June 29, 2018

Bigg's Killer Whales in Rosario | Friday, June 22, 2018 | 02:00pm

Bigg's killer whales

Naturalist Sarah | 06/22/2018 | M/V Kestrel | 02:00pm


M/V Kestrel is such an incredible conservation tool and education platform. Every time I am scheduled for a day working on its open air decks I’m excited about the potential for encountering a plethora of wildlife to share with our guests. On Friday it was no exception… we were able to cover a lot of ground and see more wildlife than a conventional whale watch boat in our 3-4 allotted time.

We started our afternoon cruise by heading south through San Juan Channel towards Whale Rocks, as we travelled we caught glimpses of bald eagles, pigeon guillemots, and harbor seals around the boat. As we arrived at the rocks between the south ends of Lopez and San Juan Island we were greeted by the bellowing, burpy vocalizations of Steller’s sea lions lining the rocks. These massive pinnipeds are some of my favorite marine mammals to encounter in the Salish Sea, and it’s been an interesting start to the summer with them still hanging out on the rocks. Usually these bulky mammals head north to haul-outs in Alaska for a summer pupping and breeding season. This is the latest I’ve ever seen them on the rocks here in the San Juan Islands.

After a great look at the sea lions, taking time to also appreciate the incredible tidal flow through Cattle Pass, we headed back north through San Juan Channel, taking a right into Upright Channel between Shaw and Lopez Islands. The water interisland was so smooth and glassy! Spotting a perched bald eagle close to an easy-to-view nest Captain Gabe pulled over so we could marvel at the sheer size of the bird and its enormous nest!

Continuing east we popped out into Rosario, the easternmost waterway that hugs the San Juan Islands, and soon started spotting the telltale blows and dorsal fins… ORCAS!! The black and white whales stayed close to the shoreline of James Island, appearing to hunt as they cruised and socialized. We quickly realized that we were looking at some of our usual suspects from our Bigg’s killer whale community, the T065As and the T49As traveling together. These two spectacular mothers have several kiddos who travel with them, but probably most notably is T065A’s newest calf T065A6 who is only about three months old! This little nugget would have been approximately six to eight feet long with it was born, weighing a whopping three to four hundred pounds. It is such a pleasure to see these little ones grow up developing life-long relationships with their mothers and siblings. We got to follow the whales as they cruised in amongst the islands, the juveniles getting rowdy and playing as they travelled.