Author Archive


I know, I have already given my top marine mammal moments, but after some discussion I was granted permission to give more details about one of my favorite encounters, and one that I didn’t even mention in my earlier blog because I was unsure about posting it.

10/03/2010 K21

I briefly mentioned our encounter with K21, Cappuccino, making the S10 call by our hydrophone before, but here I will give you a few more details.

We had been following the whales from East Point, and had almost reached Turn Point. We had been having trouble all day keeping up with the whales because we can only go 2.5 knots through the water so we don’t get very much flow noise on our hydrophones while recording, so we were hanging out with the stragglers of the group which happened to be K21. He was on our port side for quite awhile at about 9 o’clock, when he very abruptly turned 90o towards us.

Look closely, you can see him underwater!

Catching a breath as he headed for us

As he got closer Todd killed the engine and he sure made a B-line for us. He swam right up to our stern, where our first hydrophone was at the time, stopped, made a vocalization, and went on his way. I like to think he was telling us hello or actually trying to communicate with us since his call was so directed to the hydrophone. He was so close that we could see him swimming underwater!

Since he was so close and gave a call at the right moment we got an awesome recording of it. His call is classified as an S10 call, but he combined two of them to make an extra long call. It came out so beautifully on the spectrogram because he was so close, the background noise couldn’t really be detected.

The spectrogram of the S10 call from K21

Here you can listen! —> S10

9/16/2010  J28 and her calf, J46

Finally, I have saved the best for last. This special encounter happened on our most bio-diverse day and is still the most vivid memory I have with the whales.

There we were aboard the Gato Verde collecting some great data for our research projects, most of the afternoon we had been with members of J-pod. Of course we thought just being around the whales was cool in itself, which it is, but we were in for a special treat. J28, Polaris. and her calf J46, Star, had been trailing us for a while, but they were getting some speed and catching up to us on our starboard side. They were probably about 100-150 meters away milling around, and we were all stood on the deck just staring at them. J46 did a couple tail slaps and gave Mama some kisses, it was just too cute.


All of a sudden they both directed their travel towards us, Todd killed the engine and we all observed with excitement.

J28 (left) and J46 (right) swimming towards us

As they approached the boat together, J46 sped up and pulled away from his mama as if she was curious about us. I was standing right on the edge staring into the water as J46 came up to us, turned over on her side, basically gave the boat a hug with her peck fins, and opened her mouth as if she was smiling at us. I even made eye contact with her! As weird as it may sound, I felt like we made a connection of some kind during that moment. We were also able to see his teeth when he smiled at us. I mean, she was RIGHT THERE!


J28 followed behind her, and they both swam off behind us. All this happened in about a matter of two to three minutes, and it all seemed so unreal! Everyone on the boat was so excited, even Todd said that had never happened to him before.

Just to clarify, during all of our time with the whales we follow the Washington State Law and the Be Whale Wise guidelines, but sometimes the whales can surprise us by being curious.

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Magnificent Marine Mammal Moments!!

Being on a boat for over a month really gives you some eye opening experiences with amazing creatures. I’ve seen more marine mammals in the past 5 weeks than I have in my entire life! I’ve loved marine mammals most of my life and never thought I would get to experience all this in such a short time.  So I have picked out the top moments to share with you.


The second morning on the boat we were in Snug Harbor on the west side of San Juan Island, we had been getting texts throughout breakfast that the whales were at Lime Kiln, the Orca Sound. What we didn’t realize is that those are just south of Snug. We started getting everything ready to go and kept an eye out for some whales (it was really foggy that day) as we headed out. Just as we came out of the harbor someone shouted “WHALES!” and the frenzy began to put hydrophones in to start our data collection, which we weren’t really sure how to do, all while trying to watch the whales because we were all so excited. During the day we got to follow them for a couple hours, and we had them to ourselves, but lost them in the fog. This was my first Southern Resident experience, and we were lucky enough to have them literally at our front door in the morning, I don’t think I have ever been that excited, but it was only the first of many experiences to come!


Okay, so this day has to be the best marine mammal day I have ever experienced and the most diverse, species wise. We spent the night at anchor on Lopez Island so as we started heading North in hopes of catching up with whales, we came across a Minke whale!! This was my first Minke whale experience, so that in itself was awesome.  

Just as the Minke whale was escaping us a Harbor seal pup was swimming around the boat. Even though we had seen Harbor seals before, this one was a baby, and you could see it swimming underwater! It swam around our stern for a bit, then under the boat to the bow and back around to the stern where it approached our stairs and looked like it wanted to jump aboard and join us. You could see its little fins trying to hard but he was unable to make it up. I guess this was for the better, but it was just so cute.

Oh, and amongst all of this Val was able to get a shot of a puffin! Not a marine mammal, but awesome nonetheless since they are so rare around this area.

After all that excitement, we figured we had already had a great day, but that’s not all that was in store for us. We later came across Orcas! This was our 3rd day in a row with them, but the excitement had not worn off. We got great recordings, and saw some amazing behaviors! This was definitely the best orca day yet.

Baby Kissin' Mama

As we were recording, we saw a Stellar sea lion!! He was lucky those were Southern Resident killer whales around, and not Transients. We were moving away from him so we didn’t get much time with him.

On our way to our final destination we came across both Harbor Porpoises and Dall’s Porpoises at about the same time, and some were bow riding the boat nearest to us.


On our voyage back to Friday Harbor Labs for re-provisioning some Dall’s porpoises decided to bow ride OUR boat. This is very rare due to the fact that our top speed is 6 knots while motoring. Todd said that it hadn’t happened to him in a few years. They hung around for a good 20 minutes before they found another boat that was near us. Basically when animals bow ride boats, they are literally surfing underwater. This was the first time I got to see a Dall’s up close, and it kind of looks like a little killer whale. We felt so lucky that we were getting all these amazing and rare experiences already!


It seemed we had spent so much time with the whales already and had had so many awesome encounters, but as we were approaching them at East Point they were breaching all over the place. We thought we were going to be in for a good show, but when we finally reached them we got a different kind of show.  This was the first time we got to witness them resting in Boundary Pass. It was so cool how close they were to each other while rising for synchronized breaths. There had to be about 20 of them in tight group. They would sporadically do a few breaches or tail slaps here and there, but it was mostly a day watching them rest. This was actually kind of creepy to watch because very slowly their dorsal fins would make their way out of the water.


We had spent the day with the whales and recording in Boundary Pass. All of a sudden K21 started heading right for us off our port side from about 100 meters away. Todd killed the engine as he kept approaching. As we were drifting K21 approached one of our hydrophones, stopped right in front of one, produced an S10 call, or as I like to say he was really excited to say hi or maybe he just wanted to speak his peace, and went on his way. Since he was right next to one of our hydrophones we got a great recording of it! Have a listenS10


No whales on my birthday, they must have been busy or forgotten, but they sure made up for it when they came back the day after! We were heading for Discovery Island when we first saw them and when we actually got to them (and out of the way of a tanker) they gave me a great belated birthday show! We documented 19 spy hops in 2 minutes on Val’s camera, but there were definitely more. They were in a tight group as they usually are while resting, but they were active. Seeing so many spy hops all at once was spectacular. Not only did we got spy hops on top of sky hops, we had cartwheels, tail slaps and breaches as well!

On this same day we were able to witness the Dall’s porpoise and Southern Residents interact! We couldn’t tell if they were enjoying each other’s company or if the Dall’s were annoying the Orcas. I like to think they had a mutual relationship and were just having a play date. It was amazing seeing two different species interact and “get along” in this crazy world.


Living in Hawaii I get the pleasure of seeing Humpbacks every winter, but when we were in Canada for the acoustic conference and got word of “humpies” near race rocks, I was just as excited about being able to see them as I was the first time I ever saw one! (Maybe ever more excited) The day worked out perfect, we went into Victoria Harbor to clear Canadian customs, and raced back out to find them basically right there. I forgot how gigantic they were, and so graceful. There was one moment where it was about 100 meters from our boat, and you could see its fins underwater. We thought it would come up again and we would be able to see the whole thing underwater, but he came up at our stern to meet up with another whale. They went for a deep dive together and as they did that they showed us their flukes. It was breath taking.

Transients- We have come across transients a couple of times. A couple times on the boat and a once from land, which was actually my first Orca encounter ever. We have tried to catch them while they are hunting, but we always seem to be a little late and see them right after they have eaten. Our research focuses on Southern Residents so when we see transients it is purely for enjoyment.

Transients and Mt. Baker

There are just a few more defining moments that I have come across while with the whales. One being able to identify them in the moment, I have gone through the ID books so many times that it must be paying off! Another fun moment was catching my first (and only) breach on video, and the next day getting a still photo of a breach!

My breach photo!

Double Tail Slap!

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A new found love

Okay so I admit, coming into this program I didn’t think I would actually get into sailing, but I also didn’t know much about it. I was completely wrong, I LOVE IT! Aboard the Gato Verde, Captain Todd teaches us a variety of things about the boat and sailing like: how to tie knots, points of sail, right of way while sailing, parts of the boat and the list could go on. Sailing is definitely up there with being around the whales, it’s THAT fun! Here just are just a few of my top moments:
1. So, here we are in a program called Beam Reach. Well beam reach is an actual point of sail! This is known as the fastest point of sail where the wind is perpendicular to the boat. Although it may be the fast and some people say it’s the “best sailing”  but Todd doesn’t agree with that so we spend most of our time in a close reach, which is a zone, instead of a point of sail. I must admit I was rather excited to learn this!

Here is a video Scott posted on the Beam Reach facebook page, that I was completely blown away by. This kite surfer is at the point of sail; beam reach.

2. Living on the Gato Verde we are considered part of the crew. We don’t sit back and relax while Todd does all the work. After he shows us how things work and what to do, we get a chance to try it ourselves. The best moment for me thus far would have to be hoisting the mainsail. I was really nervous before I started, but after that first pull I was into it. I got it most of the way up before my own body weight couldn’t pull the rope anymore and I had to wench it the rest of the way.  It’s actually a full body work out too!  There is always a sense of accomplishment after hoisting the mainsail, or even just helping with a tack, or chicken jibe.

Todd teaching us how to reef, and hoist the mainsail

3. While under sail Todd gives us each a turn at the helm. (Actually, the first time he let us take the helm was the very first day on the boat, talk about some real trust!) I’ll admit during my time at the helm, I’m rather nervous and stressed, there is so much to pay attention to, and if you move the wheel in the slightest bit, the boat really turns, and dodging the kelp really throws me off sometimes. But, once you get a hang of it, it is rather fun.

4. If the wind gets above 30 knots we have to stay in at anchor, but we have had a couple very windy, stormy days under 30 knots. On these days we bundle up in layers and waterproof gear and go sit out by the trampoline. It’s almost like being on the Disneyland ride, Splash Mountain, but so much better! The waves come breaking over the bow, up through the trampoline and we get covered in water. I feel like a little kid on my first rollercoaster! It brings laughter amongst the group, smiles, and a whole new type of joy.

Garrett Cat and I enjoying getting splashed

Waves crashing over the bow

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This day deserves its own post because…



My 21st birthday spent aboard the Gato Verde has definitely been one of my better birthdays. The morning started off with opening the box from my sister, which had the “perfect meal” in it: cheese, fruit, and chocolate in the form of easy mac and dark chocolate raisenets. It was classic. The whales hadn’t been sighted in over 24 hours so in hopes of cutting them off as they came back in, we headed south towards Discovery Island. There were a couple updates about Humpbacks and Transients, but they were too far for us to get to them, so we drifted for a couple hours in hopes they might come closer to us. During our drift we were surrounded by seals in Harbor Porpoises, at least they wanted to say hi on my birthday. No luck with the whales, but the currents and wind were with us to sail back up island! On our journey back north we got a brief visit from Dall’s Porpoises bow riding our boat again! If I wasn’t going to see whales on my birthday, Dall’s were a good substitute.

When we pulled into our anchor spot for the night, Garisson Harbor, Todd gave us a little talk about what to in a man over board situation and taught us how to heave-to in order to retrieve them. That is when I got banished from being inside. Dave and I went to sit on the front deck and he caught me up on the right of way sailing talk that I had missed from being in the clinic the day before. I also took that time to call my parents and catch up on some journaling, and after a bit Dave came to keep me company with his guitar as the sun was starting to go down.

When I was finally allowed back inside (almost 2 hours later) I was welcomed with a best of James Brown dance party and my awesome birthday sign. I had requested Vanessa’s mushroom stroganoff for dinner, which was AMAZING! Then it was time for my surprise that everyone else had been working on…AN ORCA CAKE!! Hands down the coolest cake I’ve ever had.

Along with my Orca cake, Leslie (Val’s wife) and I had made two shoo fly pies  the day before while I was not allowed back on the boat. Shoo fly pie is my favorite pie my grandma makes for me when she comes to visit me, it’s a tradition Amish pie and it’s so yummy! As if the cake wasn’t enough the group all signed a card with words of “wisdom” for being 21, got me an Orca wine glass, and a Bailey’s (non-alcoholic) chocolate bar as a joke since we are on a dry boat.

Click here for a recipe of shoo fly pie, or to just find out what it is!

Shoo Fly Pie

So, even though I was on a dry boat for my 21st birthday, I would say I had more fun than most people on their 21st because of the awesome people I was able to spend it with, the memories made, and the laughs that were had.  Plus, how many people get to say they have spent their birthday on a boat surrounded by marine mammals?

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Aloha from Beam Reach!

Hello! I’m Megan, from Colorado, but I attend college at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The fall 2010 program is running full force! We are now 3 weeks into the program and setting out for our first sail today! So far this is one of the best experiences of my life. Since I have failed at keeping a daily journal I will just give you all some quick highlights.

This was my first trip to Washington State, and was blown away by the beauty of the San Juan Islands, I was even amused by the ferry ride over to Friday Harbor. One of the best feelings is living next to the ocean and having hiking trails in your back yard, which I have found at the Friday Harbor Labs. Hana Cat and I took walks in the first weeks here (while it was warm) to explore these trails, and every time I was so impressed by the view of the shore trails. One of the best parts of living at the labs is the fact that we have the option to row into town. I’ll admit I’m not the best, but not the worst, at rowing. It’s so peaceful and a totally different view of the island. Typically we run across a few harbor seals on our way to town.

During our time on land we were lucky enough to be here while The Whale Museum was still doing their summer science lectures so we got to listen to talks by Roland Anderson-the octopus guru, Captain Paul Watson, and our one and only Dr. Jason Wood. We’ve also had various people come into our own classroom (which just so happens to be our living room) to tell us about their research and what they are interested in.

The best highlight from these weeks on land is of course…. WHALES! My first sighting of the whales was on the ferry back from Seattle the first weekend here. We caught a brief glimpse at them as we were coming into Friday Harbor, which is very rare. Later that week the whale phone (we get updates via text of where they are during the day) was going off all day and they were hanging out on the west side of the island, so Hana Cat and I jumped into Dave’s car to “chased” them up the coast to meet up with them at the county park. It was the first time I was able to document the whales, most exciting day of the program so far!

Of course it’s not all play, we have been doing a lot of work too! We’ve been preparing our proposals, and trying to figure out our methods before we set sail. It all feels a little rushed but we have to get it done while the whales are still here. Lots of research and reading going on.

Talk to you all when we get back on land!



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