August 25, 2020

Bigg's Killer Whales Visit San Juan Island

P/C. Sarah McCullagh

Olivia | M/V Sea Lion | August 25th, 2020 | 13:30

We started the day with a report of Transient Orca as we left the dock. This immediately shot Captain Sarah and I into excitement, since every day we leave port having to find whatever whales might be swimming in our waters. Without whales being tagged, everything is found based on visual sight. Not only was there a report, but they were rumored to be close! What!? If this held true, our jobs were going to look way too easy. We immediately set out north for Spieden Channel, it was there, just north of Roche Harbor, where we first locked eyes on the black dorsal fins. All spread out in the channel, we had around 7 individuals coming up for air, exhales spouting towards the sunshine.

This encounter felt a bit more exceptional since it comprised of the T046’s traveling with T137A and T137B. Not only was there a broad range of ages and multiple males and females, T046 is quite remarkable herself. Born in 1966, she was one of the last wild orcas to be captured and put into captivity. She was eventually saved and successfully released back into the wild where she thrived! This astonishing success story of a whale now has roughly 22 descendants, marking one of the largest families of Bigg’s Killer Whales that continued for a couple generations, making her a great grandmother!

We watched as these whales dipped back into San Juan Channel, hugging the San Juan Island coastline as far south as the Wasp Islands. Eventually, we continued south in search of other wildlife. Not only did we see Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises swimming a bit too close to these mammal eating dolphins, but we ultimately ended up near Whale Rocks where we saw Harbor Seals and Steller’s Sea Lions hauled out on the shoreline. Returning to Friday Harbor, we reflected on not only the pristine moment we had with orca so close to port, but all the other wildlife that call the Salish Sea home.