August 21, 2020

Bigg's Killer Whales Swim in the Rain

P/C. Sarah McCullagh

Olivia | M/V Sea Lion | August 21st, 2020 | 13:00

What an adventurous morning on M/V Sea Lion braving the weather and circumnavigating San Juan Island! We started the trip with no whale reports, a very common daily occurrence, and decided to head north scanning the wildlife hot spots for any action in the water. We first stopped at the eastern side of Spieden Island where there were THREE Steller’s Sea Lions swimming in the water near the Bull Kelp reef. This was riveting! Not only are they a personal favorite, but our passengers got a peek at their large size- they are the largest sea lions in the world, after all, averaging 12 feet long and 2,400 pounds! In addition to these monstrous Pinnipeds, we were able to view many Mouflon Sheep, Harbor Seals, and Bald Eagles.

Continuing north through the Cactus Islands and weaving between John’s Pass, we found ourselves at the western side of Boundary Pass where we were spotting heaps of Harbor Porpoise swimming in the rain. Just as we were rounding Turn Point Lighthouse, we caught word that there were some Bigg’s Killer Whales in Haro Strait, currently in Canadian waters, aiming towards the United States. Due to Covid-19, we are unable to boat into Canada with that border closure, but we made the decision to take a chance and head down Haro Strait,  putting faith in the chance that they would cross into the U.S. and our guests would be able to experience the black and white dolphins. This was a bit of a long shot since it would be extending our trip closer to the four-hour mark, with a chance that we will not see them. That being said, we do our best to not only scan and find wildlife, but to also position ourselves in areas giving the highest probability of our guests to see whales. Working on their wild schedules, every day is a chance, and every day we put in everything we’ve got in order to gain an opportunity. And guess what? It paid off!

Approaching Lime Kiln Lighthouse, the rain started to part, and the sun began to shine—and there were our Transient Orca! Traveling together were the T060’s in addition to T002B, around 7 individuals. This mammal eating ecotype provided the most beautiful cliché Pacific Northwest photos, comprising of pine trees, rainfall, Killer Whales, mountains, and a lighthouse. PICTURE-PERFECT. Heading back south, we dipped below the southern end of San Juan Island, humbled by the reality of these free-willed individuals, and finding every moment of this trip being worth it to see them.