November 30, 2019

Bigg's Killer Whales Hunting in the San Juan Channel!!

Laura C. | 11/30/2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00pm

Waking up this morning was bittersweet, as I knew it would be the last trip of the season, but I was equally excited to get out on the water to hopefully see some whales!  Today could not have more perfect, with orcas graciously providing a grand finale!  This is the last blog of the season as it is our final whale watch of the year!  Eleven passengers eagerly boarded M/V Sea Lion and greeted Captain Pete with enthusiasm.  After discussing some wildlife viewing basics, I made my way to the wheelhouse to discuss our plan for the day with Pete.  He asked, "Want to see orcas today?  Because another boat just found them and they are not far from here."  I couldn't believe my ears!  How lucky for orcas to be right in San Juan Channel on our last day.  I speculate how much they really do know about us humans.

So M/V Sea Lion steamed ahead, arriving at our destination within twenty minutes from departure!  The T34s, T36Bs, and T37s were near Waldron Island, spending more time above the surface than below!  Dall's porpoises were also on scene and were quickly making their way out of there and towards President's Channel.  Before noticing the orcas, the captain of another vessel radioed in how peculiar it was there were so many Steller sea lions much farther up the rocks than normal.  The boat was watching these sea lions in their high-elevation status when several orcas appeared out of no where!  Obviously these sea lions knew who were coming directly into the area from below!  Our passengers watched in amazement as these mammal eaters were in full-on hunt mode.  Two Steller sea lions had unfortunate fates today, and were repetitively tossed around and sloshed through the seas in a drowning tactic conducted by these top-notch predators.  There were about 8-10 Bigg's killer whales in the area, the youngest having only 2 years of life under his/her belt.  It was so cool to see so many families join in together for the hunt!  Passengers watched extreme acrobatic orca activity, including tail slaps, lob tails, pec slaps, and varying breaching activity!  I could not say enough how lucky we were to see these whales at just the right time to catch all the action!  Everyone got awesome footage and we were all able to spend quality time with this amazing group of Bigg's killer whales!  Certainly a phenomenal whale watch to add to the memory bank!

Since we did not have to travel far to find killer whales today and had a "Bigg" check marked off, there was plenty of time to see more wildlife!  We ventured over to Spieden Island and found more Steller sea lions on the south side basking on the higher rocks.  These sea lions must have also known there were orcas not too far away, as they shimmied all the way up to the grass area, as far from the water line as possible.  Feeling out of danger, these enormous pinnipeds were laying around, scratching themselves, flopping their flippers around, and were quite vocal!  These are my favorite marine mammals to see that also touch land.  They can show a variety of personalities and when not acting territorial, overall seem fairly goofy.  Continuing up Spieden provided a multitude of other animals to see, including Mouflan sheep, fallow deer, and siika deer.  The fallow deer were in abundance today and making large runs of herds across the grass.  They were very entertaining to watch as they were quickly on the move!  Bald eagles were also in abundance today, with about 6 seen in this particular area.  One eagle was settled out in the open on the side of Spieden eating a fish!  We also saw some harbor seals swimming close by in an area with a couple of bait balls!  Today was truly the perfect whale watch.  There was a constant abundance of wildlife, with the whole food chain openly working in front of our very eyes.  Some wildlife photographers travel thousands of miles and patiently wait weeks to months to capture this epic footage that we were able to gather during a single three-hour whale watch, a few miles from the harbor.  The San Juan Islands are a magical place to be apart of, and the Salish Sea is like no other for its exciting and diverse marine life.  This has been an amazing summer, full of beautiful wildlife and I am so glad to have shared these experiences with everyone!  Until next year!