June 29, 2022

Bigg's Killer Whale Encounter in the Haro Strait

Helena

6/29/2022

MV Kestrel

 

Our first encounter of the day was with a Stellar Sea Lion chowing down what appeared to be large chunks of a fish in the middle of a baitball! A baitball is large cluster of small schooling fish near the surface of the water, from our vessels we can identify a bait ball by large groups of birds sitting or taking dives and low swoops at the waterline. We continued south down San Juan Channel to Whale Rocks where we found more Stellar Sea Lions and Harbor Seals hauled out along the shoreline.

 

The current quickly pushed us out into Salmon Bank where we observed two Minke whales taking dives into this shallow area of the Haro Strait where we regularly find both baleen and odontocete whales feeding. After some time tracking the Minkes, we headed west up towards the shores of Victoria where we’d received reports of a family pod of the marine mammal eating ecotype of orca, the Bigg’s Killer Whales. This particular group, the T137’s did NOT disappoint! We barely had a chance to catch our breath as we watched breach after belly roll after tail slap! This pod includes four individuals:

  • T137 (F) b. 1984 “Loon”
  • T137A (M) b. 2002 “Jack”
  • T137B (F) b. 2006 “Tempest”
  • T137D (F) b. 2012 “Wright”

Observing these families of orcas is such a great way to see how the dorsal fin shape and body mass varies greatly depending on age and sex. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Friday Harbor. To complete our circumnavigation of San Juan Island, we stopped by Spieden and Centennial Islands and spotted more harbor seals as well as a Bald Eagle and some Mouflon Rams along the windswept hillside of Spieden. It was another wildlife filled day in the Salish Sea and I returned to the dock feeling energized and in awe of this robust ecosystem!