August 13, 2017

Double Trouble- Two Transient Orca Families Visit Friday Harbor

[8/12/17- M/V Sea Lion- Kelsey, Naturalist- 1:30PM & 5:30PM]

Some days are just so perfect it doesn’t seem real. And when not one, but TWO trips turn out to be beautifully perfect, it’s a pretty surreal day!

Both trips saw some transient killer whales (or mammal-eating orcas), but there were two separate groups on the same path of travel! In the afternoon, we went south from Friday Harbor to Cattle Point, and there by Whale Rocks were some orcas! We viewed them briefly, and then we quickly made a detour to Whale Rocks and saw some Stellar’s sea lions, checked out a bald eagle’s nest, and returned back up north to catch up with the orcas again. They were travelling up towards Friday Harbor! They were a beautiful family group with some young males, juveniles, and the last wild-caught orca that was later released back into the ocean, T46. T46 is now a great-grandmother and is the matriarch for the family group, so they are referred to as the T46’s. We continued up following the group, and then surprisingly, there was a humpback just coming south towards us by Friday Harbor!

We watched the humpback slowly meander past us (even giving us a close look at the front of our boat!), and we witnessed the crossing of the orcas and the humpback. They seemed undeterred by one another, just passively moving across one another through San Juan Channel, but in reality they really do not like each other. At least they were civil and polite and just continued on their way! We waved the humpback goodbye and continued past Friday Harbor with the orcas. They were simply cruising in a calm travelling pace, and it was beautiful to watch them so relaxed and easygoing.

Our evening trip had a very similar encounter, almost eerily similar, because we AGAIN headed south from Friday Harbor through San Juan Channel to Cattle Point and came up on ANOTHER group of transient killer whales, the T99’s! We watched them as they frolicked after finishing a kill and having had dinner, and we quickly detoured to Whale Rocks and found the humpback again! We watched the impressive animal through the waves, and it headed south to some deeper water channels in Haro Straight. We got our fill of humpback views, then we went to see some Stellar’s sea lions, as well as adorable harbor seals and some adult and juvenile bald eagles. We then quickly continued north near Friday Harbor to catch up with the orcas again, and we watched the T99’s continue to frolic around and celebrate full bellies and happiness. T99 is the matriarch, and she was surrounded by her 3 young kiddos, all ages 10 or under. They began breaching, tail slapping, moonwalking, pec-slapping… all in celebration of food, and also just behaving like energized youngsters.

If every day was like today, it would almost be too much to handle. It was so perfect! Not only were the whales convenient and amazing, but the smoke that has been lingering for the last two weeks actually cleared out enough that we could see stunning Mount Baker and the Olympic mountains. Amazing!