April 18, 2021

Bigg's Killer Whales Hang Outside of Friday Harbor

Orcas in San Juan Channel

Olivia | April 18th, 2021 | M/V Kestrel | 14:00

It felt great to get back out on my first M/V Kestrel trip of the season with Captain Brian, especially since it was warm, calm, AND sunny around the islands. We started the trip with a great group of people excited to get out and see what the Salish Sea had to offer. We departed the dock by heading south towards Cattle Point, stopping mid channel to view a giant bait ball with lots of bird action including a variety of gulls, rhinoceros auklet, pigeon guillemots, and even a loon. Not only were there heaps of birds taking advantage of this mini buffet, but there were also TONS of Harbor Porpoise everywhere and even Harbor Seals floating around. This was wild and a fantastic way to start the trip.

After watching this bait ball for about 5 minutes, we caught word of potential orcas just south of where we were. With eager faces, we departed south towards Salmon Bank. Not 7 minutes later, we started to see black dorsal fins of Bigg’s Killer Whales! Chatting with our colleagues through the Pacific Whale Watch Association, we quickly found out it was T049A3 (a male teenager) traveling with the T090’s. SO COOL! We were able to watch these whales as they lead us back into Cattle Pass and up San Juan Channel for about 30 minutes before we peeled away and headed back south to Whale Rocks.

Approaching the two rocky islands, we immediately noticed not only HEAPS of Steller’s Sea Lions, but also some of the biggest males I have personally ever seen in these waters. There was a good mix of snoozy sea lions, as well as wrestling around like typical boys. Oh! Cannot forget about all the loud belching and groaning noises paired well with their sweet aroma.

Continuing back towards Salmon Bank, we were able to see one more surprise- a solo Gray Whale feeding in the shallow waters. Not only was this whale averaging short dive times, but it was also fluking for us! This is a very common behavior for Humpback Whales as they feed, but not as common or consistent for these slightly smaller, benthic feeling baleen whales.

With Koma Kulshan (Mount Baker) standing tall on our starboard side, we headed north back to Friday Harbor. To our pleasant surprise, those Transient Killer Whales were nearby! We stopped and shut off our vessel right outside Friday Harbor, unknowing of where they would surface. Suddenly, the group of orcas surfaced just off our starboard side heading away from us. We were able to sit in silence listening to them breath, watching their spouts glimmer in the afternoon sun, and watch water drip off their saddle patches as they slowly swam off into the evening sun. This was the perfect end to a truly magnificent trip in the San Juan Islands.