July 5, 2019

Bigg's Killer Whales and Some Marvelous Minkes!

Piper | Friday, July 5, 2019 | M/V Kestrel | 11:00AM

Today was oddly chilly, dreary, and drizzly for a day in July in the San Juan Islands, but it was one heck of a day for whale sightings!! The M/V Kestrel was crewed today by me and Captain Gabe and for our morning trip we headed out to a report of Bigg’s killer whales near Blakely Island.

We arrived on scene with the whales on a deep dive and when they surfaced they were very close to Blakely, coming up in different directions, on a kill! We arrived just in time to watch as they took down what was likely a little harbor seal!

After a while of surfacing on top of the seal, one of the orcas breached out of the water, jumping into the air and landing with a crash! They took a few minutes to socialize, rolling around underwater, flashing their big ol’ pectoral fins in the air!

This group was the T65As, a family we’re very familiar with here in the Salish Sea, and they have a little calf, just over a year old, who was apparently incredibly excited about the oncoming meal, she was breaching again and again as the whales swam along the shore. It took a bit for them to bite into their lunch but when they did, Captain Gabe spotted blood in the water!

We left as these animals began traveling again and backtracked a bit before heading south through San Juan Channel towards the open water south of San Juan Island. We stopped at Whale Rocks, an area near Cattle Point which held many hauled out harbor seals! The tide was so low we could see the reef in between the two tall portions of Whale Rocks, a sight we don’t get very often!

We continued south and paused near Salmon Bank where we’d spotted a huge bait ball—lots of birds circling overhead, catching bait fish being pushed to the surface by deeper hungry predators—this is often a spot where Minke whales can be found! Sure enough, after just a minute of searching, I heard the blow of a Minke whale off our stern and looked over just in time to see this whale cruising across the surface of the water!! We watched for a while before realizing there were a couple Minke whales around our boat, surfacing erratically, but giving us really good looks!

When we’d lost sight of the Minkes we came across a length of baby bull kelp that was floating in the water so we stopped to pick it up and give it a taste! Bull kelp is an annual plant that grows incredibly quickly and it’s a favorite hiding spot for harbor seals seeking refuge from killer whales, and sometimes we see those killer whales just rubbing against the hard tubes that make up the length of the kelp like a seaweed massage! We soon headed north again and into Friday Harbor—what an amazing morning in the Salish Sea!