April 25, 2016

Double the Transient Orcas, Double the Fun

Adult Female Transient Orca near San Juan Island

Did you know that orcas live all over the world? They’re a cosmopolitan species just like us, the humans! There are ten distinct ecotypes worldwide that look similar but differ, in their behavior and their feeding habits. Here in the beautiful Salish Sea around the San Juan Islands there are two ecotypes that commonly pass through our waters! In the summer the famous Southern Residents swim through the islands in search of Chinook Salmon, but year round there is another ecotype that hunts around these islands – the Transient Orcas. They are the silent hunters of the sea that stealthily track other marine mammals in small familial pods.

This Sunday started like most Sundays in April, drizzly and misty, but Captain Pete and I headed north on the hunch that some transient orcas that were heading north yesterday may be in the area. We soon saw their blows in the distance as we approached Turn Point on Stuart Island. The mists from their breathing mixed with the rainy mists rising from a glassy seas as our approach revealed their dark, shiny fins breaking the water. This was the most Transient Orcas that I have seen in once place ever! It was two families socializing off of the cliffs of Stuart Island. Most of their day these marine mammal hunters are quietly searching for their intelligent prey, but on this day they were playing! Since there was two families here they were splashing and rubbing and rolling around each other and probably having more of a blast than we were watching them. This was super exciting to watch since this doesn’t often happen when people are around to watch it. This is definitely the most playful I have ever seen these orcas, animals that are better known for splashing water over top rocks to dislodge tasty and unsuspecting seal pups. We stopped the boat to let them choose a direction with plenty of room, but instead they made a more interesting choice. They made a sharp turn and swam strait towards us! Ah! Seeing this quick coordination and then how gracefully they maneuvered around the boat brought words to one of our younger passengers that whole heartily agreed with, “This is the best day of my life!” We slowly watched as these two families slowly swam into Canada and we had to start making our way back home, but not before we stopped to watch some of our local Harbor Seals and Steller’s Sea Lions, to see what those transient orcas like to feed on.

Whale folks that’s it for me, just another San Juanderful day here and I hope you have one too!


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris