Epic Weather – Epic Whale Watching

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2015 is a year to remember. Once-in-a-generation weather. All resident orca pods present and accounted for. And we’re in the midst of an incredible baby boom – with 4 orca calves joining the endangered J  & L Southern Resident Pods so far this year.

This may be the best year to go whale watching in recent memory!

We have our own new baby ourselves – the Chilkat Express – the fastest, greenest whale watching boat in the Pacific Northwest. That’s right – the Seattle metro area now has its first-ever half-day whale watch option. See orcas, humpback whales and all the majestic wildlife of the Pacific Northwest with our new tour out of Edmonds, just a few minutes north of Seattle. Seattle Whale Watching has never been easier!

Between our Port Townsend and Edmonds runs, we have 5 different GUARANTEED whale watching tours you can choose from every day:

 

Orca Photos by Janine Harles

baby orcas photo by janine harles

We have been incredibly fortunate to have Edmonds photographer Janine Harles join us for a few of our Seattle/Edmonds whale watching tours. She has captured some truly stunning images, including of the new J-Pod baby orcas that we are seeing this year in the Salish Sea. She has been kind enough to share many of these on the Puget Sound Express Facebook page – so please take some time to browse over there.

Thanks to Janine – and to the orcas, who are out in force this year. Combined with epic weather, 2015 is turning out to be epic for whale watching . Remember, we offer 3 daily San Juan Island whale watching cruises in the summer: 4 Hour Whale Watching Tours out of Port Townsend, Full Day Whale Watching Tours from Port Townsend (that include a 2 hour stopover in Friday Harbor), and our half-day Seattle Whale Watching Tour that departs from Edmonds. ALL are guaranteed to see whales.

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Hop on a Key City Cruise July 9

Join Puget Sound Express, Port Ludlow Resort, and Key City Public Theater for a waterfront cruise and one of the greatest theatre comedies of all time!

Charles Ludlam’s satirical masterpiece, The Mystery of Irma Vep tells the story of leading Egyptologist Lord Edgar and his new wife, Lady Enid, both of whom must contend with the tragic and haunting figure of Irma Vep, Lord Edgar’s late first wife. But this is not the only thing amiss at the gothic mansion of Mandacrest Estate. Jane, the acerbic maid, remains devoted to the memory of her former mistress, and the groundskeeper, Nicodemus has secrets of his own. Throw in some werewolves, vampires, mummies, and all things that go bump in the night — played by two actors in some 35 quick changes and you’ve got one hysterical farce!!! This show will keep you in stitches right up to the final twist!

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See Whales With PSE – Help the Center for Whale Research

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Puget Sound Express is proud to support the work of the Center for Whale Research, located in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. The Center for Whale Research is dedicated to the study and conservation of the Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orca) population in the Pacific Northwest.

Led by biologist Ken Balcomb, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has conducted an annual photo-identification study of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population that frequents the inland waters of Washington State and lower British Columbia. A nearly four decade effort, these studies have provided unprecedented baseline information on population dynamics and demography, social structure, and individual life histories.

CWR’s work is critical to ensure the survival of the Southern Resident population. When the Southern Residents were listed as endangered in Canada in 2001 and in the United States in 2005, recovery plans were drafted to address the issues currently affecting their survival. These recovery plans listed four main threats to the survival of this species:

  1. Reduced quantity and quality of prey (Chinook/King/Spring salmon)
  2. High environmental levels of persistent biochemicals, such as PCB’s and flame retardants, that have known harmful effects on marine mammals (eg. immune system repression and reproductive system dysfunction)
  3. Sound and disturbance from vessel traffic and shipping
  4. Potential oil spills

When you go whale watching with Puget Sound Express, you can help support CWR’s work. At checkout, simply select the “Support Orca Research” option, and we’ll send $2 for every order to the Center for Whale Research.

PSE Lunchs Provided by The Courtyard Cafe

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On our four hour cruises, we offer a range of scrumptious, homemade lunches from our friends at the Courtyard Cafe in Port Townsend. Will and Heidi are two of the nicest folks you’ll ever hope to meet, and their love of food makes their breakfasts and lunches a PSE crew favorite!

As a family business ourselves, we like partnering with the Coutyard, because they are a family business as well – literally – watch out for their 7 & 8 year old watching from the stairs or their 14 year old bussing tables on the weekend! Their motto is “Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends” We love it.

p.s. you can pick your lunches as you go through the check out process online. Turkey, Ham, Veggie – even PB&J for the kids!

Whale Watching in HD

Now that Puget Sound Express has expanded to three boats, offering whale watching in Port Townsend AND Seattle/Edmonds – we decided it was high time to get some new video footage out into the world! Enjoy…

Fourth Baby for Endangered Puget Sound Orcas!

Photo Credit: Jeanne Hyde courtesy of Center for Whale Reseasrch
Photo Credit: Jeanne Hyde courtesy of Center for Whale Research

By PHUONG LE, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) – The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth baby orca documented this winter. The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia. The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government. The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.” While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent. “Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday. “It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism. “We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.

A Terrific Season of Gray Whales

Gray Whale

[NOTE: 2015 GRAY WHALE TOURS ARE NOW COMPLETE]

Each spring, majestic gray whales migrate from the southern waters north to Alaska. In March and April they pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, providing an excellent opportunity to visit and learn about these whales.

In 2015, the great whales returned – and we had a grand time hanging out with them.

Gray whales are baleen whales that migrate between feeding and breeding grounds each year. They reach nearly 50 feet in length and live between 55 and 70 years! The gray whale has a dark slate-gray color and is covered by characteristic gray-white patterns, scars left by parasites which drop off in its cold feeding grounds. They have two blowholes on top of their head, which can create a distinctive V-shaped blow.

The annual gray whale migration from the Baja Peninsula to the Bering Sea is a challenging, 10,000 mile journey for these great creatures. The area around Everett, Camano Island, and Whidbey Island is popular with the grays due to the robust shrimp population. We’re fortunate that the whales make a detour from their off-shore journey to join us in March and April to feed and build up their fat stores for the remainder of their journey to Alaska.

Two of the most recognizable gray whales are named “Patches” and “Dubknuck”. Along with other whales, we look forward to seeing them return to the waters off of Whidbey Island each year. Patches had a run-in last year with some transient orcas, which he was lucky to escape from. Transient orcas – as opposed to our Southern Resident orcas (which feed mostly on salmon) – eat pretty much anything. So it was a tense few hours out on the water while we watched the chase. Ultimately, Patches escaped – but that is life among whales in the wild!

The grays are back on the move – and we look forward to seeing them again in 2016.

What Happens When Orcas Reach Menopause

orca-pod-by-CWR

Our friends at the Center for Whale Research, and the University of Exeter, the University of York have just published results after examining 35 years’ worth of observational data from our Southern Resident Pod of orcas. After looking at more than 3 decades’ worth of photographs capturing whales on the move, they noticed an interesting pattern: post-menopausal orca females, the oldest in the group, typically swam at the front and directed the pod’s movements.

Why is that the case? Smithsonian Magazine has the whole story and we strongly encourage you to read the entire article (the study results were published in the journal Current Biology).

However, the upshot is that “with age, comes wisdom!”

Orca females stop reproducing at around 50 years old, which is also the age when most male orcas are nearing the ends of their lives. Many post-menopausal females still have another 40 years to go, however.

“One way post-reproductive females may boost the survival of their kin is through the transfer of ecological knowledge,” says Lauren Brent of the University of Exeter. “The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing.”

So far from retiring, orca females that are past their child-bearing years go on to become group leaders with valuable survival skills!

Another Baby Orca in J-Pod!

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Newborn J51 with her mother J19 off San Juan Island. Photo: Dave Ellifrit, The Center for Whale Research.

Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) crews are reporting the sighting of another new calf among the endangered Southern Resident Community of orcas – confirmed tonight by Ken Balcomb and The Center for Whale Research. With the recent inclusion by NOAA Fisheries of the captive orca Lolita, in Miami Seaquarium, the population now stands at 80 individuals.

“This is about the best Valentine’s Day present you can imagine,” explains Michael Harris, Executive Director of the PWWA, which represents 32 operators in Washington and BC. “We always try to be cautiously optimistic when he hear about babies, as wild orcas have a high rate of infant mortality. About half don’t make it through their first year. But still, this is wonderful news. J-Pod continues to do all it can to help bring this population back.”

The Center reports that after spending the past two weeks near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, J-Pod finally returned to the interior Salish Sea waters, a brand new calf in tow. Center researcher Dave Ellifrit and naturalist Jeanne Hyde first heard the whales on the Lime Kiln hydrophone this morning, and then embarked on the Center‘s research vessel Chimo while Balcomb watched from shore and managed communications.

Tonight they confirmed a calf that they estimate to be about one week old. The presumed mother is 36-year-old J19. Her 10-year-old daughter, J41, was also in attendance. Both were reported “swimming protectively” on either side of the baby, which The Center says appears healthy. It will be designated J51.

This brings the number of J-Pod whales to 26, making it the most viable pod in the population. K-Pod has 19 individuals, and L-Pod has 34.