March 12, 2018

Bigg's Deal: Bigg's Killer Whale Family (T2C's) Travels through Rosario Strait!

Adult Male Bigg's Orca

[Saturday – 3/10/18 – 12:00 – M/V Sea Lion – Naturalist Erick]

Bigg's Orca Family in Rosario Strait (T2C's)

            Here we are, It is another fabulous, sunny day in the Salish Sea. Captain Mike, Piper, and I headed out into the sunshine to look for some exciting wildlife. We headed north and ended up taking an inter-island route in between all the larger islands of our little archipelago like Shaw, Lopez, and Orcas Islands. We ended up heading in this easterly direction because there was talk about some commotion in water in Rosario Strait close to Cypress Island. Once we arrived there we spotted what all the commotion was about. It was a family of Transient (Bigg’s) Orcas! These killer whales belong to the ecotype that preys on marine mammals. They can be seen in the inland waters year-round and tend to travel in single family groups in contrast to the Southern Residents who often travel in larger pods. We eventually identified this family as the T2C’s. The ID system gives a series of numbers and letters to each individual based on their matriline.


T of course stands for Transient and the number is in the order that they were identified and then after that all the letters and numbers tell you which calf they are of their mothers. So, T2C is the third calf of T2 and this is her family since orcas are matriarchal. She has four offspring that travel with her. The largest is her first son, T2C1, an adult male. He is huge! With a six-foot-tall dorsal fin he is the easiest to pick out from a distance. The next one is a pretty special whale, T2C2, also known as Tumbo. He has scoliosis and is around 11 years old and his family has taken care of him for his whole life. He swims slower than the rest and cannot help hunt but his family, especially his older brother and mother, take care of him. There are two other young ones in this family, T2C3 and T2C4, also swimming around. We watched them for a while as they traveled southeast across the strait at an easy pace. They changed direction dramatically at one point and gave us some great close looks before we had to head back towards home.

Also right when we turned towards home we spied another cool black and white group of animals - Brant's Geese! They are a beautiful migratory bird that is starting to head back up to the Arctic Circle to lay their eggs and raise their chicks soon!

Where the Cliffs Meet the Sea

On our way back, we hugged the southern shore of Lopez Island. This part of the islands is an old tectonic fault line and is made up of massive cliffs rising out of the water. We wound in between the impressive islands that jut out from the sea along the shore and made a few stops to look at the cute Harbor Seals that were basking in the warm sun. As we approached Cattle Pass we took a turn to skirt around the southern side of Long Island (not the famous one) and saw around 10 Bald Eagles at eye level staring back from the rocks along the shore. They seemed to not care about our rude stares and continued to squint past us into sunny Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Our last stop was at Whale Rocks where we saw a huge group of Steller Sea Lions also basking in the warm sun. Like always they were arguing over their few favorite parts of the rock while leaving the majority of the small islet untouched. The Harbor Seals and these sea lions are the main prey of the Bigg's Orcas we saw earlier. Whale folks, until next time. Can’t wait to see what exciting animals we find tomorrow!


Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris