June 22, 2020

Cetacean Trifecta!! Humpback, Minke, and Bigg's Killer Whales!

Bigg's Killer Whlaes

Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 6/22/2020 | 13:30

Today was another whale-filled day out on the water! M/V Sea Lion headed south through San Juan Channel and we barely made any headway before our first whale encounter!  A humpback whale was feeding in Griffin Bay and taking about 4-minute dives.  It was so exciting to see such a large animal so close to the shore in his/her natural habitat.  The upwelling was telling of a prime feeding spot in this area, as the birds swarmed above as the humpback brought up small schooling fish to the surface.  These birds are a helpful indication that this is a highly productive area and it is a good rule of thumb that when birds are around, other wildlife may be found!  After some awesome looks at this hungry leviathan we continued south past Cattle Point towards Salmon Bank, a well-known hot spot for baleen whales!  We were thrilled to see an abundance of bird activity and not long after we saw a large sickle-shaped dorsal fin surge through the surface!  This was my first minke whale sighting of the season and I was so excited to see such a cooperative animal!  Minke whales are a little elusive at times and not as surface oriented as humpbacks, but this particular whale was being more than generous.  As he/she came up through the water, we could actually see the baleen plates and water pouring out the sides of its mouth!  This whale was actively feeding and surging through the water.  We even saw a side lunge and half of its fluke come out of the water as this animal spiraled back down to the bottom of the bank!  I must say minke whales can be sneaky at times which can get frustrating when you are trying to get good looks, but this whale was giving us the best show and made me remember why I love them so much as a species!

Once we said goodbye to this beautiful minke whale, we continued on and checked out some cute harbor seals hauled out on Whale Rocks.  We were surprised to see some sea lions popping their heads up out of the water to say hello!  On our way back towards Friday Harbor, it seemed like the day was wrapping up, but apparently whales had other plans.  Captain Erick received word that Bigg’s killer whales just made their way to the area!  They were first seen from land near Moresby Island and headed down by Spieden Island.  Confirming with passengers that they did not mind staying out with us a little longer, we extended our journey in San Juan Channel to see these magnificent animals!!  Fully scanning the horizon, we saw blows a little south of Spieden Island!  Passengers knew we found them as our vessel quickly changed direction to head towards the middle of the channel.  These killer whales turned out to be the T46Bs, a large well-known family of eight whales!!  This family has two calves currently in tow, one from 2018 and one from 2019.  Tl’luk is the “white calf”, increasing in popularity as he stays permanently with his family in the Salish Sea.  Passengers got breath-taking views of these whales as they crossed right by our bow and started milling around our boat!  Our captain saw that they had a harbor seal and were actively hunting!  One of my favorite things to see on the water is hunting behavior by the top predator of our oceans. Bigg’s killer whales in other areas of the world routinely feed on great white shark livers, a clear symbol of how they are perceived by other marine life.  After many gasps and happy tears of passengers who just experienced a once in a lifetime orca encounter from the T46Bs, we made our way home with smiles permanently planted on all our faces.  A trifecta trip with a humpback, minke, and killer whales!!