August 6, 2019

Bigg's Killer Whales Surround Stewart Island!!

Bigg's Killer Whales Near Stewart!

Laura C. | M/V Sea Lion | 8/6/2019 | 5:30pm

Our evening wildlife cruise aboard M/V Sea Lion was spectacular!  We all anxiously made our way out of Friday Harbor as quickly as possible because we heard reports of orcas traveling south from Boundary Pass to Stewart Island!!  It is so exciting to hear of whales traveling so close to home!  On our way north we made a quick pit stop to see a splashing Stellar sea lion in full feeding mode around a bait ball!  The birds were the first indication of a lot of activity and it was awesome to see this enormous sea lion lunge out of the water and slam its head down on the surface! 

Harbor porpoises and seals trickled through the area as we voyaged to Stewart Island.  We stopped to view a large bait ball with a full food chain in the works!  With plenty of upwelling seen, the fish were jumping at the surface and looked like rain! Pelagic birds swarmed overhead and a Harbor seal was swimming through the large cluster of small schooling fish.  I love seeing the marine ecosystem in action and how each element equally supports one another!

Once we arrived to our whale scene I was so excited to meet the T19 family!  As it is my first naturalist season in these Pacific waters, I am always so happy to meet Bigg’s killer whales I have never seen before!  This family consists of an elder matriarch, and she has been estimated to be about 62 years old!  Since researchers started studying these whales in the late 1960’s and 70’s, it is challenging to complete a full family tree consisting of all her relatives.  There is another female in the family, presumed to be her daughter, and two grandsons!   These massive bulls may be some of the largest in our population!  T19C has a really impressive dorsal fin that is slightly rounded over, making it easy to tell the brothers apart.  This characteristic dorsal fin may have genetic indications, or has curved in such a way from environmental factors.

As this family of four looped Stewart Island, it was so exciting to observe their behaviors!  Initially, they were traveling so quickly but then slowed their pace and started tail slapping!  This surface activity could have multiple indications, one of them for hunting!  It is possible this family collected a harbor seal or porpoise that we could not see under the water’s surface.  Then group picked up the pace and started quickly traveling south, a perfect time for us to say our goodbyes!  This was a fantastic orca sighting today and a wonderful day to be out on the water!  We even got to see a perigrine falcon and bald eagles!