October 4, 2017

Plethora of Autumn Wildlife in the San Juan Islands

Humpback Whale

[Sarah M – 10/04/2017 – M/V Sea Lion – 12:00pm]

Today was a perfect fall day, and we experienced quintessential San Juan Islands wildlife! Leaving Friday Harbor we headed east for Upright Channel between Lopz and Shaw Islands. The water was glassy and we had crystal clear, panoramic views of Mt. Baker. We wove inter-island, taking in the scenery, before popping out into Rosario Strait.  Mt. Baker was breathtaking across the sweeping Strait.

Humpback Whale

In Rosario we encountered a solitary humpback whale! Humpback whales were hunted out of this area by the late 1960’s, and have only just started to repopulate the area within the last fifteen years. These giants are roughly the same length as a school bus and the same weight as seven African elephants! We watched as the whale surfaced and dove, raising its massive tail flukes into the air. All of a sudden, WOOSH! Splash! The whale breached all the way out of the water! This jumping behavior is more commonly seen on their southern breeding grounds, but up here on their feeding grounds the behavior is less common. These whales might breach to shake barnacles and other parasites off of their skin, to communicate with other whales in the area, or even just for fun! After about 45 minutes spent with the whale we ventured off to find some other wildlife.


Leaving the whale we found ourselves in the middle of a huge group of birds that stretched out for miles. In this group we had mostly common murre, glaucous-winged gulls, and Heerman’s gulls, but we also caught glimpses of marbled murrelets, pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets in winter plumage, and grebes! As we rounded the south end of Lopez Island we cut between the larger island and the looming monolith, Castle Island. Near Iceberg Point we slowed to look for any remaining puffins (to no avail), but found a couple of surf scoters instead! At Long Island we found a beautiful bald eagle nestled into the Douglas Firs on the rocky shore. The adult bird was adding to its already impressive nest, likely preparing for next year’s clutch of eggs.


We rounded out our trip by cruising past Whale Rocks to check out the impressive Steller’s sea lions hauled out enjoying the fall sunshine. We enjoyed watching the huge sea lions squabble of the best positions on the rocks! Around the rocky outcropping we also got wonderful looks at some upwelling currents and bull kelp forests. Cruising to Deadmans Island we found many harbor seals catching some afternoon rays as well.

It was spectacular day on the water; enjoy some photos from today’s trip!