The controversial satellite tagging of killer whales in Washington has ended for 2013. We have posted twice before on this topic and the potential dangers it holds for the endangered orca whales that we enjoy on our kayak tours in the San Juan Islands. This year’s target was K-25, a young adult male born in 1991 that goes by the name of “Scoter”. The tag did not tear free of the orca whale’s dorsal fin like last year and it yielded 3 months of essentially useless data.
The tagged whale and his K-pod family traveled from Puget Sound all the way down to Point Reyes, California. Most of the winter was spent near the mouth of the Columbia River and the outer coast of Washington. The idea of the project was to learn more about their winter movements, habitat use and feeding behavior. Unfortunately, nothing new was learned and the data only confirmed what we already knew about the orcas. The risk to their health is clearly unwarranted and most local biologists, conservationists, and kayakers are strongly opposed to the project.
We already know why our orca whales in the San Juan Islands are endangered. Destruction of salmon spawning streams and toxic pollutants that mainly enter our marine ecosystem from winds that blow here from China are to blame. NOAA and NMFS have no plans to curtail salmon fishing and have done very little to promote improved spawning despite a long-delayed recovery plan mandated by federal courts. The satellite tagging study results will not suddenly jolt NMFS into doing a proper job of managing salmon or orca whales. Nor will it induce NMFS to halt the US Navy’s use of the orca’s winter range for testing bombs and high-energy sonar despite the fact that it is a national marine sanctuary. So what exactly is the point of putting even one individual of such a highly endangered killer whale population at risk?
NMFs admits that their recovery plans are not working. But instead of taking effective actions, they continue to make noises about outlawing kayaking on the west side of San Juan Island. To NMFS the answer is clear: bombs good, kayak tours bad. And we are supposed to trust this agency that negligently allowed both salmon and whales to come to such dire straits under their watch. Perhaps it will take yet another trip to federal court to straighten NMFS out. Their track record in court is as bad as their management of our endangered marine species. Unfortunately, kayakers will likely remain their scapegoat as we don’t have the deep pockets of the special interest groups that dictate their policies. Meanwhile, both salmon and the orca whales that depend on them will continue to languish.
The San Juan Islands are a spectacularly beautiful archipelago of over 450 islands, islets, and offshore rocks located astride the US/Canada border in the Salish Sea of Washington state. They are ideally suited for sea kayaking and are the birth place for the sport of sea kayak touring. In recognition of the uniqueness of the archipelago, President Obama signed a proclamation to create the San Juan Islands National Monument on March 25, 2013.
The new San Juan Islands National Monument includes about 1,000 acres of land scattered throughout the islands, many of which are included in an important sea kayaking route known as the Cascadia Marine Trail. The kayak trail begins near Seattle in Puget Sound and continues northward through the Salish Sea and the San Juan Islands to the border with Canada.
The striking seascape of the San Juan Islands National Monument attracts all sorts of visitors. Kayakers are not the only ones attracted to the evergreen forests, snow-capped mountains, wind-swept sea cliffs, and beaches. The San Juan Islands are famous among whale-watchers as the best place to see killer whales in the United States. Abundant orcas, sea lions, seals, porpoises, otters, and eagles attract wildlife watchers and sea kayakers from around the world. It’s no surprise then that TripAdvisor recently recognized the San Juan Islands as #1 among the “Top Ten Islands in America”.
More attractions include historic light house stations, the San Juan Islands National Historical Park, the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and the largest state park in Washington. Excellent day hiking trails are found in all of these locations and many feature small campsites, some of which can only be accessed by sea kayaks. Fishing, crabbing, shrimping, and clamming are also popular with kayakers and boaters of all kinds.
Sea Quest Kayak Expeditions has been the leading operator of San Juan Island kayaking tours for the past 25 years. Headquartered in Friday Harbor, Washington, our company was the first kayak outfitter in the San Juan Islands to develop a program emphasizing marine education and water safety, and to provide guides with degrees in biology and natural science. Whether you are an experienced kayaker or a beginner, you will appreciate our depth of knowledge and training. Our kayaking routes traverse the heart of the orca whale waters and Sea Quest gives you the best chance of seeing killer whales from a kayak.
The protected San Juan Islands National Monument is an ideal place for beginners to have their first sea kayaking experience and about half of our guests have never kayaked before participating in a kayak tour with us. Sea Quest can lead you on a half day kayak tour to the historical Lime Kiln Lighthouse and “orca whale watch park”. Or, if you enjoy camping, you can join a kayak trip from two to five days in length that visits the more remote outer San Juan Islands. Open your horizons by experiencing our newest national monument from a sea kayak!
Can you think of a more rewarding summer job than guiding sea kayak tours in the San Juan Islands? Would you like to lead kayak trips in the best waters for observing orca whales in the United States? A location with over 5000 seals, eagle nests along nearly every mile of shore, and the site of the newest National Monument? Sea Quest Kayak Tours is looking for professional, mature, and fun people who desire a quality outdoor job.
At Sea Quest Expeditions we have led the way in the modern evolution of turning kayak tours into educational experiences. We were the first company to require our sea kayaking guides to be either a biologist or have a degree in the natural sciences. We were the first kayak tour company to use tandem kayaks with four bulkheads instead of the standard two. Education and safety are the pillars of our sea kayaking trip program in Washington state. Our focus in this regard applies not just to our guests, but also to our kayak tour guides and trip leaders.
As a Sea Quest guide, you will feel more at ease knowing our kayaks are the newest and safest fleet in the San Juan Islands. All of our equipment is top notch so you won’t be fiddling with repairs and maintenance on a daily basis. Depending on the trip roster, our guides paddle the highest-performance solo kayaks made: the Discover by Northwest Kayaks and the Tempest by Wilderness Systems. These kayaks foster quick learning of advanced skills, yet you will never out-grow these designs.
We are seeking naturalists who have the right combination of qualifications: degree, experience on the water, first aid, superb communication skills, and engaging personalities. You don’t have to be an expert kayak for all of the positions. We provide a comprehensive training program for those who need to develop their sea kayaking skills. Less experienced folks often take a dual position in their first year with us, working both office duties and assistant guiding duties until they develop the skill set and experience to lead the longer multi-day kayak tours.
Kayak guiding is not just a “summer job”, even though it is seasonal in nature. Being a kayak guide in the San Juan Islands is a professional position which requires a professional demeanor and code of ethics. We demand more from our staff than other kayaking tour companies, but we also reward you with the highest pay scale and the fullest schedule. Our lead guides don’t have to sit around waiting for tours to fill – we keep you busy making your hay while the sun is shining!
We are also looking for Office/Logistics staff. If you feel that you are qualified for both types of jobs then please let us know when you apply. We are also open to hosting interns who are still working on their degrees. Applications are by resume only. Send or email us a resume with details about your education, professional experience, experiences with any type of water vessel, and employer references. A recent photo in an outdoor situation will help us put you in the right perspective. Applicants can send resumes via email to jobapplicant (at) sea-quest-kayak.com, or snail mail to PO Box 2424, Friday Harbor WA 98250.
More information on becoming a sea kayak guide in the San Juan Islands, or office positions, can be found at http://www.sea-quest-kayak.com/about-sea-kayaking/kayak-guide-job-post
August is an excellent month for orca whale watching on our kayak tours in the San Juan Islands. This orca whale sightings report is from August 2011 and should give a good indication of what to expect this month on our killer whale watching kayak tours in the San Juan Islands, near Seattle, Washington. In most years, San Juan Island orca whale sightings reach their peak in July, continue strong into August, and gradually taper off into October.
August is our warmest and driest month of the year in the San Juan Islands, making it ideal for camping and kayaking. It’s also the calmest month – perfect for folks who want to try their first kayak tour and get introduced to this environmentally friendly way of travel and explore the marine world.
Orca whales were sighted on over half (54%) of our San Juan Islands kayak trips in August 2011. This is a slight increase from the previous year. Porpoises were seen on 58% of our kayak tours, a slight decrease that is continuing into 2012. Reduced numbers of baitfish such as Pacific herring may be affecting our local porpoises. By combining whales and porpoises, we saw cetaceans on 83% of our San Juan Islands kayak trips.
Details from the August 2011 San Juan Islands orca whale watching report:
The San Juan Islands of Washington are the best place in the United States for kayaking with killer whales and Sea Quest has the best record of success. Despite being the undisputed experts in our field, we don’t find orca whales on every kayak tour. Killer whales move quickly in pursuit of migrating salmon and are sometimes unpredictable. Bad whale watching luck can occur despite our best efforts. Rarely, rough seas can make spotting whales nearly impossible. Occasionally, we find ourselves on the opposite side of a point or small islet from a pod of orcas, and by the time we get our kayaks around the corner the whales have departing just ahead of us - leaving us with broken hearts. Orca whale watching is no different than other kinds of wildlife watching. If you go to the best location at the best time of year and spend as much time in the whales' habitat as you can, you will eventually be rewarded!
Photo credits to the best San Juan Island whale watching captain Jim Maya.
I booked the sunset kayak tour several months ago using the online booking system. The reservation process was seamless and professional. There were a total of six in our party ranging from 30 years of age to 63 – very close family. There was very wide range in athletic ability in our group and body size. Some members of our group could not get in and out of the kayaks without assistance, and many of them were scared to death when we started out.
Our guide Pete did an absolutely superb job! The orientation he provided before we set out on the water helped to get everyone as comfortable as possible. He was very polite, very professional, and really upbeat even with the challenges that some members of our group provided him.
When we started out, we first saw several Columbia black-tailed deer on the shore as we paddled by. Then we found a pair of bald eagles that were calling to each other and flew out over our heads. There was a juvenile eagle nearby. That show was really awe-inspiring. A bit farther down, we found a harbor seal sun bathing on a rock. All the while, Pete pointed out biological, historical, and just interesting facts about the San Juans, and everything we were viewing from the wildlife to the bull kelp in the water.
As we got closer to the turn-around point of our short trip, I spotted what I thought was a dorsal fin of a whale. It turned out to be an orca whale and about 25 of its friends! We watched over the next 20-30 minutes as the whales swam and played as they headed parallel to the shore that we had just paddled up. We saw several flukes tail-slapping the water, spy-hops (raising their head to look around), and one full breach. One of the orca whales spy-hopped no more than 12 feet from our group of kayaks as we huddled together close to the shore to make sure we weren't in their way. Some of our group members teared up from the absolutely majestic display.
I would recommend the sunset kayak trip to anyone. While you shouldn't expect to always see whales or tons of wildlife, Sea Quest and Pete provided an absolutely professional and fun environment to experience nature in the San Juan Islands. It really was the highlight of our whole trip to the San Juans.
This is an unsolicited review from a participant of our July 15th sunset kayak tour on the west side of San Juan Island in the orca whale waters. Images courtesy of whale-watching captain Jim Maya.
Our guests on a San Juan Islands kayak tour in the orca whale watching waters filmed this neat video of some killer whales that veered off course directly towards their kayaks for a close encounter!
Be sure to hit the "mute" button quickly if you don't want to hear a bit of cursing from the surprise the orca whales created. Skip forward to the 30 second mark where the fun begins!
Thanks to Jonathan Trutter for filming and posting this great video of kayaking with the orca whales in the San Juan Islands on a Sea Quest Expedition!
Don't forget to view the other videos we've posted on our website like the one to the right. And be sure to visit our YouTube Channel titled "Kayaking San Juan Islands" by clicking orca whale watching and kayaking San Juan Islands videos. Share the link with your friends so they can enjoy watching amazing professional and amateur videos of killer whales and sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands of Washington state.
Have you considered sharing your favorite San Juan Islands kayaking videos and images with the world? Many guests of Sea Quest Expeditions have posted beautiful photos taken during their kayaking tour vacations and we will display these with your permission. Contact us today or go to Sea Quest's Facebook page if you have some great San Juan Islands kayaking videos or photos that you would like to share!
The San Juan Islands would seem to be an ideal habitat for great white sharks, the species infamous for knocking kayak fisherman and surfers into the water off California and Oregon a couple of times each year. Our huge populations of seals and sea lions and cool waters must be very attractive to these apex predators. But to the puzzlement of many, great whites have never been recorded in the San Juan Islands or Salish Sea of Washington. Our theory is that our large population of orca whales keeps great white sharks at bay, hence the title of this blog article “Orca Whales Prevent Shark Attacks on Kayaks in the San Juan Islands”.
All 3 types of orcas in Washington are highly motivated to persecute or kill any great white shark that strays into the San Juan Islands. The “offshore” killer whales specialize in eating sharks as a major part of their diet and show extreme teeth wear from chewing through abrasive shark hides. The “transient”/Bigg’s killer whales are known to kill great white sharks and there are some great videos online showing them doing this and eating the huge nutritious liver afterwards. And “resident” killer whales that eat primarily salmon, the orcas we see most often on our kayak tours in Washington, would certainly attack great white sharks with vigor to keep their family pods safe from predation. Who needs shark nets when you've got killer whales on patrol protecting the waters?!
Here in the San Juan Islands of Washington, we dearly miss seeing basking sharks on our kayak tours. Basking sharks, the 3rd largest species reaching 30 feet in length, were formerly easy to observe as they slowly trawled along the surface for plankton with their giant fins sticking into the air. Orca whales left them alone because they represented no danger to their calves and either tasted badly or were too big to easily kill for food. Harmless basking sharks were common until the 1980’s along the entire west coast but have completely collapsed at the reckless hands of man. Sadly, last year’s aerial survey of British Columbia could not locate a single basking shark!
We also used to see vast schools of spiny dogfish sharks in the San Juan Islands. These small 1 meter long sharks were so abundant that they sometimes covered several acres of water as they chased shoals of herring. They were so thick that our quick-handed kayak guides could literally pluck them out of the water bare-handed as they swarmed past the kayaks. Alas, our herring are now depleted by 95% due to spawning habitat destruction in the Salish Sea and the dogfish sharks have died off without a food source.
Naturally, many of our San Juan Islands kayak tour guests ask us about the risk of shark attack. We always reply that your chance of winning the lotto and getting hit by lightning in the same day is much higher than getting attacked by a shark. Hollywood movies have unnecessarily created a fearful mindset towards these amazing predators. Only 60 shark attacks occur on average throughout the world in an average year - about a half dozen in the US. Only 4% of shark attacks in the US are fatal. Odds of dying in a motor vehicle or by insect sting are 1000’s of times higher.
Humans are killing about 70 million sharks each year, mostly just to turn their fins into soup. These kill rates can’t go on much longer because sharks have a very low reproductive rate. It is estimated that 90% of the large sharks over 2 meters have already been killed. Dozens of shark species are now listed as endangered and entire ecosystems are being severely altered by their wholesale removal. East coast clam and scallop beds are being ravaged by exploding populations of rays that were formerly kept in check by sharks. Coral reef studies show that large sharks prey on mid-sized predators and thereby protect the small fish species that keep the reef healthy by removing smothering algae. And now giant squid populations are exploding in various regions – maybe a good thing for sperm whales, but ask Captain Nemo what he thinks about that!
Orca whales are returning to their spring salmon hunting habitat on the west side of San Juan Island right now. Reserve your San Juan Islands kayak tour in the premiere orca whale watching waters today for an experience you will never forget!
Being the first company on San Juan Island to provide kayak tours using professional standards, we’ve seen a lot of copy-cat companies pop up over the years. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we should take some comfort in all of this mimicry. But we can't help but feel bad for the folks that end up on kayak tours using sub-standard equipment, poorly trained guides, and no emphasis on the educational opportunities that the marine environment so richly provides. Or worse yet, being sold on a "killer whale watching" kayak tour that visits places like Anacortes where whales are seen only a few times each month. It's difficult for someone seeking a quality kayaking vacation to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Some of these newer kayak tour companies are run by the motorized whale watching industry. While roaring around in their polluting power boats, they saw our kayaking groups silently gliding through the waters and opportunistically jumped into offering kayak trips, too. Kayak tour companies of this ilk are run by people who prefer motors over paddles and offer the kayaking equivalent of "pony rides". Lacking the knowledge of sound kayaking safety practices and rescue skills, some of these companies have approached us at Sea Quest to train their guides. Other kayak tour companies in the San Juan Islands have morphed into marketing operations for wineries, brewers, yoga schools, etc. Remarkably, there's even one old codger who leads "booze cruise" kayak tours and still hasn't figured out that wearing life jackets is an essential requirement of safe kayaking!
Here at Sea Quest we are keeping pure and simple. We began as biologists and environmental scientists who were all avid kayakers from the very beginning. Some of us even started kayaking as a way to get access to aquatic environments for research studies. We are all dedicated to spreading the joy of kayaking to as many guests possible and consider it our mission to provide the best educational experience possible within the framework of a kayaking tour.
Join us on a "Kayak Quest for Whales” and see if you don't agree that we are passionate about kayaking, whales, and natural history and strive to provide the utmost quality in every thing we do. Others have certainly noticed - you can read their remarks in the testimonials published on our website. Sea Quest accolades include selection by National Geographic in their “10 Best Trips in the World for 2011” and USA Today's “World's Top 10 Adventure Bargains”. And take a minute to watch us kayaking with killer whales in some fantastic videos made for National Geographic TV and ABC News.
Reserve your San Juan Islands kayak tour today for an experience you will never forget!
Our last blog entry discussed the dangers from a new study that involves dart tagging the resident orca whales in Washington - the same friendly orcas we enjoy watching on our kayaking tours in the San Juan Islands. Despite widespread criticism, the NOAA research team darted the first orca whale on February 20. The target was J-26 (aka “Mike”, named after deceased pioneering killer whale biologist Michael Bigg) a 21 year old who is usually found close to his 40 year old mother J-16 “Slick” and two younger sisters.
The satellite tag, sporting nasty double harpoon tips, was supposed to allow continuous tracking of J-pod killer whales (an endangered family of salmon-eating residents) to learn more about their movements, habitat use and feeding behavior. The tag only worked for 3 days instead of the planned 3 months. Now Mike is cruising our San Juan Islands kayaking tour routes with two nasty holes in his fin that served no purpose and put him at risk of infection.
Again, we must ask why all this effort and money is being spent when we already know why our orca whales in the San Juan Islands are endangered: 1) destruction of salmon spawning streams and 2) toxic pollutants that drift in from as far away as China. Why chase, harass, and harpoon our friendly whales when the problems have already been identified? Click here if you wish to read NOAA’s justification. And click here to read to the top orca biologists criticisms and an interesting debate.
The agency that approved this study is the same one that has accused kayak tours companies such as ours of threatening the whales’ health by respectfully and silently drifting across the water’s surface in their company. Meanwhile, this agency has approved for use on our San Juan Islands kayaking tour routes the following: military bombs and sonar, bulk freighters, and commercial fishing fleets whose nets steal the orcas’ already rare food supply and put them at risk of drowning.
NOAA is a “scientific” federal agency, but they seem incapable of making rational decisions when it comes to the welfare of the orca whales they are legally responsible for saving. The reality is that kayakers are an easy target to scapegoat and serve as the perfect “red herring” diversion to what really needs to get done. Restoring damaged salmon streams is hard work, costs money, and often steps on political toes. But it’s long overdue and essential to our entire ecosystem.
Unfortunately, it seems we can’t rely on our government agencies in Washington to take a stand against entrenched financial or military-industrial interests. The fishing fleet allowed by NOAA to compete with killer whales for endangered salmon right in the heart of the proposed orca sanctuary is financed by big bankers. And the weapons-makers are always clamoring to test and sell us more of their deadly wares. We can only hope that NOAA comes to its senses soon and takes real and effective action to save our orca whales. The whales can’t wait much longer.
A new orca whale research project for the San Juan Islands of Washington has just been approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the infamous federal agency known for constantly blocking protections for marine mammals or bungling their conservation management. This study will directly impact the killer whales we enjoy observing on our San Juan Islands kayak tours.
This new study involves shooting metal tags that are known to cause major tissue damage and possible life-threatening infections. Our local resident killer whales have long been known to suffer mortality from common bacteria that should not ordinarily be lethal. The high level of industrial toxins that have been absorbed by our San Juan Islands orca whales is likely suppressing their immune systems and making them susceptible to minor injuries.
This highly invasive metal darting study is too risky for a mortally threatened and beloved population of killer whales such as we have in Washington state. It is better suited for a remote region where orcas are not struggling with industrial toxins and a decimated food supply.
In addition, our San Juan Islands orca whales are very trusting of humans and often swim right up to, or underneath, our “grouped-up” kayaks. Please note: Whenever orcas are present during our whale watching kayak tours, we stop paddling and form a very tight group to minimize our profile to the whales. We also move out of their path, but as the whales swim faster than we can kayak, close encounters are bound to happen whenever the orcas so desire! In any case, we always treat the whales with the utmost respect as they deserve.
After decades of peaceful interactions, do we really want to destroy the trust of our resident orca whales by shooting them with painful metal darts? This photo shows holes in the fin from a dart.
As a side note, the decision was made without consultation with Canadian authorities, an odd fact considering this population of killer whales utilizes Canadian waters as part of their home range. Here is an article from their perspective.