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Sunscreen Saturday! Reports of whales were coming in all morning on the repeater; J pod at Point Roberts, Lime Kiln, San Juan, and Whidbey Island and a whale watching vessel heading towards Active Pass. At the west end of Guemes Channel we experienced a 15 knot south wind late on the ebb tide, but when we arrived on scene with the whales we were happy to linger in the lee of San Juan Island.
We watched whales for about an hour traveling north in Haro Straight. Starting at Deadman's Bay J-41 Eclipse did 4 breaches in a row! It was marvelous to see three young calves flopping their tails all over the place. We enjoyed a stunning above-water show all the way up to Kellet Bluff where we left the whales rolling over a rocky reef, foraging for salmon. It was such a beautiful sight!
Overall we had a fantastic day filled with spy hops, rolling, and fin slaps from 40-50 whales. After observing these magnificent whales, we were able to look at our photos to help us identify some of them; J39, J-17 Princess Angelina, J-30, J-22 Oreo, J-42 Echo, and J-14 Samish. Amazingly enough L-87 Onyx was mixing it up with J pod. How out of the ordinary!
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Today was a great day in the San Juan Islands! We saw 4 orca whales, 25 harbor seals, 3 adult black tail deer with 2 spotted fawns, 1 Bald Eagle, 10 Turkey Buzzards, and we even had 5 minke whales to seal the deal! The Orcas were hanging out in the hoziontal bands of exposed interidal zone off of Hanna Heights near Eagle Point; 4 orcas swam against 3 knot current and flowed within the swirls of a ripe tide. The two males were most likely L92 Crusier and L85 Mystery, and they appeared to be looking out for the two female ocras that were inshore.
The day got really interesting when we were 2 miles from Cattle Point, and we had a memorable feeding frenzy display from 5 minke whales. We saw three break the surface at once and many double surfacings. One came so close that we saw both of it's blow holes! You don't see that everyday. You would look left, then right, and turns out there were minkes everywhere!
It was a beautiful clear day . . . Mount Baker greeted us right outside Cap Sante marina and continued to be in view all day, and the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainer (over 60 miles away) were also in view and looked so surreal!
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
What an AWESOME day we had!! One of the very best whale shows in years!!!
These photos will show far more than words could possibly say...J and L pods off San Juan Island, Photo credits: Leizel Grant
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
J pod bliss!
It was a picture-perfect, calm, sunny, day on the water...yet again! Thankfully June is bringing us some nice weather as well as lots of whales. We visited with most of the J pod whales this afternoon as they were milling, feeding and travelling between Salmon Bank and Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island. We had J27 Blackberry, J17 Princess Angeline (one of the whales in the movie "Free Willy"), J34 Doublestuff, J47 Notch, J32 Rhapsody, J42 Echo, J31, J46, J28, and J38. There's one that could have been Granny, but the photo is not quite clear enough to confirm. She is the oldest female and matriarch of the Southern Resident Community and fortunately she has just been seen in the immediate vicinity last week ~ she is now 103 years old!
Monday, June 3, 2013
Sunny and warm with calm seas, several Orca whales, 3 Minke whales, lots of Harbor Seals, a couple of Bald Eagles, and even 2 puffins! . . . what more could we hope for?!? It was a great day on the Mystic Sea! The highlight of the day was spending time with several of the L pod bulls, including L41 Mega, the biggest bull of the bunch. We also saw the young L119 and L25 Ocean Sun ~ how appropriate for the day, right? :) The whole time while we were watching Mega, he was just skimming the surface - no deep dives or anything - but rather it seemed that he was enjoying the warm water and sunshine right at the surface, which gave us a great show of his mighty dorsal fin! All the whales we spent time with today are part of the L12, a subgroup of Lpod. We are looking forward to another sunny day tomorrow.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Scenic San Juan Archipelago
Our route today took us around the south end of Lopez Island, past Iceberg Point and Cattle Point Lighthouse. We caught up with L pod at Kellet Bluff on Henry Island near Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. The whales were very close to the steep rocky shoreline of Henry Island and gave us a great show! They seemed to be trapping salmon or rockfish along the steep underwater wall. We even saw a young calf breach multiple times; showing it's tail and whole entire body as it came out of the water. Some lucky kayakers were at the shoreline of Henry Island and whales were surfacing all around them. We saw males, females and calves form two tight groups doing tail slaps, pectoral fin waves and spy hops. If you are a happy whale and you know it, slap your tail!
After leaving the orca whales we headed back to Anacortes via Speiden Island, a.k.a. Safari Island. On the grassy slopes we saw a few 'spotted speiden hoofed game animals', including a variety of antelope and deer from Africa and Asia. Captain Kent took us south through San Juan Channel and then back through Upright Channel. Returning via Thatcher Pass, we stopped to checkout out some cute little harbor seals hauled out on Black Rock . . . we are definitely looking forward to their pup season coming up in just a few weeks!
Saturday, June 1, 2013
L pod returns to the San Juans!!
Phenomenal experience watching them spy hopping, throwing taillobs, exposing their bellies, and waving pectoral fins! We even observed salmon kills and courtship!
It was great to see a lot of the Southern Resident Killer Whales back in the area. We met up with them off the north end of San Juan Island, immediately west of Henry, Battleship and Speiden Islands. Mystic Sea passengers enjoyed seeing about forty whales from J pod and the L12 pod subgroup, including a great show by L84 Nyssa and Tanya. The whales started out close together and then spread out as they travelled north along the islands. It was a a fantasic day weather-wise; sunny, warm, and calm seas. One of the highlights of the day was going through Pole Pass...very narrow and shallow but ever-so beautiful!
Friday, May 31, 2013
A beautiful calm day today, eagles, harbor seals, harbor porpoise, a Minke whale or two, California Sea Lion, and several members of J-pod traveling south past False Bay. Mystic Sea passengers had a great day! We identified J8 Speiden, J47 Notch, and J36 Alki, but it was definitely J-26 Mike, that stole the show .....
Jill Hein, Naturalist, Mystic Sea Charters
J26 Mike, above, and California Sea Lion below, Photo credit: Jill Hein
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
What an abundance of wildlife we had today! In addition to 5 Minke Whales off of Salmon Bank, we also saw 1 Steller Sea Lion, 2 Blacktail Deer, 3 Great Blue Herons, 20+ Bald Eagles, Dozens of Harbor Porpoise, & 100's of Harbor Seals!! We also had numerous Rhinoceros Auklets, Turkey Buzzards, Pigeon Gillemots, and even a couple gorgeous Harlequin Ducks.
The Minke Whales were doing some nice rolls and we had a good lunge, and a couple of them came up so close that we could clearly see their blowholes! And on Whale Rocks we had the best show of Seals that we have had all year! Pleasant, calm weather and good wildlife sightings made for a great day.
Harlequin Ducks, Photo credit: David Speiser
Monday, May 27, 2013
Well today we had the light rain that western Washington is known for, but it sure didn't dampen our spirits! Mystic Sea passengers had a great day . . . we cruised northwest through the center of the San Juan Islands up into Canadian waters and found a couple of Humpbacks milling around near Java Islets, off of Satuna Island. We were watching them show off their giant arched backs and their huge black and white tails, when all of a sudden one lunged out of the water and did a HUMPBACK CARTWHEEL!!!
On our way back to Anacortes everyone shared their photos of the day while sipping on hot chocolate and enjoying bowls of our delicious Frank's Franks chile. By mid-afternoon the skies had cleared and we could see all the way over to the Olympic Mountain range as we cruised through the scenic and narrow Pole pass. Great day on the Mystic Sea!
~ Naturalist Leizel Grant
'Awesome! Thanks for such a great day! The weather was as it was...should of been better, oh well the staff made up for everything else. Whales are so majestic, thanks again for such a great day.' ~ Mystic Sea Passenger, May 27, 2013
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Two kinds of whales today ~ Minkes and Humpbacks!
Beautiful calm seas today, we found a couple of Minke whales out on Salmon Bank, and a Humpback or two near South Pender Island. A lot of traveling, but well worth it. Thanks for a great day, Mystic Sea Charters!!
~ Jill Hein, volunteer Naturalist
Photo credits: Jill Hein
Saturday, May 25, 2013
'What an amazing sight for us to see...Our 8 and 5 year old daughters were in Heaven seeing this gentle giant close!! Thanks Monte and Leizel for sharing such a special day with us!!' ~ Tinell Skaug, Mystic Sea passenger
Photo credits: Tinell Skaug
SPECTACULAR DAY ABOARD THE MYSTIC SEA!!!! We saw a humpback do several full breaches near the southern end of Lopez Island! It was absolutely breathtaking to see a creature of that size . . . about 50 ft. long . . . lunge out of the water, over and over! And the noises he was making were so loud - it was almost like he was grunting or growling at the same time as he would come up and do his blows on the surface. We couldn't have asked for a more exciting day!
~Naturalist Leizel Grant, photo credits: Jill Hein
Also, check out this video on Twitter!
Our new twitter handle is MysticSeaWhales https://vine.co/v/bVgwM5uLODV
Friday, May 24, 2013
Beautiful, glassy-calm seas and warm sunshine out in the San Juan Islands today! We headed south in Rosario Straights and then west to Beaumont Shoals where we met up with several Transient Orcas milling across towards Andrews Bay. We had a great show with T21, T23, and a 3-4 others - they would all surface together and then take a deep dive, over and over again! We left them heading north in Haro Straights before we turned south, passing the historic Lime Kiln Lighthouse. We also saw a plethora of birdlife, including hundreds of Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon Guillemots off of Watmough Head, as well as 3 big Bald Eagles sunning their wings in Hughes and McArdle Bay.
~Naturalist Leizel Grant
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Today the Mystic Sea passengers had a fantastic show of Steller Sea Lions and Harbor Seals on Whale Rocks as well as a nice long visit with the Humpback that was milling between Lime Kiln Lighthouse and Andrews Bay.
Photo credit: Leizel Grant
Monday, May 20, 2013
They say a picture can be worth a thousand words . . . well here are the two Humpbacks we saw off of Eastern Bank, surfacing in unison. AMAZING! We even saw some Steller Sea Lions on Whale Rocks too. Guess they haven't all left the area quite yet!
Photo credit: Naturalist Leizel Grant
Check out more photos in our 2013 Orca Season photo album: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mystic-Sea-Charters/320581053622?sk=photos_albums
Sunday, May 19, 2013
AMAZING DAY WITH J-POD MOTHER, HY'SHQA J37, AND HER BABY, J49!
At first J pod was all spread out; some were milling near shore and some were further offshore, traveling south in small groups. But J37 and J49 soon showed themselves as the stars of the show, as they were really active -- splashing around and swimming in tight circles, and within a couple of minutes we saw them flip a big Salmon up in the air that they had been chasing! We also saw J2, J16, and J26, all off the west side of San Juan Island, just south of Pile Point. We even caught 2 full breaches! We had fantastic, warm weather and flat calm seas today.
J37 Hy'shqa, and baby J49, Photo credit: Naturalist Leizel Grant
Saturday, May 18, 2013
"An amazing evening cruise on the Mystic Sea -- everything was perfect! Thank you Captain Monte and Leizel, we need to come back with our kids."
~ Keri Hall Greenheck, Mystic Sea Charters facebook fan
What a day! In addition to having our Resident Orcas back we also had a spectacular sunset for our evening cruise!
Today the Mystic Sea did a complete circumnavigation of the San Juan Islands, covering about 100 miles. We eventually found the whales at Hannah Heights, heading north very slowly. It was great to see 20+ Orcas from J pod! - we saw several fluke shots and tail slaps and even a couple breaches! We also saw several Bald Eagles, some Harbor Seals, lots of Harbor Porpoise, and even had a quick visit with a California Sea Lion.
Once again, the weather turned out absolutely beautiful, which made for a picture-perfect evening cruise! It was a 60th surprise birthday party decorated to the hilt, including confetti poppers, lots of fresh flower bouquets, and candle-lantern balloons that made the evening feel just magical. We cruised down to Bowman's Bay and shut down for a nice dinner catered by Gere a Deli, complete with drinks, hors d'oeuvres and two incredible cakes. After dinner we cruised through Deception Pass and were treated with a SPECTACULAR sunset, with the most magnificent hues of violet and lavender, contrasted by smokey grays and brilliant peach and crimson colors . . . all reflecting perfectly on the still waters!
~ Naturalist Leizel Grant
Thursday, May 16, 2013
It was a phenomenal day aboard the Mystic Sea today! We had 15+ Transient Orcas off of Point Lawrence heading southbound in Rosario. They split into 3 groups and were all lunging, rolling and feeding and we even saw one do an amazing spy hop. The grand finale was when we saw a Humpback in the middle of the T's just east of Thatcher Pass! We followed the whales down to Bird Rocks before turning and heading home to Anacortes. We had fabulous warm weather and flat, glassy waters ......Seattle: you can keep your rain, we are totally OK with all this sunshine!! :-)
Transient Orcas in Rosario Straights, photo credit: Leizel Grant
Recently we had a return customer from 22 years ago join us aboard the Mystic Sea! A gentleman had gone on a cruise with us when we were doing the Blackstone Glacier Cruises in Whittier, Alaska in 1991, and then when he and his wife saw the Mystic Sea in Langley, Washington this year they couldn't resist joining us on a Gray Whale cruise. Great people and great memories!
Mother's Day Weekend, May 11-12
~ 7 Transient Orcas & 5 Minke Whales this weekend! ~
We left the dock this morning with broken clouds and flat calm seas -even though the forecast was calling for rain it missed us, yay! We headed southbound around Lopez where we had lots of eagles and seals near Castle Rock. Then we made our way out past Iceberg Point and Salmon Bank where we had SEVEN TRANSIENT ORCAS! When we arrived on scene the Orcas were all jumping and breaching and they even made a kill when we got there! They continued giving us a great show, training their young; they had two youngsters about 2 years old, really putting on a nice display for us! Lots of tail flaps, rolls, lunges, several spy hops an at 30+ breaches! After a spectacular show we worked our way up the inside of the San Juans and stopped to check out the Steller Sea Lions. Beautiful, flat calm, nice day and great Orca show!
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Dall's Porpoise steal the show today!
After cutting across Rosario Straights to check out the Harbor Porpoise and Seals on Black Rock we headed northeast along the Orcas Island shoreline up to Peapod Rocks where we found over 100 seals basking in the sun! Although Anacortes was in thick fog we were lucky to have found sunshine up north in Georgia Straights. Between Blakely Island and Point Lawrence we saw a variety of bird life including 2 Rhinocerous Aucklets, lots of Surf Scoters, Cormorants and several Bald Eagles. Then as we were scanning the waters for the Transient Orcas that had been seen in the area last night we were treated with several Dall's Porpoise jumping and playing in the clear blue water. We circled several times and were delighted to see them playing in our bow wake! We also saw 1 light tan California Sea Lion and dozens of Harbor Porpoise on our way back south. We took the scenic route, pausing for photos of Mermaid Rock with Mount Baker behind, and altogether we covered about 80 miles . . . the majority of the northern San Juan Islands. Beautiful day and flat calm seas!
Harbor Porpoise and Mount Baker, Photo credits: Leizel Grant
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 ~ Nice day, lots of wildlife!
We started out the morning in some fog as we crossed Rosario Straights. It cleared up just in time for us to see dozens of Harbor Porpoise playing and breaching in the calm water near Thatcher Pass, "the inland passage of the San Juans". We took the scenic route around the north end of Lopez Island; along the way saw 4 California Sea Lions feeding on a large school of fish near Decatur Island and about 15 little Harbor Seals on Leo Rocks. We then turned, heading south down San Juan Channel towards Salmon Bank and the Cattle Point Lighthouse. Captain Monte expertly maneuvered the 100ft Mystic Sea through all the scenic areas around Deadmans Island and then took us out to Whale Rocks, where we were lucky to have about 25 Alaska Steller Sea Lions sprawled out. It was almost as if they were posing for pictures, and two young males were showing off, growling and pushing each other around! Caroline, our onboard Beachwatchers Naturalist explained that one of the main differences between Sea Lions and Seals is their ability to walk; sea lions can maneuver themselves fairly easily with 4 seperate flippers, whereas seals have to pull themselves along with their front flippers. After that we looked for Minke Whales around Salmon Bank for a while before turning west to complete our circumnavigation of Lopez Island. We also saw a mature Bald Eagle tending to her nest, a large Turkey Buzzard soaring above, and 5 Black Tailed Deer near the Cormorant Rookery in Hughes Bay. The whole day we had ideal weather and lighting for photos - it was just overcast enough to cut out any glare, but bright enough to make for a pleasant afternoon.
Photos: Steller Sea Lions, California Sea Lion, Harbor Seals
Photo credits: Jill Hein
Saturday, May 4, 2013
The Mystic Sea did a private charter for OPALCO (Orcas Power and Lighting Company) today . . . we woke up to a gorgeous mauve-colored sunrise over the islands and everyone enjoyed coffee and doughnuts in route to Orcas Island. It turned out to be a great day in the San Juan Islands ~ super warm weather too! After lunch we returned to Friday Harbor to drop off our group before heading back to Anacortes in the early afternoon.
Breakfast at the Orcas Island Hotel, Photo credits: Leizel Grant
Friday, May 3, 2013
We had quite a multi-national cruise today; we had people from Italy, Spain, Russia, and from all over the U.S., including Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, California, Colorado and Utah! On our way south in Rosario Straights we slowed down to take photos of the beautiful Burrows Island Lighthouse with the Olympic Mountains in the distance and then continued down to the southern end of Lopez Island. In a tall forked tree overlooking Hughes Bay we saw a huge mature Bald Eagle sitting on eggs, and then on the rocks between Richardson and Charles Island we saw several Harbor Seals with two tiny pups. After lunch we headed out towards Hein Bank in search of whales. As no one in the entire whale watching fleet had any reports of whales we were on our own – looking for Minke Whales about 3 miles south and west of Hein Bank. The conditions were perfect for wildlife viewing but we didn’t find any resident Orcas. On our way back we stopped at Whale Rocks to look at the GIANT Steller Sea Lions sprawled out enjoying the warm sun. It was entertaining to watch two young males growling and biting each other as they fought for space on the end of the rock. After a couple minutes they both fell into the water, into the tide rip, and continued wrestling and rolling around! Cool to watch!!
Thursday, May 2, 2013
SUCCESS ON OUR FIRST DAY OF ORCA SEASON 2013!
California Sea Lion, photo credit: Leizel Grant
What an incredibly beautiful warm day with SO MUCH WILDLIFE! We started the day heading west out Guemes Channel and immediately came across a big California Sea Lion laying on a Channel marker. The lazy guy didn't even move a whisker -- not even when another boat's wake made the marker rock back and forth! As we cruised south in Rosario Straights we saw a large variety of birdlife including Bonaparte's Gulls, Cormorants, Surf Scoters, and Turkey Vultures. We took a pass by Burrows Island Lighthouse where we saw a couple of Harbor Seals bobbing up and down in the Bull Kelp. Then we passed through the rock piles just south of Lopez Island and saw two little Pigeon Guillemots nestled up together in the sun below Castle Rock. Just a minute later we spotted a huge mature Bald Eagle perched on top of a large snag overlooking McCartle Bay, and another mature Eagle sitting on eggs, squaking and talking.
Burrows Island Lighthouse and Harbor Seals basking in the sun, photo credits: Leizel Grant
After leaving the shoreline we headed out into the more open water of the Straight of Juan de Fuca in search of whales. It was not long before we heard reports that one boat was with two Transient Orcas about 3 miles south of Trial Island (near Constance Bank, south of Victoria), so we beelined it west. It was exciting seeing the huge black fins in the distance, knowing we were about to see Orcas! When we got closer to them we identified them as brothers; T93, born in 1963, and T97, born in 1980. The two Transients were travelling fairly fast, making about 7 knots. They were veering apart and then coming back together . . . then Captain Monte Hughes shut the engines off for a while and it was such a treat to watch their huge dorsal fins rise up out of the water together, when the only sounds to be heard were of the water lapping up against the hull of the boat, and the mystical sound of the Orcas' blows! When it was time for the Mystic Sea to start heading home the whales were off of Constantine Bank heading east towards Whidbey Island. On the way back towards Lopez Island we had a great sighting of a large group of Harbor Porpoise (almost like mini-Orcas!) playing on the surface near the weather buoy.
Transient Orca, T93 and an afternoon chat with Prince of Whales, photo credits: Leizel Grant
This year we have approximately 280 Transient Orcas in the area and their population is increasing by 3% annually. It was a great day, particularly because we got to see some of the biggest Orcas in the area on our first day back in the San Juans!
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Today the Mystic Sea Charters' Aquatic Research and Monitoring division (ARM) did inspections of the San Juan ferry docks for the Washington State Department of Transportation. By the end of the day the crew onboard had completed inspections of the Orcas, Shaw, San Juan and Lopez Island ferry docks. It was a glorious, sunny and warm day with perfect clear views of Mount Baker, the North Cascades and the Olympic Mountains. The water was such a brilliant teal color right up next to the islands and we could see clusters of huge rusty-red Bull Kelp growing in the shallow water. We also saw a couple of Harbor Seals pop up right next to the boat, wiggling their whiskers in curiosity, and a few Bald Eagles soaring overhead. While in Friday Harbor we heard reports of whales out west, so we are looking forward to a good day tomorrow ~ the first day of our Orca season, departing from Anacortes. Today was the perfect prelude to a great summer!
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Patch shows her namesake!
Gorgeous day today, lots of wildlife, flat calm and sunshine . . . we cruised over to Camano where we found a large Gray Whale, ID #56, making its way from the deep in towards the shallows - blowing and feeding on mudshrimp. After watching him for about 45 minutes we cruised on down to find Patch and #383 putting on a good show, b