September 16, 2021

Bigg’s Orca, Humpback Whales, and a Warship!

Maxx K. | M/V Kestrel | 09/16/2021 | 2:00pm

    Kestrel flew out of Friday harbor with purpose this morning: a family of Bigg’s Killer whales had been reported passing through Deception Pass State Park and were now traveling across the Juan De Fuca. We stopped briefly at goose island to observe the cormorants that sat proudly over their neatly stacked nests. A harbor seal passed at the water's edge, diving to forage amongst the Bull Kelp forest that sat between us and the bird Island. 

    From there we crossed Cattle Pass towards the commotion of Steller Sea Lions at the Whale Rocks. We watched as two massive bull Stellers battled at the Islands peak, roaring and biting at one another’s faces. It’s insane to imagine that each of theses behemoths could easily weigh 2,000lbs. The average fully grown Kodak Grizzly Bear weighs 1,500lbs, for context. Stellers are dense, the third largest pinniped in the world (after the walrus and elephant seal) and an absolute force to be reckoned with. 

    We moved away once again, this time towards reports of the T018s: a family of Bigg’s Killer Whales I have been fortunate to meet on several occasions now. They are a small family, consisting of only four whales: 

T018, Esperanza, a grandmother born sometime around 1955. 

Her daughter, T019, Nootka who was born sometime around 1965.

And Esperanza’s two large grandsons, Galiano and Spouter (T019B and T019D respectively). 

    We moved parallel to Nootka and Spouter during our time on scene. Spouter is an absolute mamas boy and tends to keep with her when the family briefly splits to forage for marine mammals. 

    This is an easily recognizable family as Spouter and Galiano have very distinguished dorsal fins. Galiano’s is tall and wide yet flat at the top. His brother, Spouter has the perfect A-frame dorsal. 

    We traveled with them for almost a half hour before turning Kestrel around the south-east corner of Lopez Island. Two Humpback whales had been reported a mere 10 minute journey from the T018s. They appeared instantly, their grey backs breaking the glassy water effortlessly as they surfaced to breathe. The first whale, “Split Fin” has been seen here regularly this season and is easily recognizable due to a split in her dorsal fin. 

I’m forever amazed at the wealth of whale knowledge that permeates through this ecosystem. Because of decades of research we can identify individuals and thus make inferences on their behaviors and characteristics. 

We traveled parallel with them for a few brief surfacings before beginning our trek back to Friday harbor, stopping momentarily to investigate what we initially believed to be a boat fire in the distance of the Juan de Fuca. After taking a minute to examine through binoculars, we realized we were witnessing a warship safety drill. There never seems to be a dull moment out here on the Salish Sea.