August 7, 2019

Bigg's Killer Whales get a harbor seal lunch!

Naturalist Erin | M/V Kestrel | 11:00 AM | Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Today's trip was magical! We started our trip with no firm reports of whales, so we decided to head toward the Strait of Georgia and cover some different areas than other boats were covering. We were going for a whale search. We stopped by Flattop Island, which is an important wildlife refuge. Here we saw harbor seals hauled out on the rocks and swimming around in the water. At one point, one of them even jumped into the water off of the rocks! It was entertaining. We also saw some pigeon guillemots flying around and sitting on top of the water. They are in the same family as penguins and can dive to 100 feet! We headed towards Boundary Pass in the hopes of finding some whales. 

We travelled by Turn Point on Stuart Island, which has a lovely lighthouse and has some very unique geological features. We got to see a cliffside that is important for nesting seabirds. We also got to see more pigeon guillemots, and we got close enough to the cliffside to see all of the different types of rocks that make up Stuart Island. We then received great news that there was a report of some orcas near Thatcher Pass! We decided to make the trip over there to try to get some looks at them. 

We went through some areas of upwelling and strong currents, but we made it through and we were eventually in smooth water. Soon we caught sight of one lone whale watching boat. They had found a pod of killer whales! When we saw the whales come up, they were very close to a rock that was sticking out that head cormorants, gulls, and harbor seals on it. Two of them headed straight towards that rock, and the other two members of the pod went towards a nearby shoreline. The whales were identified as Bigg's killer whales. They are the marine mammal eaters, so it is likely that they were hunting the harbor seals that were in the area. At one point, we saw two of them circling the rock with harbor seals on it. The seals moved around frantically, and it was hard to tell, but it seemed that they may have scared one of the seals into the water. The whales were being followed by seabirds who were trying to pick up scraps from the whales' meal. Soon the pod rejoined, and they most likely subsequently shared their tasty harbor seal meal. The pod was identified as the T18's. T18 is a female who is estimated to have been born prior to 1955. Her presumed daughter was born about 10 years later. That means that these matriarchs are potentially 54 and 64 years old! T19, the younger of the mothers, has two sons, one of which is 18 and the other of which is 24. It was special to see such long-lived whales with their offspring doing such coordinated activities. We headed back towards the harbor with wonderful memories, and we were greeted by sunshine and warmth. Until next time! 

Naturalist Erin