June 13, 2020

Bigg's Killer Whales off the West Side of San Juan Island!!!

Bigg's Killer Whales on the West Side!

Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 6/13/2020 | 5:30pm

This evening's sunset whale watch was spectacular!  We headed southbound through San Juan Channel towards Cattle Point.  We passed some fun pelagic bird species along the way, including pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets, and cormorants.  After reaching Cattle Point, the seas were a little rough but passengers were excited for the adventure!  We received a report of Bigg's killer whales (historically called transients) along the west side of San Juan Island near Land Bank, heading south.  

M/V Sea Lion moved through the wavy seas as fast as she could to meet up with them!  Once we arrived, I was thrilled to find the T46B's!  This family of eight is so fun to watch!  They have a large male in the group, as well as two calves!  One peanut was born in 2019 and then a male from 2018.  The 2018 calf has leucism, a genetic condition lacking full pigmentation but not albinism.  This gives him a very light grey appearance and he is very easy to spot in the group!  
This condition has actually been reported with other orcas in the area, dating all the way back to 1924.  One was captured in 1974 for captivity due to her unique coloration, eventually diagnosed with Chediak-Higashi syndrome.  Park business owners believed this "white whale" would bring in a lot of revenue from the public but unfortunately she passed away after a short period in captivity.

There are other whales around the world believed to have leucism.  One is a famous humpback whale named Migaloo, found near Queensland, Australia.  This migrating population of humpbacks actually have a few individuals lacking pigment, and numbers may grow as the population increases with this genetic trait.  Migaloo is a male first spotted in 1991 as a juvenile adult, making him at least 30 years old by now!  This is very promising for our little orca calf T46B1B, otherwise known as Tl'uk, to have a very long and successful life ahead!

We were able to spend a lot of time with the T46B's as they slowly made their way south down the west side of San Juan.  Each surfacing was breathtaking, no pun intended!  One of my favorite ways to watch orcas is as a tight family unit, slowly coming up together in unison.  And it is great to see how unique each individual is in this family.  They are simply perfect.  The large male was always exciting to see as he towered over his siblings.  And we even got a spyhop from one of the calves checking us out!  This was definitely a whale watch to remember!  We topped off the day with some Steller Sea Lions and Harbor Seals on our way back home, hauled out on Whale Rocks near Cattle Point.  It was so happy to share this exciting adventure with everyone on board and end the day with a beautiful island sunset!