August 16, 2019

Bigg's killer whales and a humpback whale in the Salish Sea!

Erin | M/V Kestrel | Friday, August 16, 2019 | 11:00 AM 

It was an incredible trip this afternoon out of Friday Harbor. As soon as we left the harbor, we saw a bald eagle flying towards the treeline. It was awesome to see its 6 foot wingpsan! We saw it land in one of the trees at the very top, and then we continued on our way toward a report of some Bigg's killer whales. The whales were closeby to where we were, so we spent some time searching for other wildlife on the way. We went to Spieden Island, which has many non-native animals on it. We actually got to see some of the mouflon sheep that call the island home! They were walking along the hillside, and some of them were down by the water's edge as well. They were drinking out of freshwater springs and eating the exposed algae on the rocks, as it was low tide. We then went over to the Cactus Islands and saw a bunch of harbor seals hauled out on the rocks. They were amongst a multitide of bull kelp, and they seemed quite content to be able to rest and thermoregulate in the sunshine. We then headed north to see some killer whales!

The whales were in a body of water called Boundary Pass, which is the border between the United States and Canada. We saw four whales all travelling together. When we first came across them, they were travelling quite slowly. However, throughout the encounter, they picked up speed and headed toward a nearby island known as Skipjack Island. The whales were identified as the T18's. They are made up of a grandmother who is 64, a daughter who is 54, and two grandsons who are 24 and 19 years old. The males are both very large, especially when compared to the females. One of the males has a very unique dorsal fin that curves to the left at the top. It was neat to be able to keep track of them as they headed north through Boundary Pass and toward Skipjack Island. When they got to the island, they began cruising directly along the shoreline. The whales split up a little bit, most likely so they could attempt to scan different areas. Eventually, they all began to circle around the tip of the island, where there were a few harbor seals hauled out on the rocks. Harbor seals are their favorite meal in the Salish Sea, making up a majority of their diet. The seals appeared to be frantic as the whales side-lunged and splashed around right next to them. We started to see much smaller splashes in the water, which was most likely a harbor seal trying to get away from the whales. The harbor seal did not appear to win the fight, as we soon saw many seabirds come into the area to pick up the scraps that the whales were leaving behind. We watched the whales actively hunt for a long time, but soon it was time to say goodbye to the efficient pod known as the T18's. We headed toward the Strait of Georgia, where there was a report of a humpback whale! 

We caught sight of the humpback whale in the form of a very large blow at the surface. We only got to see the whale for a glimpse and then it quickly dove down. It dove for about 6 minutes, came back up to the surface, took a few quick breaths, and dove again. It then did a series of 2 minute dives and then it disappeared for over 10 minutes. It was circling and zigzagging through the area, so it was most likely trying to coralle some prey. Humpback whales like to eat small, schooling fish and krill. We left the area and headed back toward the harbor. On the way, we got to see some harbor porpoises! We got some incredible looks at them. When we arrived back at the harbor, the sun was shining and we were all pleased with our wildlife adventure! 

Naturalist Erin