May 11, 2019

Afternoon Report of Killer Whales! Afternoon Adventure Tour

Bigg's killer whales

Sarah | 05/11/2019 | M/V Kestrel | 03:00pm

What amazing demonstration of how reports can change throughout the day! As we came back to Friday Harbor after a spectacular morning tour, a report of orcas far to the north in the Canadian Gulf Islands came in over the radio. Captain Gabe and I remained cautiously optimistic that the killer whales might be in range for us on our afternoon departure, but it would take a little bit of luck and some cooperative whales!

We left Friday harbor and pointed north through San Juan Channel. After a brief stop at Turn Point Lighthouse to check out the spectacular scenery as well as the amazing power of the currents moving around us. After stretching our legs we again pushed north, crossing the border into Canadian waters. Captain Gabe and I worked hard to get updates on the orcas’ pattern of travel from the other whale watchers on scene. As we neared Active Pass we got confirmation that the whales had continued their southern trajectory, and were within reach for our boat!

We rounded the north side of Saltspring Island and started heading south along its western shore… suddenly Captain Gabe and I saw the towering dorsal fins and blows from a group of orcas! As we got on scene we realized that we had a group of Bigg’s killer whales known as the T123s. We got great views of T123 “Sidney” and two of her kiddos T123C “Lucky” as well as her newest calf T123D! We watched as the whales surfaced and travelled south. Spread out towards the Saltspring shore we saw more fins. Later on in the evening those whales were reported as the T086A family group. Killer whales are matriarchal, meaning that females are the center of the social structure and that calves often stay with their mother for life. It is always inspiring to see such a tight social structure in action!

After a great encounter with the orcas we needed to point south again as we had a long trip home! On our way we passed through the southern reaches of the Canadian Gulf Islands towards the city of Sidney in British Columbia. We crossed the border back into US waters and stopped to check out some wildlife on Spieden Island, encountering harbor seals and bald eagles soaring over the islands. As we reached Friday Harbor Captain Gabe and I did the math on our trip: we covered over 85 miles while circumnavigating Saltspring Island. It was one of the longest trips I have ever been on, and certainly the farthest north I have ever travelled!