July 3, 2018

Bigg's Killer Whales on the Hunt

Captain Brian and I arrived at the docks this morning with no reports of any whales in our area. Both hopeful that we would be able to find our own animals on this rainy and gray morning, we gathered our excited guests and headed out the harbor. As soon as we left the harbor, a couple of killer whales were spotted on the East side of San Juan Islands near Cypress Island. Thankful that we had a lead, we headed that way to see who we could find. As we approached where these individuals were reported, we saw multiple dorsal fins spreading different directions.

Captain Brian, trying to position the boat without disturbing the whales, decided to stay back and observe a group staying behind as another group of whales moved ahead about 400 yards. This group was coming up for air often and we were enjoying watching them from a distance when out of nowhere two other orcas surfaced feet away on the opposite side of where we were looking. These two orcas were a calf and a female whom, based on their behavior, seemed to be hunting close to shore. Before we had a chance to get another look at the first group we were watching, they instead quickly came towards us and surfaced right next to our boat. They crossed us underneath and joined the other two! This was amazing to see, they were obviously communicating under water! Seeing the two groups join up that quickly was special, but then we also started seeing a lot of social behavior- tail slapping, breaching, spy hopping and even some cartwheels.

We stayed with this group of transient orcas, identified as the T65s, for quite a while before peeling off and seeing what else we could find. Captain Brian decided to take a different route home and went down President’s Channel rounding Orcas Island. While heading down the channel, we were able to stop and observe another group of transient orcas peacefully traveling and coming up for air in a very synchronized manner. These guys were identified as the T124s and they even had a new calf with them! We watched them come up for breaths and then back down for deep dives down the channel for a while and then it was time to head back down San Juan channel to get home.

What an incredible gray day on San Juan!

Mariana Malki, Naturalist, San Juan Safaris