October 12, 2019

Amazing day with over thirty Bigg's killer whales spotted

CA173s! The exotic family

Sarah | 10/12/2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00pm

What an incredible day on the water! After an early morning report of a huge group of orcas moving east in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Captain Erick and I were eager to leave the dock here in Friday Harbor to go out and explore!

We decided to head south out of the harbor, and on the way out towards open water we stopped to check out some Steller’s sea lions hauled out on Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass between San Juan and Lopez Islands. These huge marine mammals are the largest species of sea lion in the world, and are commonly found around the San Juan Islands in the fall, winter, and spring.

We continued to the south and west of San Juan Island, pointed almost at Victoria, BC. We ended up at an area known as Constance Bank, and suddenly we were surrounded by orcas. We got great looks at huge adult males, tiny calves, and mighty matriarchs on all sides of the boat. We quickly realized that we were looking at a huge aggregation of Bigg’s killer whales, historically referred to as transient killer whales, known for their diet of marine mammals. These amazing predators are usually noted for traveling solo or in small groups of up to six individuals. By final count on the day, there were over 30 different individuals in and around the area we were cruising. We had representatives from seven different families (T035As, T037As, T038As, T049As, T099s, T123s, & CA173s) in closest proximity to us, and just a few miles away there was another family (T046Bs) traveling and hunting. We got to see amazing social behavior, and it was just incredible to have so many whales together! I was most excited to see the whales with the CA designation. These so called “exotic individuals” are more often seen off of the California coast, and are fairly rare to see in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia. In my six seasons on the water it was the first time I had ever seen that particular family… those days of new-to-me whales are getting fewer and farther between!

After leaving the killer whales we looked for other wildlife on the way back to Friday Harbor. We got great looks at a group of our smallest cetaceans, harbor porpoise, our most common marine mammals, harbor seals, and even got to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle. It was a special day on the water, one I will not soon forget!

Filed by:

Captain, Lead Naturalist & Vessel Coordinator

Sarah M.

Sea Lion


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