July 30, 2021

Bigg’s Killer Whales Traveling through the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Orcas near San Juan Island

Haleigh | M/V Sea Lion | July 30, 2021 | 2:00pm

 

Our Friday afternoon Classic Whale Watch was a really fun trip! We departed Friday Harbor in search of wildlife and decided to travel south through San Juan Channel, following a report of something big, black and white in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. These reports are only rumors until we get our actual eyes on them! We passed Cattle Point Lighthouse, entering choppier waters with some rolling swells. The boat rocked and rolled while we looked onward at the Olympic Peninsula with a group of vessels at the base of the mountain range, still about ~10 miles away. Within ½ mile from these vessels, we slowed down to about 5 knots and steadily veered in until we saw the massive dorsal fin of a male Bigg’s Killer Whale! 

 

Among us was a family of Bigg’s Killer Whales known as the T65A’s. We saw mother Artemis (T65A) and 4 of her 5 total kiddos, Ooxja, Elsie, Ellifrit, and Callisto. They were zigging and zagging, constantly changing directions and surfacing in unpredictable places. The oldest child, Ooxja, and youngest child, Callisto, were seen traveling close together. Seemed like this older brother was teaching his younger sister how to move through the larger waters, or even just protecting her from any unexpected threats. 

 

Seeing a healthy, large family always makes us happy as this isn’t the case for killer whales everywhere. The decline of salmon, specifically Chinook salmon, has led to a major decrease in our Southern Resident Killer Whale population, which now is struggling at about 73 individuals. Though their struggle has been ongoing beginning with the kill and capture era of the mid 1900’s, the lack of food is pushing this population towards the brink of extinction. For our Bigg’s Killer Whales who feed on marine mammals like the healthy population of harbor seals found in the Salish Sea, they are thriving in these waters. Comparing these two populations shows how much of a role food abundance plays in determining who will survive.

 

After admiring this family for some time, we turned back towards San Juan Island, this time rolling with the swells flooding into San Juan Channel. Our trip wasn’t complete without sighting harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and a Bald eagle perched on a channel marker. We reentered Friday Harbor feeling satisfied with the days sightings and ready to return to land.