March 12, 2020

Bigg's Killer Whales Hunting in Plumper Sound

Bigg's Killer Whales in Plumper Sound

Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 3/12/2020 | 12:00pm

It is always fun to report when passengers find whales from the sky as they arrive to San Juan Island via sea plane!  Two passengers had an early morning flight to Friday Harbor and sighted four orcas from above while flying over the San Juan Channel.  We boarded as quickly as possible to leave the dock with hopes of seeing these whales again!

M/V Sea Lion cruised up the channel and into Boundary Pass as everyone anxiously scanned for distant exhalations.  The orcas were found near Blunder off South Pender Island and headed into Plumper Sound.  It was a magical experience to be alone with these four beautiful individuals as they foraged and scanned the area for any marine inhabitants to dine on.  These Bigg’s killer whales were identified as the T99’s.  The head matriarch is averaged to be about 36 years old, and her youngest offspring born in 2015!  T99B was traveling to the side of the other three and was easily identified by his/her sickle-shaped dorsal fin and large notch towards the tip.  T99B was born in 2007 but we have yet to discover if this whale is a male or female!  Males will “sprout” their dorsal fins in their early teenage years so we may have to wait a while longer to see any growth.

After watching a few behavior changes, it was clear this family was on the hunt!  Birds swarmed overhead and the whales started closely circling an area and became very active!  It was unclear what species they were hunting mid-channel, but it was potentially a harbor seal or harbor porpoise.  After the excitement of the kill slowed down, we had our last looks at the T99’s and headed back down Plumper Sound towards home.  Along the way we stopped at Spieden Island to get great looks at some Steller sea lions resting along the rocks!  A large male perked up towards the front of the group, made a big yawn and started scratching his rump with a flipper.  Clearly, he was just emerging from a deep nap!  Bald eagles were seen on the west side of Spieden, as well as some Mouflon sheep!  Today was filled of amazing wildlife and it was so meaningful to watch these animals in their natural habitat as the only vessel in the area.  Hopefully there will be many more trips like this to come!