June 24, 2021

The Best Kind of Mugging by 2 Bigg’s Killer Whales

Transient Orcas traveling near Orcas Island

Haleigh | M/V Osprey | June 24, 2021 | 5:30pm


I’ll likely say this throughout the summer -- sunsets are the absolute best time to be on the water. As we leave the dock and pass in and around the islands, everything around us is either sparkling or glowing. Tonight’s excursion lived up to the magic. 


Our beginning route led us eastbound on an inter-island expedition. We were following prior reports of a “T-Party” traveling through the San Juan Channel. Bigg’s Killer Whales are capable and social animals, so when we see multiple families join together to form a larger social group we call them a T-Party! We continued around Shaw Island and just past Lopez Island just in time to watch this social gathering of Bigg’s Killer Whales disperse into their smaller family groups. We decided to follow two large males known as T128 (Flotsam, 1988) and T125A (Jetsam, 1998). With incredible views of Mount Baker straight off of our bow, we watched each 6-foot tall dorsal fin pierce the glassy, golden water. Each dive lasted ~5 minutes, followed by the brothers surfacing in a new location around our boat. This constant change in direction ended up leading them straight towards our Stern! Guests gasped with each surfacing bringing these enormous individuals closer towards us -- the deep exhales sounding more powerful with the engine shut off, and the tennis ball-sized notches and scratches on their dorsal fin finally put into perspective. One after the other, Flotsam and Jetsam visited past our stern, no more than 10 yards off. They dove again after the encounter, leaving us speechlessly anticipating their resurfacing. 


When a cetacean chooses to swim close to a boat, this behavior is called a “Whale Mugging.” We can never predict when or why this might happen, all we can do is stay right where we are until the muggers choose to leave and try to be present for such a spectacle.  


As I mentioned earlier, we came on scene to a dispersal of Bigg’s Killer Whales traveling in different directions. Flotsam and Jetsam traveled into the East Sound of Orcas island and we set out to find some more wildlife. We moved south down and around Blakely Island to find a few more cetaceans slowly traversing. In the group, we identified the T36’s (Mom and her calves), T77C, and T77D. Their movements were steady, giving visitors more time to soak in the entire experience. We parted ways with this mini “T-Party” and began our cruise over to Friday Harbor. The sun set, turning the wispy clouds pink and the golden water a deeper blue, ending a sensational trip.