July 7, 2021

Bigg’s Killer Whales, T37A's, Avoiding Wind in Lopez Sound

Transient Orcas traveling near Lopez Island

Haleigh | M/V Kestrel | July 7, 2021 | 2:00pm


All whale watching trips begin the same way: checking for reported visual sightings in the area, predicting the paths those cetaceans are headed, and determing if it’s viable for us to make it there given the distance and weather reports. We take into account all of the factors and plan accordingly, knowing that much is out of our control. Our adventure trip today was one of those days. 


Reports of a large group of Bigg’s Killer Whales came in with them traveling across Rosario Strait towards the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With high winds, we knew that the Strait of Juan de Fuca would be too exposed and make for some unpleasant traveling. Luckily, these whales decided to make a hard cut and tuck into Lopez Sound, the only safe place that we could’ve observed them from. We traveled interisland and met them as they traveled north up Lopez sound on the East side of Lopez island. 


Our first blows came from a mile away followed by a few black dorsal fins piercing through the surface. We slowly arrived on scene with the family group identified as the T37A’s. 


T37A - Volker (F, 1994)

T37A1 - Inyo (M, 2007)

T37A2 - Inky (F, 2009)

T37A3 - Spinnaker (F, 2013)

T37A4 - Crinkle (M, 2015)

T37A5? - A new calf!


Throughout our time observing them, they traveled north for about 20 minutes, the made a directional change going south away from Leo Reef, and then switched directions for the last time going north. Each of the individuals were fairl dispersed, T37A1 acting like the scout above the water while the other younger individuals were closer to mom, T37A. One of the more noticeable individuals is T37A4, also known as Crinkle. Crinkle dorsal fin has grown out with a more flattened tip, as if it were bent down like a floppy santa hat. Researchers are unsure of the cause of this shape, but it didn’t seem to bother Crinkle as he surfaced with the rest of his siblings. 


After viewing this family travel back and forth, we departed in search of some Harbor seals and Steller sea lions. Whale Rocks, found at the southern end of San Juan Channel in Cattle Pass is where we found an abundance of wildlife! With 3 foot swells rolling around us, we found 30+ Steller Sea Lions laying all around the rocks. These larger pinnipeds were growling while more mellow Harbor Seals laid closer to the shoreline like a bunch of tired puppies. Before we left, we had our eyes on a Bald Eagle perched on a high tree on Lopez Island.


Overall, it was a great wildlife day. Despite the high winds and rolling seas, we managed to see some of the wildlife supported by the Salish Sea and spend a nice afternoon on the water.