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Orca Whale Facts and Info



May 4 – October 8, 2017

The San Juan Islands and surrounding waterways are known for their breathtakingly beautiful scenery and unique and abundant wildlife. People travel from all over the world for the opportunity to see wild Orcas, Humpbacks, and Minke Whales here in their Pacific Northwest habitat. Enormous Alaskan Steller Sea Lions, great flocks of migrating seabirds, and quaint historical lighthouses are just a few of the other highlights that you may see.

Picture yourself on the bow of the boat, as a light summer breeze wafts up from the dark green swirling waters . . . from your vantage point, you have a great view of the historical Burrows Island Lighthouse as the classic 100ft. Mystic Sea cruises down Rosario Straits and out towards the west side of the San Juan Islands.

The Captain expertly maneuvers the 100ft. boat through the narrow channels at the southern end of Lopez Island, and the Naturalist explains that the dramatic cliff on the north side of Castle Rock is a seasonal nesting site for Tufted Puffins, as well as home to the Pacific Giant Octopus, the world’s largest Octopi! Camera and binoculars ready, everyone is on the lookout for wildlife. You spot a family of cute little Harbor seals basking lazily on the rocks ahead, and a lone Bald Eagle soaring silently in the thermals above. You gaze out at the Straits of Juan de Fuca and begin to feel lost in time as hints of enchanted stories about Deadmans Island, and the smugglers of Ben Urs time float intriguingly in the salty sea air.

Then off in the distance, you spot the unmistakable tall black fins of a Resident Orca pod. Full steam ahead, the Mystic Sea makes its way towards Cattle Point Lighthouse to meet up with the playful ‘black and whites’. At first it seemed like there were just a few J pod members in feeding mode, but soon you realize that what you are witnessing is nothing ordinary at all . . . it’s a Superpod! All three Resident Orca pods, J, K, and L pods, totaling 86 whales, have all come together and are putting on a phenomenal show! Tail lobs and breaches galore!

The Captain shuts off the engines, so as not to disturb the whales’s activity, which allows everyone onboard to hear their blows. Whales, birds, and people alike, are all enjoying the warm August sunshine on their backs. You continue to watch and listen in awe, knowing you are part of an amazing an unforgettable experience, until the Orcas turn and head back out into deeper waters.  Its time for the Mystic Sea to return to the port of Anacortes, so you head to the back deck for a cup of coffee and some photo sharing.

An absolutely perfect day on the water!


Photo credit: Jill Hein

Come aboard the classic 100ft. Mystic Sea and get front-row seats to a world-class experience in the San Juan Islands!

Join us for our guaranteed whale watch and wildlife cruise, May 4th through October 8th, 2017, and enjoy a fun and relaxing day on the water. Learn about the history, lore, and hidden nooks of this unique area from our friendly and knowledgeable crew, and make memories that will last a lifetime!

We explore 80-100 miles on our cruises and have a spectacular array of wildlife that migrate into these calm waters at various times and stages throughout the year. The three pods — J, K, and L pods — are known as the Southern Resident Orca Whales and they return to the San Juan Island area every year between May and October. As counted in 2015, there are 81+ whales total and they can all be identified by looking at the shapes of their dorsal fins and white saddle patches. These saddle patches are all completely unique to each whale, similar to how fingerprints are unique to each person.

On average the Southern Resident Orca males live for 50-60 years and the females live for 90-100 years.  J pod has 27 individuals and has the oldest matriarch Orca, Granny (J-2), who is believed to be about 105 years old!  K pod has 20 individuals and L pod has 40 individuals, which because of its size, often separates into subgroups. In 2012 there were 2 new babies born, L119 and J49, but they won’t be officially counted until they are 1 year old. Several babies were born in 2015 as well. At birth, Southern Resident Orcas are 7-8 feet long, weigh 300-400 pounds, and their characteristic white patches are slightly orange, a coloration that fades to the trademark white over time.  The adults are 25-30ft. in length and they can weigh up to 9 tons. Orcas swim at an average speed of 4-6 miles per hour, yet are capable of swimming at speeds up to 30 miles per hour which allows them to travel up to 100 miles a day!

During the summer season, the Southern Resident Orcas spend most of their time around the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands searching for salmon. Although it is not known exactly where the whales go during the winter months, some have been spotted as far south as California. Orca Whales are at the top of the marine food chain and are not only the largest in the dolphin family, but are also thought to be the most intelligent as well. They find their food using echolocation or sonar, which is produced from the bulbous part on the top of their head. Orcas are found in every ocean of the world, but some of the greatest concentrations of them can be found right here in the cool waters of the Pacific Northwest.  We believe that the world’s best opportunity to see wild Orcas, Humpbacks and Minkes is onboard the classic 100ft. Mystic Sea!