August 24, 2019

An Absolutely Magical Evening with Orcas in the Salish Sea!

Erin | M/V Sea Lion | 5:30 PM | Saturday, August 24, 2019

It was such a lovely evening on the M/V Sea Lion. The sun was shining when we left the harbor, and the water was flat. We were in for a nice sunset! We headed north out of Friday Harbor and travelled for about 10 minutes until we came across a pod of killer whales! They were travelling along the shoreline of Jones Island, and they were giving the whale watchers on shore a real show! At first they were just swimming along the shoreline, but before long we were watching them spyhop, tail slap, and roll around on top of each other. There were 7 whales in the pod, and they were identified as 2 separate family pods. They are known as the T34's and the T37's, which are two of the Bigg's killer whale pods. Both pods have small, 2 year old calves in them, and we saw them copying the adults that were being playful. They seemed to be socializing with one another. They then began to pick up speed and head toward Boundary Pass. 

As they passed the tip of Jones Island, we noticed that the pod had split up. However, at almost the same time they began to make large splashes. One of the whales was doing a bodyslamming behavior and the other was tailslapping. They were attacking harbor porpoises! It seemed like a brief chase and attack, and before we knew it, the whales were passing around their meal. Seabirds were coming into the area and grabbing any scraps that the whales were leaving behind. The whales began to mill around with no specific direction of travel. They then started to be playful and socialize once more! We saw more spyhopping, tailslapping, and we even got to have a close encounter with a few members of the pod! It was absolutely incredible. We watched the whales swim off toward the sunset and we went toward a popular haul-out site for harbor seals called White Rock. 

At White Rock, we saw some harbor seals hauled out along the shoreline. They were relaxing and thermoregulating. There were also lots of seabirds perched on top of the rock. We went toward Boundary Pass and came across another pod of Bigg's killer whales! They were the T36A's. We watched them from a distance as the sun began to set. It was a surreal experience. All around us, we saw and heard baitballs at the surface of the water. Baitballs are when small, schooling fish gather together. It usually indicates the presence of a larger predator that causes them to school. There were seabirds all around us grabbing the fish out, and we could really hear the water bubble as the fish swam frantically around. The wildlife that we encountered and the beautiful scenery around us made for a wonderful trip. We went back toward Friday Harbor as the sun set behind us, and we all had huge smiles on our faces. Until next time, folks! 

Naturalist Erin