Friday Harbor and Stuart Island, The San Juan Islands

Sep 26, 2017 - National Geographic Quest


We awoke to a beautiful sunrise with fog in Friday Harbor. Soft light filtered in through the east, while the rest of the horizon was clear, welcoming the warmth of the sun. Friday Harbor is the one “real” town in the San Juan Islands.  It’s a quaint, picturesque little town that rambles up the hillside from a protected harbor.  A foghorn rumbled and a Washington state car ferry appeared out of the fog and into the harbor.  It docked and released its cars and passengers into the town. There are 172 islands in the San Juan Archipelago, yet only four have Washington state ferry service.  This town is also home to the Whale Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to killer whales. Our resident fish eating coastal orcas are the most studied whales in the world, and in this museum everything about them can be found depicted in videos, displays, and explained by knowledgeable docents.  Most of the our  passengers headed to the Whale Museum to learn more about these intriguing whales that we had sighted two days earlier.

We pulled away from Friday Harbor at 1330 and headed towards Stuart Island for some walking and exploring by our Zodiacs. The San Juan’s have many rocky treeless islands surrounded by bull kelp that floats in the sea and sustains a myriad of sea life. What looked like small boulders lying atop the islets turned out to be “rock sausages”. Rock sausages are what we call harbor seals when they are hauled out on these rocky islets they call home. They have to haul out every few hours to rest and warm up. This year’s pups that were born last June and July are now about 70 to 80 pounds (about 20 lbs. at birth) and are fully weaned. A Harlequin duck bobbed in the kelp feeding, as did numerous gulls and cormorants.

As we were ready to call it a day and head back to the National Geographic Quest, one of our boats had spotted two Bigg’s killer whales, the type that eat marine mammals. We were able to watch T10 and her son T10B travel through the water before we had to leave them and return to the ship. What a wonderful day full of wildlife and scenery in the beautiful San Juan Islands.

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About the Author

Sharon Grainger

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Sharon’s degrees in Psychology and Anthropology from Eastern Washington University have given her a good base to pursue her profession as a naturalist and photographer. With five generations of artists behind her, she has developed a portfolio of images covering many interests including indigenous cultures, ethnobotany, natural and cultural history. Photography gives voice and interpretation to her experience of the world. Spending many years with Native peoples has dramatically affected her attitude towards how and what she sees. She recognized, through these experiences, the diversity of peoples around the world. This began a lifelong curiosity about the variety of ways in which different cultures relate to each other and this planet.

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