August 10, 2021

Breaching Biggs Killer Whales At Sunset

Abby | M/V Osprey | 8/10/2021

It was our second tour of the day and so far no orcas had been within our range. That was all about to change, however, as a new matriline I had never seen before was trending northeast past Victoria. We could potentially make it in time if they didn’t change direction. As we headed south through San Juan Channel and out into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, we saw a minke whale, who ended up doing laps around our vessel. The minke whale was a great first look, but orcas were in the distance, so we zoomed off towards that report.

To make matters slightly easier, today was the first day we have been able to cross the Canadian waterline in over one and a half years. If necessary, we were prepared to do so, especially because our sighting reports told of some acrobatic activity being shown by the T046’s, which include the following individuals:

  • Wake T046 (Female, born before 1966)
    • Centeki T122 (Female, 1982)
    • Strider T046D (Male, 2000)
    • Thor T046E (Male, 2003)
    • Loki T046F (Male, 2012)

As shown above, Wake is the mother, the matriarch, and below are all the offspring currently traveling with her. There are a few things you may notice with this family. One is that Centeki has a different ID designation than the rest of the family (shown as T122 instead of T046A, which would be the normal ID of the first offspring). Centeki, named for one of the 13 lunar phases recognized by the Coast Salish people, disappeared for 13 years. Before her disappearance, she was designated T046A, and after re-appearing, she was designated T122. This is a very bold reminder that even with arguably the most studied orca population in the world, the sea holds great mysteries, as do our orcas.

Not only does Centeki (T122) have an incredible story, but so does her mother, Wake (T046). Wake was part of the last live orca capture for planned captivity in Puget Sound in 1976. After local protests, she was released and has gone on to have one of the strongest lineages in our Biggs killer whale population. Wake is now over 55 years old, is a great grandmother, and has over 18 direct descendants that we know of.

While on scene, these five orcas gave us a show. Not only were Strider and Thor very large males, but they are still not full grown. There was breaching, tail slapping, and tail lobbing behaviors shown at the surface, played to the Free Willy soundtrack, thanks to one of our guests. The wedding party that made up more than half of our guests definitely had their marriage blessed by the whales, at sunset no less.

It’s trips like these that make me think in depth about the wildlife that we have here in the Salish Sea, as well as the value of our research and photo identification. This family has a very special story, one that warms the heart and reminds us all that with enough voices we can change the course of history and protect the wildlife that call this special ecosystem home.