March 15, 2018

A Big Day for Bigg's Killer Whales!

Killer whales traveling towards the Olympic Mountains

[Naturalist Sarah – 03/15/2018 – M/V Sea Lion – 12:00pm]

Lately we have had some simply exceptional days out on the water. Not only have we been treated to insane whale sightings, but we have also had magical springtime weather.

While I was cooking breakfast this morning Captain Brian called me, “Want to go find some whales? Get down to the harbor in 15.” I quickly downed my breakfast, gathered my gear, called Naturalist Rachel, and zoomed down to the harbor. With fresh cups of coffee, and promising reports of killer whales we left Friday Harbor to head south. Just outside Friday Harbor we encountered our first orcas. After making sure there was coverage within the whale watch fleet, we left the whales to pick up or guests!

Leaving Friday Harbor for the second time, we again headed south. After rounding Turn Island we were lucky enough to find the T002C family cruising slowly through Griffin Bay towards Cattle Pass. This family, led by matriarch T002C – Tasu, is comprised of five individuals. Most of note is T002C2 – Tumbo, a thirteen-year-old who male suffers from a severe scoliosis of the spine. We watched the whale slowly work their way south, before leaving to check out another group of reported whales.

Next we found the T046s, T046Bs, and the T137s just outside of Cattle Pass. While we were on scene with this second group of orcas we got a chance to see the Center for Whale Research in action taking ID shots. This important organization has been documenting both the presence and body condition of cetaceans in the Salish Sea for the last 40 years. By taking a picture of the dorsal fin and saddle patch marking of whales we can effectively recognize them as individuals. The T137s and the T046s are awesome examples of the diversity of these markings, exhibiting super novel scarring and unique dorsal shapes.

After a great encounter with the orcas, we set off in search of some other wildlife. Stopping at Whale Rocks we got to watch the antics of the local Steller’s sea lions hauled out enjoying the sunshine. These massive pinnipeds can grow to lengths of up to 12 feet and can weigh over 2,400 pounds. Pressing further north into San Juan Channel we got a bonus encounter with the T002Cs again,  before finding bald eagles swooping over the islands, and harbor seals along the rocky shores.