Unfed – or – Whales Always Eat First

Highlights from our Whales and Marine Ecology of SE Alaska Trip with Josh McInnes

By Jeffrey Smith, Photos by Josh McInnes and Christine Smith

On the  David B we like to do what comes along. We do have a schedule like everyone else, but a lot of times we change it to respond to the moment. We don’t want to miss anything.

Male Killer Whale in Endicott Arm

So that’s why I was a little taken aback when I tried to help out another boat that was nearby so that they would see some orcas we had just spotted. When we find wildlife, especially something as cool as transient killer whales, I typically radio other boats that are nearby to make sure they’ll get a chance to see too, (and hopefully repay the favor later). Then there’s usually a radio discussion about how we can all maneuver so as not to be in each others view.

I politely, and a little excitedly made the call. Then the whales turned around, so we moved to follow them, I called again. All of our guests were out on the deck taking photos and loving the show. Josh McInnes, our guest naturalist and whale biologist was explaining what we were watching as it happened, play by play.

I finally made another call, because I wasn’t sure if the other boat was uncertain of my intentions. They seemed to be staying a long ways away. Finally she explained what they were doing:
“We’re going to be staying away from the whales for about another 20 minutes, because our guests are still eating breakfast.”

What??? I was unable to believe. How unfortunate for those folks, because in 20 minutes the orcas might slip away. Our chef was out on deck with the whales. Our galley was unoccupied. We were with whales!

Over the next few minutes the pod slipped through a narrow passage, so we followed. Then they reversed course, and swam right past us, and caught an unsuspecting harbor seal right in front of us. It was amazing. There was even a brand new unknown calf in the group. We might have been the first humans to see it. We turned around and stayed with them for almost another 30 minutes.

75 feet away from Killer Whales Having Breakfast

The happy ending of the story is that they did finally join us watching the whales, and got to see some amazing breaching, a behavior that the transients do after a kill and after they’re done eating. And we didn’t miss any meals on the David B either. It was good for everyone

I love our ability to be unscheduled. We go where the wildlife is when it’s there and happening. We actually saw the hunt, the capture and the kill. Food, for us, can wait. For the bigger boats, I understand, they need to be scheduled. But I really think our guests get a better trip.

Even if we are unfed.

Brand new Killer Whale Calf

Newsletter – Wild Brother Wolf and Skiffyasaurus

Wild Brother Wolf visits on Trip #296 May 31 – June 7, 2017

– by Christine Smith

Sometimes the quickest animal sighting stays with me the longest, especially when it comes to elusive wildlife. This past week while I was making coffee, I happened to catch some movement on the beach out of the corner of my eye. I paused the coffee grinder and looked with intent as a wolf ran along the shore.

“Where’s my camera, where’s my camera,” I whisper-shouted to Jeffrey. “What’s wrong?” Jeffrey answered back, not fully understanding my question so early in the morning. “Wolf. Beach. There.” I pointed out as I found and aimed my camera – clicking rapidly before the “wild brother” disappeared back into the forest.

The wolf trotted along. Stopped to sniff the ground several times before leaving. The whole encounter lasted not more than two minutes, but even now as I write a week later, I still get goose bumps knowing I got a glimpse of a wild wolf. For me, wolves are special. We rarely see them. In twelve years of running the David B, this is only the fourth time we’ve seen wolves. It was a treat, and one that I’m happy to share with you.

-Christine

Wild Brother Wolf one early morning in Sanford Cove
This Trip also had other Animals Such as…

Birds:
Surf Scoter, White-Winged Scoter, Common Loon, Arctic Terns, Boneparts Gulls, Marable Murrelets, Bald Eagles, Pacific Loons, Varied Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Swainsons Thrush, Pacific Wren, Junco, Stellars Jay, Red-Throated Loons, Harlequin Ducks, Pigeon Guillemots, Trumpeter Swan, Rufus Hummingbird, Raven, crow, Canada goose, Horned Grebe, robin

Mammals:
Wolf, Mountain Goat Humpback whales, Brown Bears (grizzly), seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, deer

Seal on Ice
Also, Christine’s Meal highlight – Smoked Black Cod Risotto with caramelized onions, and mushrooms. Yum.

Introducing the Skiffyasaurus!

When the Tin Hat Project was being built, Jeffrey also decided to build a new skiff with some very unique features.

Skiffyasaurus at North Arm

Some of the new features include:

  • Seating up to 8 passengers plus crew – no more multiple trips ashore
  • More speed, range and stability for longer excursions
  • Flat bottom with easier access steps to get in and out of the skiff and onto the beach
  • Charting and Depth Finder so Jeffrey can scout new anchorages for the David B

The Skiffyasaurus’ Spacious Interior!

Four days in the San Juan Islands

San Juan Islands Wildflowers Cruise
Sea blush and a fossil at Sucia Island.

Early spring is one of my favorite times in the Pacific Northwest. It a time where the wildflowers brighten up the landscape in the already beautiful San Juan Islands, and of course the David B is back out on the water. Our first cruise in 2016 was a 4-day trip that started on April 28th. Within a couple of hours of being underway we came a cross a small pod of killer whales near Point Lawrence on Orcas Island. We stopped and watched the whales for a short while. There were no other boats around and we knew it was a rare treat to get to watch these endangered animals without their usual compliment of boats. Since the whales were going the opposite direction from us we didn’t watch them for long, but it felt nice to stop, admire them, and then leave them to continue on their way.

We anchored at Sucia Island and spent the rest of the afternoon on a walk to Fossil Bay. It’s one of my favorite spots in the San Juan Islands. I love the trail and looking for fossils. In early spring the icing on the cake is getting to see the wildflowers. My favorites are the Sea Blush which paint the rocky slopes and bluffs of the San Juan Islands a beautiful pink. Later, when we returned to the boat, I made a salmon dinner with pearl couscous, green beans and some sautéed mushrooms for our first night’s dinner.

Gourmet meals on a small cruise ship
Salmon dinner for our first night.

The next morning while I made coffee, I listened to the  lovely dawn chorus of songbirds. After breakfast, we kayaked across Echo Bay to Ewing Cove. A couple of seals cautiously followed us. I like to think that seals have sense of timing when it comes to having their pictures taken. Just when you get your camera ready, they lift their noses to the sky, close their nostrils and slip silently under water.

Later, we raised the anchor and made way for Garrison Bay. In Spieden Channel we got to watch a big Stellers sea lion fishing. When we anchored, I stayed on the boat to make fresh pasta and a creamy spinach pesto for dinner, while everyone else when ashore to tour English Camp.

On the third day of the cruise, we hauled up the anchor and went the short distance to Roche Harbor. We spent a couple hours there, and then got back underway and cruised to Hunter Bay at Lopez Island. We had some pretty amazing weather. It was easily in the mid-70s with lots of sunshine. We anchored in the early evening and had happy hour on deck. I made Butter-Lime Halibut for dinner.

I always try to make the last day of every trip special and part of that is to make my favorite pastries — croissants and pain au chocolat. In the early morning I watched the sunrise from my galley window while I rolled out the croissant dough, and felth the warmth of the wood cookstove take the chill out of the morning air. I shaped

Sunrise in the San Juan Islands
Sunrise at Lopez Island

each croissant, and thought about them baking in the oven as I brushed them with milk and cream. I thought about pulling them out of the oven when they are just the right dark golden color. Then I thought about how much each croissant or pain au chocolat would be enjoyed by our guests as they come up from their cabins, one-by-one for a cup of French press coffee and a warm buttery croissant.

To work off the croissants we ate for breakfast, we went for a nice walk on Lopez Island. There wasn’t really a destination– just strolling conversation, but we did end up at a small general store. We poked around and read the bulletin board of fliers showing the services, concerts, and goings-on on Lopez before we headed back to the boat.

Just before lunch we got underway and headed back to Bellingham. It was four beautiful days in the islands and a truly wonderful way to begin a new season.

-Christine