The Faces of San Juan Island – John Boyd

John, or JB as he is known by some, grew up in the 60s and loved watching the TV show “Flipper”. He was jealous of Bud & Sandy hanging with a dolphin and have it rescue them every week. He wanted a dolphin too. That love for dolphins stayed with him through college, where he went to Texas A&M and started to study marine biology. However, his junior year in college he changed majors and ended up with a Bachelor of Science in Phys Ed & Biology. He taught outdoor education and met his wife in Houston before deciding to avoid the heat and moving to Oregon.  


Living in Oregon for 6 years, they would go exploring on their Goldwing motorcycle. Weather dictated where they went, and somehow one day they ended up in line to catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands.  They explored the island and lucked upon Lime Kiln. Back then there was no parking lot, just some spots in the woods to park.  As they walked down to the lighthouse, people were walking up telling them they just missed a group of whales go by.  But they sat on the rocks and waited…and waited…for 2 hours.  Just as they were about to give up they heard a loud “woooosh!” Soon they saw them, about 30 fins coming right up along shore. They were the only 2 people there.  John describes the experience as magical and decided then that one day he’d live on this island.

Fast forward a few years to 1996. They decided that it was time to leave Oregon.  San Juan Island would be their new home. John began to volunteer with this somewhat new program called Soundwatch with Kari Koski. For the first week of going out, he didn’t see a single whale. When he finally did, he was hooked again. He’d find every chance to get on the water.

The final hook was their first kayak trip in new kayaks. After 3 exhausting hours of where everything went wrong, suddenly they heard a loud woosh right behind his boat. His wife’s eyes were huge as she said “HUGE dorsal fin behind you!” Suddenly John was looking UP to see a massive dorsal fin that was like a Ruffles potato chip (Yup, J1).  This energized him like never before. A few minutes later came another wooosh! This time J2 Granny came up right next to his wife’s boat. The rest of the trip was a blur and all they could do was smile. Now he was hooked even more.

John began working as a marine naturalist in 2000 after taking the marine naturalist training class. He started out with another whale watch company, but once he met Ivan, his current boss, he knew he wanted to work on the Western Prince.  Once a spot opened up, he never looked back.  For John, working on a whale watch boat combines his passion of whales along with his passion for teaching.  He loves to see “the light turn on” in the minds of passengers when they see an orca for the first time and start to ask about the life history of whales and the interdependency of whales and salmon (and humans). It is rewarding for him to show people how whales have a true culture, how they have a language and family structure, and how whales go from being this “show animal” they see in captivity to an animal that is dynamic in the wild.

photo (1)

A scientist once told him in reference to potential factors watching whales from a boat might present, “JB, if you are doing your job right and turning your passengers into advocates of orcas and their environment, you are doing far more good than harm….”  He feels extremely strongly that people who encounter wild orcas get the true magic of seeing these whales—they are not performing for our benefit, but they are behaving in a manner consistent with whales with strong social and familial structures.

John was with Soundwatch for 16 years. He was one of the 9 founding members of SSAMN (Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists), and one of the only founders still serving on the board. SSAMN was formed to ensure that naturalists working in this area all have the same knowledge base so the information they disseminate is the same He is a supporter of The Whale Museum, The Center for Whale Research, and supported Killer Whale Tales. He’s been a volunteer aboard Moja with Conservation Canines, helped aboard the NOAA ship collecting scale samples with Brad Hansen and Robin Baird, and helped from time to time with maintaining the hydrophone array with Val Viers. He also has a book in the works called Diary of a Whale Watcher that he hopes to put out next year. 

As have so many others, John refers to Ruffles (J1) as “his boy”. One day a passenger asked him how often big males like Ruffles breach. He  told him not often as he’s getting old and all.  So jokingly, as Ruffles came by the boat I yelled “You’re old and all, but it would be awesome if you’d breach right here in front of the boat”. I had pointed to a spot just off the bow. Ruffles went down and next thing we know, he launched out of the water right where John pointed! People were stunned. The other naturalist said “we have to get you a raise…” The next day he’s out again, and tells the story of Ruffles from the day before. Jokingly again (and with camera in hand) he yells the same thing again….and Ruffles breached exactly where he pointed!!!  People began to call him a “whale whisperer.”  


Photo of Ruffles taken by John

John’s boat is named Wave Walker, after L88. Still considered somewhat “young”, he has high hopes that he’ll grow into the next Ruffles or Faith (L57).


The Faces of San Juan Island – Erin Corra

Last week’s Superpod 3 was nothing short of amazing.  A group of old friends and newcomers, some who only knew each other by their facebook or twitter profile pictures, met together to celebrate Southern Resident #Blackfish, share ideas, and watch whales in their natural environment.  For those of us who had never been on San Juan Island, we quickly learned and shared the local resident’s passion for the island.

An iconic highlight of San Juan Island is the infamous lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point State Park. As a first time visitor, I couldn’t wait to see it in person.  Luckily, one of the first people I met on the island was Erin Corra.  I quickly realized what an imperative role she has played in saving the educational program of this beloved park.

Erin Corra illuminates passion for the island that she calls home.  Her bright spirit shines through as soon as you meet her…and it’s contagious.  She is quick to share that enthusiasm with anyone in her path.  This enthusiasm thrust her into action to save the educational programs that were threatened to be lost just a few short years ago.


In 2010, state budget cuts caused Erin to lose her job at Lime Kiln State Park as Interpretive Specialist – a position she had held since 2007.  Initially, the Center for Whale Research stepped up as an umbrella fiscal agent to keep the programs “afloat” at the park.  That allowed time to come up with a more sustainable solution and Friends of Lime Kiln Society (FOLKS) was launched in the fall of 2011 with Erin as Founder and Program Director.

FOLKS is made possible in collaboration with the Washington State Parks Foundation.  Lime Kiln Point State Park is a key location for public education and promotion of protection of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.  Close contact with the whales inspires people to change the way they live in their environment to help protect these magnificent but threatened beings. Over 200,000 visitors from 40+ countries visit the park each year to view and learn about the SRKW. It is clearly a critical education habitat that must be protected as passionately as the whales themselves. That is what FOLKS is all about.


Not only is Lime Kiln Point a fantastic place to watch whales in their natural habitat, but it also offers other unique flora and fauna including the beautifully red-barked Madrona tree, deer, eagles and other wildlife.

FOLKS mission is to provide a unique experience for visitors through support & development of educational programs and activities related to Lime Kiln Point State Park’s extraordinary location, diverse ecosystems, and historic structures.


When not working at the park, Erin is also involved in other ways to protect the island’s natural resources, including eelgrasses of the Salish Sea.  She also serves as Volunteer Director for Eelgrass Project Outreach and provides outreach at SJI Farmer’s Market every Saturday.

Who is Erin’s favorite orca you might ask?  GRANNY! J2


Photo taken by Jill Hein

Granny, estimated to be 103 years old, is the famous matriarch of J pod.  As a great-grandmother, Granny traveled 800 miles off the Canadian cost this year. I have to agree with Erin who says “Granny by far is the wisest mama out there!”

Consider donating to FOLKS to help keep this iconic park open as an educational and research platform and help inspire park visitors to become more environmentally responsible for our future.

Part one of the Faces of San Juan Island – Melisa Pinnow can be found here if you missed it.

The Faces of San Juan Island – Melisa Pinnow

Last week, dozens of researchers, scientists, former trainers and whale enthusiasts (Self-proclaimed “Orca-dorks”) joined together for the annual event – Superpod 3. Individuals traveled from near and far to join together for whale watching, nightly lectures and socialization in our own “pod” of sorts.

The whales were the celebrities of the week with daily sightings along the West side of San Juan Island. Their majesty is a sight to behold, leaving no doubt that this is the way they were intended to be viewed. Breaches, spy hops and fluke splashes were all part of the show…on THEIR terms.

Whether it was the first time seeing orcas in the wild or a return visit, the people of San Juan Island could not have been more accommodating. The locals on the island have a contagious enthusiasm for the island and it’s endless gifts.

One of those inspiring islanders is Melisa Pinnow. Melissa has lived along the coast of San Juan Island her entire life.  At only 20 years old, she is dedicated to spreading current news about cetaceans.

In 2010, she started working for San Juan Excursions aboard the Odyssey. In the beginning, she was the snack bar attendant, but as she formed a passion for the orcas, especially the Southern Resident orcas, she became a certified marine naturalist. When she is not out on the Odyssey, she’s watching the orcas from shore or other boats, hanging out with friends, or adding to her website:

Melisa finds it surprising that all these amazing marine animals were around her for her entire life but she never really showed much interest in them, until she started working on the Odyssey. It was when Ruffles J1, a fifty-nine-year-old male surfaced within a hundred yards of her on the Odyssey, that her now blazing fire of a passion was sparked. A little stream of water ran down the base of Ruffle’s wavy dorsal fin as he slowly surfaced. His thunderous exhale was the most amazing sound she had ever heard. After this encounter, she began to get to know Ruffles’ family, as well as the other matrilines that make of J, K, and L pod, and it wasn’t long before she could identify all of the Southern Resident orcas by sight.


A replica of Ruffles dorsal fin is located inside the gift shop at Lime Kiln State Park

Ruffles (J1) was the oldest living male, estimated to be between 57 and 60 years old at the time of his death in 2011.  He had a distinct 6 foot wavy dorsal fin, making him easily distinguishable.

His presumed mother was Granny (J2), who still graces the waters to this day.

Looking back, Melisa is amazed at how much her life has changed in such a short time. She does not know where she would be now if she had not gotten that job on the Odyssey and if Ruffles had not pulled her into his world. As a naturalist, she continues to teach guests all about the orcas and other wildlife, and how they can help save them.

Melisa’s plan for the future is to help save the Southern Resident orcas from extinction. At just 79 individuals in the entire Southern Resident community, they are ever so close to dying out. she will fight tooth and nail until they either recover, or the last member passes away. How can we help save the Southern Residents you may ask? It’s all about the salmon. These specific orcas only eat salmon (Chinook being their absolute favorite) and are experiencing food shortages. We must take down dams, restore salmon habitat, stop harvesting for a short time to let them recover, and stop supporting farmed salmon.

Melisa attends Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington studying Marine Biology and just finished her freshman year. She will be returning to campus in the fall, but will be back up on San Juan next summer.

You can find her on twitter @MelisaPinnow (SanJuanOrcas)