November 17, 2019

Bigg's Killer Whales Hunting Right Outside Friday Harbor!!

Bigg's killer whales hunting

Laura C. | M/V Sea Lion | 11/17/2019 | 12:00 pm

What an exceptional day out on the water!  The Salish Sea was a buffet of small schooling fish swirling through the surrounding cold-water currents.  M/V Sea Lion headed out of Friday Harbor with gusto to stop only minutes away to our fist whale sightings!  The T18s were in the area foraging just north of Friday Harbor!  T19C and T18 were hugging the east side of San Juan Island and T19B and T19 were in San Juan Channel about 300 yards away.  Captain Pete slowly maneuvered our vessel to T19 and T19B and right away I knew something exciting was happening!  These killer whales were actively taking down a kill, which looked like a small Steller sea lion!  Both whales were twisting at the surface and surging through the water, giving passengers a prime view of their powerful and most capable bodies.  Things escalated quickly and the sea lion was thrown into the air with tail slaps and throws by T19B.  As soon as the kill was made, the pair’s behavior changed and slowed down as they started dismantling their prey.  The captains of whale watching boats currently viewing the other pair radioed over and told Captain Pete that their whales were headed our way!  Sure enough, within a flash sibling T19C and T18 joined T19B and T19 for the feast.  We watched this beautiful family of four share their meal as we relished in the scene just witnessed.  Bigg’s killer whales are the ocean’s top predator, and today was a prime example of how these whales continue to hold that status over thousands of years.

Our trip was far from over!  After watching the T18s hunt in the San Juan Channel, we continued north to Spieden Island.  Taking all my previous wildlife trips into account, today had the most active Steller sea lions I have ever witnessed.  Everywhere I turned there was a sea lion head surfacing from the water, surging through bait balls, foraging in kelp beds or hauled out along the rocks of Spieden Island.  Birds were all over, snagging up any fish and diving in synchrony with the Steller sea lions.  Feeding frenzies sprinkled across the horizon line in all directions and bait balls were deteriorating before our very eyes.  A preemptive Thanksgiving feast in the Salish Sea.  Bald eagles soared overhead, and as we pulled up closer to Spieden Island, these scavengers scooped down to the surface to join in the fun!   The island itself was fully stocked with Mouflon sheep, sika deer and fallow deer along the open western side.  Large males stoically carried multi-pointed antlers and robust horns as they frolicked across the mossy grass.  Just as I thought the day could not possibly include more wildlife, a juvenile humpback whale appeared on the south side of Spieden!  This whale was hugging the shoreline along the kelp beds and was completely preoccupied in diving for small schooling fish.  We used naturalist instincts and concentrated scanning to keep tabs on this sneaky humpback and everyone was thrilled to find a second species of whale in the San Juan Channel!  As this area is a year-round home for many marine inhabitants, the chilly breeze is of no consequence to these animals as they spend their days happily swallowing heaping helpings of fish!