August 14, 2021

Bigg’s Killer Whales, T18’s, and a smoky, fiery sunset

Bigg's killer whales and a fiery sunset

Haleigh | M/V Osprey | August 14, 2021 | 5:30pm


With intense fires burning throughout the west coast, smoky skies are spreading hundreds of miles. Here in the Salish Sea, the burnt skies finally reached us. As we departed for our sunset tour, the amber haze made the islands feel like a new place. The golden reflection from the fiery sun glimmered off the water’s surface. Seeing such intense sunlight also meant good conditions to find the reported Bigg’s Killer Whales traveling through San Juan Channel. Their large, black dorsal fins would reflect the light nicely, and the spout would linger just a bit longer in this chilly air.   


We first saw these killer whales near Yellow Island. A massive, floppy dorsal fin wiggled its way through the surface just on the shoreline of the island followed by a smaller, but still full grown fin ahead. The large male’s fin was wider than I have seen with a fat base but flopping over just a bit at the tip. His name is Galliano, a 26 year-old male traveling with his 66 year-old Grandmother, Esperanza. They moved towards the Northwest edge of Shaw Island and went right under a group of people watching from above. 


Across the channel Nootka, the mother, and her other son, Spouter, were moving south along San Juan island. Eventually this family linked back up near the entrance of Friday Harbor. Spouter’s fin was much pointier than his brothers and just slightly larger despite being 6 years younger. Galliano and Nootka are two of the largest killer whales you’ll find out there, yet there was something so comforting watching them split up and traveling with their mother and grandmother. The pairs would link up for a bit and then separate again, likely pairing off to feed. 


As the light continued to set and the sun turned an apocalyptic red, these Bigg’s Killer Whales continued on their journey through the islands seemingly unaware of the world above their waters.


PC: Ezra Garfield