In this second part of our two part series with Clipper naturalist Justine Buckmaster, we chat more about whales, specifically her favorite animal, orcas. Read part one here. 

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist.

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What is your favorite animal to study/watch?:

Orcas have been my favorite animal ever since preschool. Seeing them never gets old or boring to me. Over the years of spending summer vacations on San Juan Island as a child and later working at Clipper, I also had unforgettable experiences with other animals, too. When I was 12, harbor porpoises also stole my heart after watching hundreds of them chuff along at the surface from shore. No animal will ever be as exciting as orcas to me, but harbor porpoises come close. I love all cetaceans and enjoy watching all of them, but we all have our favorites.

Why are orcas interesting to you?:

Whales in general have always inspired me by their size and ability to live underwater despite being air-breathing mammals like us. When I first learned about whales and the food chain in preschool, I wanted to know which ones were at the top of the food chain. I was surprised to find out that orcas, though much smaller than other whales were the apex predators of the sea. I’m still impressed by their intelligence, power and their problem solving abilities.

I recently watched a documentary where orcas were referred to as “the most terrifying predator since the T. Rex” and it’s true (if you’re an orca prey item, humans have never been killed by wild orcas)! But what I find even more impressive than their highly evolved hunting skills, is their apparent curiosity for the world around them. For being such “terrifying predators” they are also very relatable to us. We see a lot of ourselves in them, especially when they appear to be just as interested in us as we are in them.

Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist.

Orca breaching. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What’s the coolest experience with orcas you’ve had?:

It’s really hard to pick just one, but the first one that comes to mind is the first time I looked into a wild orca’s eye. There’s something unforgettable about being eye to eye with such an impressive animal and wondering what they think as they mirror your gaze. This happened when I was 12 years old, on the same trip as the harbor porpoise experience. My family spent many afternoons on our vacations at Lime Kiln State Park, where the orcas often swam by and would even come close to shore on occasion. This was one such occasion. Since I was a regular visitor to the park, I had a favorite rock close to the water’s edge to watch the whales from. When I heard that the orcas were headed toward the park, I climbed down to my rock and waited for them to arrive. I didn’t have to wait very long before I heard loud slaps on the water of an orca breaching in the distance. I watched excitedly as the orcas made their way north past the park. It as a super pod! All three resident orca families, J pod, K pod, and L pod were traveling together and seemed to be socializing.

I watched excitedly as nearly 90 orcas breached, spyhopped, slapped their flukes on the surface and breathed just a couple hundred yards from where I sat. After a couple dozen orcas passed things got even more exciting when one adult female turned ninety degrees right in front of where I sat and headed straight for the shore! She surfaced again in front of me, close enough to touch if I weren’t so surprised with another orca at her side. I looked at her eye, and to my surprise, she was looking right back! Her eye looked into my left eye and then my right before she sounded and swam with her partner through the kelp. Every orca that passed after that also swam close through the kelp bed, but none of the others looked at me like the first female did. After they all passed by, I was so excited, I jumped up with my hands in the air and shouted “That was the greatest moment of my life!” Since then, I’ve looked several orcas in the eye and it never gets any less thrilling.

One last whale story:

On August 23rd, 2014 I married my husband at the top of Lime Kiln Lighthouse. Just before the ceremony I was feeling a little bit nervous, pre-wedding jitters, I suppose. I looked out the window of the house we were renting and saw a familiar cluster of whale watching boats heading north toward Lime Kiln. I asked my mother to take me to the park to see the orcas and told her it would help calm me down. She agreed and dropped me off to watch the whales as she went back to the house to finish preparations for the ceremony and bring back my dress.

I watched just half a dozen orcas slowly moving north past the park in the late afternoon light about half a mile from shore. When my mom returned and told me it was time to change into my dress while she set up the chairs and decorations, we saw an orca heading for the shore just to the north of the lighthouse. To our surprise and delight she turned south, cruising along the shoreline in the kelp. She surfaced several time close to the shore and slapped her flukes right in front of the rock I stood on. It was none other than the 104 year old matriarch of J pod, J-2 “Granny.” I felt much more at ease and tore my eyes away from the whales to change in a nearby shelter away from the guests.

When the ceremony started, the other orcas that had passed the lighthouse with J-2 also came close to shore and several more foraged and lingered in the distance. The loud blows of the closest ones punctuated the music as I walked down the aisle. Then, when the music stopped, the orcas were silent. The ceremony started at the lighthouse door and then we went to the top of the tower to say our vows. As soon as the ceremony finished and my husband and I kissed for the first time as husband and wife, my mom suddenly exclaimed from below “Justine! Humpbacks!” I looked to where she pointed but didn’t see anything. Someone laughed and said “She’s pulling your leg!” However, she insisted, and sure enough, two humpback whales surfaced side by side just south of the lighthouse heading north. Everyone got up and watched with awe and excitement as they slowly passed, lifting their impressive flukes with each dive. Orcas could also still be seen in the distance. It was perhaps, the most magical moments of my life.

J-2 "Granny" right before Justine's wedding. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist.

J-2 “Granny” right before Justine’s wedding. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

Justine Buckmaster

Justine Buckmaster, Clipper Vacations Naturalist, snaps a photo during a gray whale watching excursion on the Victoria Clipper III.

Whale watching season is upon us, and those of who have traveled with us have probably noticed the naturalists on our boats who have the fun job of searching for and identifying wildlife while we are out on the water. To find out more about this awesome job, I chatted with Clipper’s very own naturalist, Justine Buckmaster, who has been with the company for five years and she filled me in on what naturalists do, how she became interested in becoming one and some of her experiences with wildlife. In fact, Justine as so many great stories that we are splitting them into two posts. Make sure to check back in for more exciting whale tales.

What do naturalists do?:

Naturalists are educators and guides. We present information and interesting facts about natural history and wildlife. I find that most naturalists, myself included, love engaging with people and answering questions. Being very passionate about the subjects we talk about is also important. When the passengers see or hear you get really excited about something, they get excited too, and that helps spark a deeper appreciation for nature and may inspire them to take what the learned and saw home with them, inspiring even more people! That’s the most satisfying part of the job for me.

What made you want to become a naturalist?:

I saw my first orca when I was about 5 years old. His name was Keiko, the star of Free Willy. Being a fan of his movie, my parents took me to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where Keiko was being rehabilitated for his release back into the wild. His story inspired me, and I really wanted to see what orcas in the wild were like. My parents found out about the Resident Orcas of the San Juan Islands and booked our first trip to Friday Harbor the same year. If seeing Keiko was special, seeing J pod on that first whale watch was like my birthday, Christmas and Independence Day all in one hour! From then on out, I knew I wanted to learn everything I could about orcas and to see them again as many times as I could. This later led to a desire to share everything I had learned with others.

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Orcas. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What is the best thing that has happened to you while at Clipper?

It would probably be the time, about three years ago, when a group of about 7 transient orcas surprised us on our northbound trip to Friday Harbor. I was talking to some passengers when the boat suddenly stopped. I excused myself and went up to the wheelhouse to see what was going on. When I asked why we stopped the captain (Kit Carr) simply pointed out the front windows and said “Take a look!” and moments after several black fins broke the surface right in our path. I ran downstairs excitedly and announced our lucky find to the passengers.

The passengers happily set out to the outer decks as we let the orcas pass and then followed them at a safe distance. I noticed after a few minutes of apparently resting and slowly falling behind us, the orcas suddenly picked up speed. Then, they rode alongside us, but at a distance, now matching our pace and making a point to parallel us. I realized and announced that something had woken them up, likely a hapless seal or porpoise and now they were hunting. But I never saw the prey animal that caught their attention surface, so I joked that it was hiding under the boat and using the sound of the engines to try and escape.

The orcas continued to parallel the boat as we made our way to Possession Point, and then the orcas suddenly slowed and began spreading out in a long line and we slowed too, to watch. The long line turned into a semi-circle and I talked about how this line up looked very similar to the fish corralling technique of resident orcas. However, I knew that they were mammal eaters and that I’d never seen transients use this technique. We had spent a good forty minutes with the orcas at this point and the captain announced that it was time to leave so that we wouldn’t be late to Friday Harbor, but just as he tried to start the engines all the orcas surfaced in a perfect circle around the boat. Each adult surrounded us on all sides about eighty yards away, as the juvenile began slapping his/her flukes on the surface. I narrated as it became obvious that we couldn’t leave without endangering the orcas. I again hypothesized that these orcas were after something hiding under the boat. I turned off the mic and watched, waiting for the next sign from the orcas as they all logged (floated) at the surface around us.

I stood on the bow when right below my feet there was a little “KUFF!” I looked down to see a speckled, silvery harbor seal staring up at me! I turned the mic back on and announced “It appears a harbor seal, the preferred prey of the transient orcas has just surfaced a few feet from the bow. This small species of seal is very common in these waters and can-EEEP!” I gasped, then quickly muted the mic as a huge, black and white mass suddenly appeared from the depths and took the seal under with a mighty “KWOOF!” as he exhaled-so close the water droplets sprayed up by his breath soaked my face. The orca’s tall dorsal fin was close enough I could have touched it as he lingered just below the surface while the family appeared below to share the prize. The orcas took the seal away about fifty yards before feeding and then “celebrating” with several spyhops and cartwheels.

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

What is your favorite trip, package or activity out of the products we offer (i.e. which would you recommend people try)?:

The Gray Whale excursions and the Whale and Sea Life Search or Seattle to San Juan Islands Whale Watching & Sealife Search Day Trips are definitely at the top of my list, for obvious reasons. I feel like both options are excellent for different reasons. The gray whale excursions really appeal to families with younger children and older folks because it’s a shorter trip, but still includes the thrill of watching whales and visiting a new town. The San Juan day trip is a much more in-depth tour that shows not just whales and other wildlife, but beautiful historic landmarks like the Deception Pass bridge and the vast variety of natural habitats and unique geology of the Salish Sea. It’s the perfect trip for those that want to experience everything this beautiful and unique region has to offer.

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

Gray whale. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

The gray whales have arrived in Puget Sound! Last week, whales “Saratoga” #723 and #21 were spotted feeding around Whidbey Island. These marine mammals are pretty amazing, as they travel thousands of miles from Alaska to Mexico twice a year. In addition, a few whales even return to feed in the same spot every year. However, these magnificent animals are only here for a short time, so make sure to take a ride on the Clipper III for a gray whale watching tour in order to catch a glimpse of them while they are in town. Onboard, trained naturalists will help spot whales and educate you more about them. Until then, here are a few facts about gray whales to get you started.

1. The most coastal of the baleen whales, gray whales get their name from their mottled gray skin.

2. The orange and white patches often seen on gray whales are caused by parasitic whale lice. The heads of the whales often have areas that are encrusted by barnacles.

3. Gray whales reach up to 50 feet in length and weigh up to 35 tons. As such, gray whales can weigh as much as five adult male African elephants.

4. The whales have no dorsal fin and show their tales when diving.

5. Gray whales have two blowholes that produce a spout that resembles a heart shape.

Heart shaped spout. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Heart shaped spout. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

6. Gray whales have a thick layer of insulated blubber, which is about 10 inches thick, to help keep them warm in cold waters.

7. According to NOAA, “gray whales used to be known as ‘devilfish’ because they fiercely defend themselves and their calves against whalers” and have been known to do the same against orcas, but they also can be friendly and will swim alongside boats to people watch.

8. In October, the gray whales leave their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas near Alaska to head south to calve (which usually takes place in December or January) in Mexican waters. During this time they seldom eat, but live off the energy stores in their layer of blubber.

9. In February and March, the first whales leave the lagoons in Baja and begin traveling north to Alaska, followed by mother whales with calves. The whales arrive in Washington in late March to early April.

Gray whale spyhopping. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Gray whale spyhopping. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

10. About 22,000 gray whales make the annual migration from California to Alaska each year.

11. On average, this migratory 10,000 mile trip takes the gray whales 2-3 months to complete.

12. To feed, the whales fill their large mouths with mud from the sea bottom and filter it through their baleen (a structure similar to the bristles on a push broom growing from the roof of their month) to find and consume benthic crustaceans, such as shrimp and worms. Gray whales are the only type of whales to feed in this manner.

13. According to Orca Network out of the entire gray whale population, only a handful of whales (about 10) are aware of the high ghost shrimp population at the south end of Camano and Whidbey Islands, and visit to feed every spring during their northbound migration.

14. A male gray whale nicknamed “Little Patch,” and identified with the number 53, has been the first gray whale to arrive in the Puget Sound the past two years. He has visited the sound for 23 years.

Whale tail. Credit: Justine Buckmaster.

Whale tail. Credit: Justine Buckmaster / Clipper Vacations Naturalist

For a sneak peek at Gray Whale Watching from Seattle with Stop in Coupeville or Langley on Whidbey Island with Clipper Vacations, watch this video:

One of the many advantages to taking a Gray Whale watching excursion with Clipper Vacations is the two-hour stop in either Langley or Coupeville. These quaint, historic towns offer an incredible variety of things to see, try and explore!

Shops

Selected goods at edit, a store in Langley, WA

edit. is a shop in Langley, WA selling a select few items handpicked by the owner.

If you love wine, cheese and bread, you can’t go wrong at bayleaf in Coupeville. They offer an incredible selection of artisan cheeses, and their helpful staff can help you select the perfect wine pairing.

If you’re interested in rustic and handmade items, swing by edit. in Langley. The shop offers a handful of items that are thoughtfully curated by owner David Price, which are selected for their usefulness and thoughtful design.

On sunny days, there’s no better place to be than Kapaw’s Iskreme in Coupeville. Tons of delicious flavors and generous scoop sizes; what could be better?

Restaurants

If spotting Gray Whales has left you famished, both Langley and Coupeville offer some fantastic places to eat! Front Street Grill in Coupeville offers a great menu, fresh mussels and an incredible view of Penn Cove.

Prima Bistro in Langley features French-inspired Northwest cuisine, fresh Penn Cove mussels and rooftop seating if weather permits.

Coffee

In need of a caffeine fix? Useless Bay Coffee Co. roasts all of their coffee in small batches on site an offers a variety of roasts, from the light House Breakfast Blend to the dark Smokey Saratoga.

In Coupeville, Coupeville Coffee & Bistro Coupeville Coffee & Bistro serves renowned Portland-based coffee roaster Stumptown Coffee and offers a variety of light lunch options.

Points of Interest

Callahan's Firehouse glass-blowing studio

Once the Langley firehouse, this building is now home to a glass-blowing studio. Photo by Melissa Sitrin

One of the more unique spots in Langley is Callahan’s Firehouse. Originally built to be Langley’s firehouse in 1939, the building has recently been converted into a glass-blowing studio for renowned local artist Callahan Campbell McVay. In addition to using the space to create his own art, McVay also offers glass-blowing experiences by appointment. While you likely won’t have time to make your own glass creation before the boat leaves, be sure to stop in to watch his art being made, and maybe even bring a piece home for yourself!

If you’re in Coupeville, make sure to check out the historic Coupeville Wharf. Originally built to house grain and other goods, it now houses a number of shops and restaurants. The wharf also features several exhibits about local marine life, including a Gray whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling!

With so many things to do in both Langley and Coupeville, watching the whales is only half the fun!

For a sneak peek at Gray Whale Watching from Seattle with Stop in Coupeville or Langley on Whidbey Island with Clipper Vacations, watch this video:

Mt. Hood from Portland. Credit: Steven Taylor.

Mt. Hood from Portland. Credit: Steven Taylor.

Based on the weather so far, it looks like Portland is in for an amazing spring, and likely a lovely summer as well. With so many sunny days already there is no better time to get outside, and luckily there are many March things to do in Portland that involve the outdoors. Compete in the popular Shamrock Run, take in the vibrant spring blooms or visit the Oregon coast for a chance to catch a glimpse of gray whales. This month, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun in the sun before the tourists arrive.

Don Your Green Apparel for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, so you might as well get dressed up in green apparel and go out and celebrate. Work on your goal to be healthier this year and pick up some extra (green) workout gear at the Shamrock Fitness Fair. At the fair you can also get warmed up for the Shamrock Run on Sunday, March 15 with Bootcamp, Yoga, Zumba and Conteporary Ballet classes on the main stage during both days of the festival.

Of course, there is more to St. Patrick’s Day in Portland than just running. Kells Portland will be hosting a multi-day Patrick’s Day Festival beginning the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day through the holiday itself. Bring your friends or family to enjoy traditional Irish music, dancing, food, boxing and more!

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival. Creative Commons Licensed by Sarah McD.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival. Creative Commons Licensed by Sarah McD.

Get Outdoors and Explore Nature this March

Spring is a beautiful time in the Northwest, when a wide variety of plants are in bloom. One of the best ways to experience these flowers in all their glory is at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest, which features 40 acres of tulips in front of Mt. Hood and several local vineyards. Bring a picnic lunch, and even your dog, and explore the fields of flowers. While you are at the festival, make sure to check wooden shoe making demonstrations, crafter marketplace, photography classes and wine tasting at those nearby vineyards. There are also plenty of activities for kids, such as rides on the bump “Cow Train,” Easter activities and pony rides. Finally, don’t forget to grab some fresh cut flowers before you leave the grounds.

Just as the gray whales visit the San Juans and Seattle during the spring, they also pass by the Oregon coast on their journey north to Alaska. As a result, Oregon State Parks have designated March 21-28 as Whale Watching Week and places volunteers at whale watching sites along the coast, so they can help others spot the whales. These magnificent marine animals are only here a few times a year, so don’t miss out on this opportunity to see them. To learn more about the gray whales, you can visit the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, Oregon, where rangers will be available to answer your questions.

More March Things to Do in Portland

One of the things we love the most about this time of year is that it brings about the arrival of some the most fascinating and beautiful marine life in the Northwest, such as gray whales and orcas. However, what is even more exciting is the calves they often have in tow! This year in particular there seems to be a boom in orca calves that have been born in the past few months and spotted in the Salish Sea. This is exciting news, as they are the first babies the Southern Resident killer whales have had in two years, bringing the total number of Southern Residents to 80. While the number of these endangered animals is still painfully low, it is encouraging to see that the community is gradually increasing.

J Pod Babies

J pod (which is often spotted year-round in the waters of the San Juan Islands, Southern Gulf Islands, lower Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait) has been luckily enough to have two babies recently join its ranks, increasing the pod to 26 members.

The first newborn orca in J pod was spotted on December 30 in the Salish Sea, when it was only a day or two old. The baby, now known J50, has been determined to be female by the Center for Whale Research, based on the pigment pattern on the underside of the whale. However, researchers have still been attempting to verify whether the mother of J50 is the 43-year-old J16 (also known as Slick) or Slick’s 16-year-old daughter J36 or Alki.

Baby J50. Credit Dave Ellifrit and the Center for Whale Research.

Baby J50. Credit Dave Ellifrit and the Center for Whale Research.

On February 12, a second baby orca was seen in the Haro Strait with J pod. The new baby was about one week old and has been designated as J51. The presumed mother of J51 is the 36-year-old J19, who is also known as Shachi.

Baby J51. Credit Dave Ellifrit and the Center for Whale Research.

Baby J51. Credit Dave Ellifrit and the Center for Whale Research.

L Pod Babies

In just the past few days, L pod (the largest of the three Southern Resident pods) increased its size to 35. The new baby orca, L121, was spotted by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on February 16, about 15 miles west of Westport. The calf’s mother is the 20-year-old L94, or Calypso, and while the baby does not have an official name yet, researchers hope to name it “Shimada” after the research vessel the calf was spotted from. Watch this video from Komo News to see L121 in action.

Hope for Southern Resident Killer Whales

According to an article by Jeff Burnside for Komo News, the recent orca “baby boom” could be because “the number of female Southern Resident killer whales at calf-bearing is age is at its highest known levels.” As such, researchers hope this is the beginning of a positive trend for the orcas, and hope to see more calves in the future.

Other wildlife has been thriving in the Salish Sea as well. At the Pacific Whale Watch Association conference earlier the week, Photo ID expert Mark Malleson from Prince of Whales announced that 90 different humpbacks were identified last year, which is three times as many than there were three years ago. Not to mention the gray whales are expected to arrive in the Salish Sea next week as they make their way to Alaska for the summer. Make sure to keep an eye out for all of these amazing animals and more the next time you are on the water.

VBW Glass Hero. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

VBW Glass Hero. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

The Northwest has some of the best craft beer around, and we love to celebrate this fact by hosting festivals. One of the most popular beer celebrations in British Columbia is Victoria Beer Week, which begins this Saturday on March 7 and runs until March 15. To learn more about all of events happening throughout the week, check out this guest post by Joe Wiebe from Victoria Beer Week.

Victoria Beer Week is a nine-day festival highlighting a broad selection of BC craft breweries and educating Victorians about craft beer. After a very successful launch that saw over 3,000 people attend 14 events in March, 2014, Victoria Beer Week is returning in 2015 with 23 events celebrating craft beer in BC’s “craft beer capital.”

Some of the most popular events from 2014 are returning, along with some exciting new options. The festival will once again kick off with the “Opening Cask Night” at the Victoria Public Market on Saturday, March 7. Last year’s Cask Night was one of the most popular beer events ever held in the city, and this year the event will feature every Vancouver Island craft brewery, including several new ones that have opened in the past year. In addition, three cideries and even a mead producer will be included. This event has gluten-free food and drink options (cider and mead only, not beer).

Snacks and Beer. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

Snacks and Beer. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

The first full day of the festival is Sunday, March 8, which also happens to be International Women’s Day. Victoria Beer Week is celebrating with “Pedalin’ for Pints,” a women-only bicycle tour visiting breweries where women play a prominent role. Another option that afternoon is “Beer School,” featuring two separate classes where sipping beer is part of the curriculum! In the evening you can look forward to the “Rookies & Legends Tap Takeover” at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, featuring an assortment of great beers from BC breweries.

Brewmasters Gary Lohin, Matt Phillips and Paul Hadfield. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

Brewmasters Gary Lohin, Matt Phillips and Paul Hadfield. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

On Monday, March 9, the Slow Beer Club features sour and barrel-aged “slow beers” at the Churchill Pub, while “Beer, Pizza, More Beer” is on at Pizzeria Prima Strada. Night options on Tuesday, March 10, include “Drink in the Story” at the Drake Eatery, where three brewmasters will tell the story behind one of their favorite beers and why they brew it. Or you can learn how to perfectly pair beer and cheese by attending “Beer, Cheese, More Beer” at the Garrick’s Head Pub.

New in 2015 is a major mid-week event called “Craft Beer Thunderdome,” which will feature 10 brand new, never-before-brewed beers launched by 10 of BC’s best craft breweries. This event will take place on Wednesday, March 11 at 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. outdoors under a thunderdome (OK, it is a heated tent) at Wheelie’s Motorcycle Café in Rock Bay.

Thursday, March 12, is the most artsy night of Victoria Beer Week, with a film screening and fantasy art show. On Friday, March 13, things get more cerebral with the “Craft Beer Revolution Town Hall,” where two separate panels will look at the new Vancouver Neighborhood Brewery scene and what the future of craft beer will look like in Victoria. Friday also features the return of the very popular “Definitive Victoria Brewery Crawl,” which visits several different breweries in an upscale limo bus. A Saturday tour option is also available.

Enjoying Craft Beer. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

Enjoying Craft Beer. Credit Victoria Beer Week.

This year, the festival has expanded to include the “Closing Cask Night” on Saturday, March 14. This finale will showcase more than 20 mainland breweries, including several of the hottest new breweries that have opened in Greater Vancouver in the past two years. Other options for that Saturday include the “Cooking with Beer” classes and the “New Brew Cruise” tour, which will visit three new breweries on the outskirts of Victoria.

Once again, Victoria Beer Week will finish with the Brewmaster’s Brunch at the Atrium on Sunday, March 15. The brunch is a delectable affair that includes six beer-paired brunch courses prepared by premier chefs from the “Island Chefs Collaborative.” Beyond these marquee offerings, numerous other events are scheduled at various Victoria venues throughout the week, including Tap Takeovers at local pubs, a Beer and Books event, and more. Check out, VictoriaBeerWeek.com for the full schedule, travel options including discounted hotel rates, and more information. Tickets are available online through EventBrite.

Even though it seems like the winter holidays were only a few days ago, March is already here, and with it come an abundance of events and March things to do in Seattle. Join in St. Patrick’s Day festivities around the city or catch a conference to have fun learning about the hobbies you enjoy the most, whether they are fashion, food, wine, comics or pop culture. Likewise, make sure to see the gray whales while they are in town this spring. Reaching up to 50 feet in length and weighing up to 35 tons, they are really are an amazing sight that should not be missed.

Catch Sight of Majestic Gray Whales

Gray whale tail. Credit: Jason Mihok

Gray whale tail. Credit: Jason Mihok

One of the best things about March in the Northwest is that it is time of year when gray whales pay us a visit. These magnificent marine mammals migrate north from Baja Mexico to Alaska each year, and March and April are the perfect time to catch a glimpse of these animals as they pass by Washington with their calves into tow. To get the best view of these majestic animals, hop on the Victoria Clipper III for a Gray Whale Watching Tour.

The tour departs from Pier 69 on Seattle’s waterfront and cruises through the waters of Puget Sound in search of whales and other sealife. As such, keep an eye out for Dall’s porpoises, harbor seals, otters, sea lions, bald eagles and other birds. However, there will be a trained naturalist onboard to help spot these animals, as well as educate passengers about them and answer any questions. Before returning to Seattle, the vessel will make a two hour stop at either Coupeville or Langley on Whidbey Island, providing passengers a chance to get off the boat to grab a bite to eat, shop or a walk on the beach.

Celebrate the Luck of the Irish in Seattle

Shamrock. Creative Commons Licensed by Charles de Mille-Isles.

Shamrock. Creative Commons Licensed by Charles de Mille-Isles.

Seattle may not dye any of its lakes or rivers green, but the city celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with the best of them with a weeklong festival. Seattle has been known to light up the arches at Pacific Science Center with green lights and lays a green stripe down the center of 4th Ave downtown (which is like a mini-parade itself) to mark the route of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The actual St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place a few days before St. Patrick’s Day on March 14. The parade turns Seattle in to a sea of green and has been recognized by CNN as one of the “Five places to get your green on.” In addition to the parade, there is also the St. Patrick’s Day Dash, which is a 5k run followed by post-race party and beer garden. Last, but not least, is the Irish Heritage Week Festival, which features Irish music, dancing, genealogy workshops, the opportunity to learn Gaelic and to view movies and cultural exhibits.

Explore a Variety of Festivals in March

Emerald City Comicon

Emerald City Comicon

Those who want to do some more celebrating or learn something new after St. Patrick’s Day, there a plenty conventions and shows coming to town at the end of March. Women can enjoy a girls day out at the Northwest Women’s Show for a day full of new fashion for 2015, celebrity impersonations, hypnotism and firemen! Not long after the Women’s Show is the Taste Washington, where you can taste the food from many award winning Seattle cafes and restaurants and enjoy Washington’s fine wines. Besides sampling tasty bites, attendees can go to seminars taught by top national wine personalities and sommeliers to learn more about Washington wines and food pairings.

Finally, comic book and pop culture fans can get their geek on at the 13th Annual Emerald City Comicon. Visitors can look forward to opportunities to game with other enthusiasts and try out game demos, attend a variety of seminars, meet celebrities (with the chance for photo ops) and comic book authors and artists, and learn about the latest releases. Of course, there is also the opportunity to enter in to a costume contest, so make sure you dress up in your most creative outfit imaginable.

Clipper Spirit Awardee Barbie Zipp

Clipper Spirit Awardee Barbie Zipp

As we mentioned previously, we have a lot of amazing people on the Clipper team, which includes employees at both our Seattle and Victoria terminals. Thus, in this employee spotlight we thought we would focus on our Clipper Spirit Award honoree from Victoria – Barbie Zipp. A Senior Reservation Agent at the Victoria terminal, Barbie has been part of the Victoria Clipper team for over 25 years and is described by her manager, Tom Oram, as “a valued member of the team [who] consistently garners accolades from our customers for the exceptional level of customer service she provides. Barbie makes every effort to connect with each and every guest she serves, ensuring their experience not only feels personalized, but is filled with memories to last a lifetime.”

Tom also mentioned that Barbie was recently “recognized by Tourism Victoria in 2014, receiving the “Victoria Hospitality Award” for assisting one of our guests who was hospitalized with a medical emergency. Barbie not only assisted during the emergency until first responders arrived, she, on her own time, visited the guest in the hospital and bought them clothing and personal items out of her own pocket. After the guest was safe to travel, Barbie assisted her in making arrangements to comfortably return home. We at Clipper Navigation are proud and honored to have Barbie Zipp as an employee and also to have her assist our guests, with their travel needs.”

To learn more about what makes Barbie so awesome, I got in touch with Barbie to talk to her about her experiences at Clipper over the past several years and a few of the activities she participates in during her spare time.

What’s the best part about your job? :

The people! Our passengers are the best, it is such an honor to help someone create memories, whether they are booking a day trip or a multi-city package. I have had the pleasure of getting to know our frequent travelers, some started as unaccompanied minors and then grew up to work with us. I love the holidays, seeing families and friends reuniting at arrivals and the teary goodbyes at departures always make me cry too.

How long have you been working at Clipper?:

I started at the Victoria Clipper at the age of 16, on August 16, 1989. I have spent more than half my life at the Victoria Clipper, I grew up here.

What is the best experience you have had while at Clipper? :

I have had the pleasure of meeting celebrities; Rickie Lee Jones, Graham Kerr, William Sanford “Bill” Nye and Stephen Hawking (just to name a few). Each day brings another adventure here at the Victoria Clipper , from checking in a Robot to getting snowed in at work during the “Storm of the Century in 1996,” for Victoria that really was a big deal as it is normally so mild here.

One the coolest things was when the Clipper saved my wedding. My parents took a sailing trip aboard the family boat to the San Juan Islands. My mother still curses my father for insisting on traveling days before my wedding, and sure enough the motor on the boat conked out. My mother was panicked, how would they make it home in time to prepare for the wedding? Did I mention she was doing all the cooking and baking for the affair? Thankfully my father was able to get them to Friday Harbor in time to board the Victoria Clipper III and back to Victoria. So Clipper Vacations saved my parents’ marriage and my wedding day.

What is your favorite trip, package or activity out of the products we offer?:

There are so many fun things to choose from! [My] family spent a lot of time sailing in the San Juan Islands, the wildlife and the lifestyle of the San Juans are magic. I like that Clipper offers trips to everything from little villages to grand cities. Being able to design a travel itinerary that includes a train trip, Victoria Clipper voyage and sea plane is my ideal adventure.

Where are your favorite places to eat in Seattle or Victoria? :

In Seattle, [my favorite place to eat is the Dahlia Bakery] – bite sized coconut cream pies! In Victoria, I cannot resist a delicate macaron from Bon Macaron Patisserie.

Where do you want to travel to most/next (can be anywhere, not limited to cities we go to)?:

After all these years at the Clipper I have yet to take the Gray Whale Watching Tour or the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Day Trip out of Seattle.

What are you passionate about? :

I like to keep up with current events, politics and I am passionate about human rights.

What other hobbies do you have?:

I am currently the Vice President of the Zonta Club of Victoria. The Zonta Club of Victoria is part of Zonta International, which is a global organization of executives and professionals working together to empower women worldwide through service and advocacy. “Zonta” derives from the Lakota Sioux word meaning “honest and trustworthy.” Zonta Victoria follows the mission of Zonta International seeking to improve the legal, political, economic, educational, health and professional status of women; work for the advancement of understanding, goodwill, and peace through a world fellowship; promote justice and universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and be united internationally to foster high ethical standards, implement service programs, and provide mutual support and fellowship for members who serve their communities, their nations, and the world.

I am proud that Clipper Vacations has extended our local club affiliate status to Zonta International. When someone uses a link from our club website to book travel on the Victoria Clipper, Clipper Vacations sends a commission to the club. This type of fundraising is essential for our club to financially support Non-Governmental Groups in Victoria who are delivering services that are aligned with the Zonta Mission.

What do you do on your days off? :

I work with my Service club on projects, I make sure to take time to visit family and read.

Do you have a favorite web site or blog you follow?:

My go to website for Victoria is the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA). I like to know what is happening around downtown, as I work and live in downtown Victoria.

Spring is in the air, and there are several March things to do in Victoria that allow you to enjoy the warmer weather. Take some time out explore nature this month, whether at The Butchart Gardens, at other local parks like Beacon Hill or even while kayaking and paddle boarding. In addition to the new wildlife that spring often brings, there are also opportunities throughout the month to attend a workshop or two. These seminars cover everything from beer, to the arts and technology, so there is something to learn for all interests. There is no better time than this spring to get out and explore what is new in Victoria!

Winter Showers Bring Early Flowers

The Butchart Gardens in the spring. Courtesy of The Butchart Gardens

The Butchart Gardens in the spring. Courtesy of The Butchart Gardens

Although the official first day of spring is not until near the end of the month, on March 20, Victoria’s mild weather has caused many of the beautiful flowers in town to already begin blooming. To celebrate this unofficial start to spring, each year The Butchart Gardens and Tourism Victoria organize a Flower Count to tally how many blooms there are total, and each municipality is encouraged to have the “Bloomingest Community.” In 2014, the residents of Victoria counted 1,392,393,203 flowers total, with most blooms attributed to the City of Colwood. This year’s count will be from March 5 to March 11, so make sure to visit during this week to view the flowers Victoria is famous for; it is not called the “City of Gardens” for nothing.

Delight Your Senses with Culinary Festivals

Beer and charcutes at Victoria Beer Week. Courtesy of Victoria Beer Week.

Beer and charcutes at Victoria Beer Week. Courtesy of Victoria Beer Week.

Enjoy the best of the beverage and culinary world this month with nearly back to back festivals. Start the month off by wetting your whistle during Victoria Beer Week. During the course of the nine day series there are events that highlight the craft beers in Victoria (along with three cideries and even a mead producer), educating visitors and beer enthusiasts alike. You can look forward to seminars, movies, plenty of tastings and more! Just a few days after Beer Week is Culinaire, “Victoria’s Premier Food Tasting Experience,” which provides guests with the opportunity to sample food from the most unique restaurants and purveyors of fine foods and beverages in the area.

Use Your Spring Break to Learn Something New

Although March is spring break for many people, that does not mean you have to stop learning or can’t learn something new while having fun at the same time. Students, lifelong learners, thinkers, innovators and artists who are looking for fresh ideas should consider going to the week-long IdeaFest 2015 to discuss dozens of world changing ideas. There will be attendees from around Canada and over 50 free panels, workshops, exhibits, lectures and tours covering everything from the arts, technology, social behaviors and conservation.

Similarly, aspiring photographers can develop their skills by participating in the Royal BC Museum’s Focus on Nature Spring Break Camp. Attendees will learn how to capture fantastic nature shots while learning about photo composition and storytelling. Highlights include a special visit from a Wildlife Photographer of the Year, field trips to Beacon Hill Park and being featured in a mini-Wildlife Photographer of the Year inspired display. With some many opportunities to learn, if there is an area you would like to improve or learn more about, this is the perfect time to start!

More March Things to Do in Victoria

Victoria French Festival (Mar 5-8)

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