October 6, 2010

Charter A Boat!

The daily trips may be done, but that does not mean that I do not still get the chance to get out on the water.  Today we had a charter and that is really the way to go if you are a naturalist.  Or even if you are a guest.  The groups tend to be relaxed and fun-loving and ready for anything.  There are usually fewer people on the boat and sometimes the crew even gets snacks.  It also means that the routine gets shaken up.  We leave at different times and sometimes even from a different location.  The goal is always the same though, and that is to provide a stellar trip through the islands showcasing the indigenous flora and fauna.

For this charter Capt. Mike and I got to take the M/V Sea Lion around to Roche Harbor at the North end of the island to pick up a group of restaurateurs.  It gave the captain and I a chance to be on the boat by ourselves for awhile like it was a personal pleasure cruise and just added a sense of calm to the day.  We also took on a new crew member, Aileen, who works for our sister company San Juan Outfitters as a kayak guide.  She was helping coordinate in Roche Harbor, since that is her home port instead of Friday Harbor.  This charter today also gave us the opportunity to perform a bit of magic, which is unique since normally the setting provides all of the magical qualities.  Actually, I guess it was the orcas that had the magic today, but we were fortunate enough to capitalize on it.  Because it is not everyday that you motor for ten minutes down a narrow channel and then right out into the open with orcas zooming past.  I could not help myself, I had to do a little "presto" and "ta-da" act to highlight the rarity of the occasion.

Once again the orcas were out in force with all three pods represented in the mix.  We even saw J2 "Granny" and J1 "Ruffles", although he was being difficult per usual.  We tried for an hour to get a sighting of him, but he would come up once, we would head in the direction and then he would disappear, only to reappear many minutes later in a completely different location.  At one point in all of the looking and watching, Aileen came to me and pointed off in the distance and asked "What is that?"  As I looked all I could see was random splashes, but no animals.  I thought maybe the salmon were jumping out of the water, but there was a certain amount of progress and purpose to the splashing and way too much spray.  I finally realized that it was animals speeding through the water.  My first inclination was that the "Lags" were back, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, but then it became clear that it was a huge pod of Dall's porpoises.  Probably the same active group that we had seen a few days before.  I radioed the captain and away we went to play with the porpoises.

The Dall's did not even need the boat today.  They raced and splashed and turned back on themselves with such speed and agility that the orcas were no match for them.  Interestingly the Dall's moved back and forth through the area where the orcas were and neither group seemed to be bothered by the other.  The orcas were clearly feeding as we had seen much of the same crisscross swimming patterns and changes of direction that were now magnified and sped up in the porpoises.  The Dall's even seemed to dart straight at and over the orcas a few times.  Without underwater cameras, we of course have no idea how each species was reacting, but the porpoises were not to be deterred.  Whatever they were after or whatever got them wound up and excited could not be repressed.  They were a thrill to watch and added another dimension to the sight of orca blows and surfacings stretched across the water.

When it was finally time to end our sojourn on the water Ruffles made his grand appearance.  The sun was getting low in the sky and he found a spot to feed that kept him near the top and constantly in motion.  He was gorgeous with that tall wavy dorsal fin and the sheer size of him.  We spent as much time as we could admiring him, but the clock was working against us and we finally moved away and back to dock.

So, from all of us at San Juan Safaris, to all of you leisure lovers out there, thank you and we will...

See You In The Islands!

~Tristen, Naturalist