October 1, 2021

Family Affair of Humpbacks and Bigg’s Killer Whales in the San Juan Islands

biggs killer whales

Haleigh | M/V Sea Lion | October 1, 2021 | 12:00 pm


It’s not super common to find whales right outside of the harbor, but when it happens it is incredibly special! Today was that day. We found two Humpback Whales traveling South through the San Juan Channel. Each surfacing was powerful, with a 15 foot exhalation releasing a plume of misty water into the air. The two humpbacks were traveling close alongside one another. At one point as they dove, one tail fluked while the other half fluked as the whale rolled onto the other one. With this fluke we verified that one of the Humpbacks is a female named Zephyr (MMZ0004).This sort of physical contact is super common among whales as a way of showing affection towards a kin. 


After some time, we decided to depart the scene and search for more wildlife. We stopped by a huge haul out of Steller’s Sea Lions. These growling pinnipeds were covering Whale Rocks. Some were even swimming around in the surrounding kelp forest. Soon after, we push off south in search of a bait ball indicated by flocks of birds. We scanned through one feeding frenzy and found some Harbor Porpoises as well as Gulls, Common Murres, and Cormorants. 


In the midst of our scanning, a report of some Bigg’s Killer Whales came in. We immediately departed in pursuit of this report. We arrived at the scene of a family of Bigg’s Killer Whales, the marine mammal-eating ecotype that can be found between the Southern part of Alaska and the Salish Sea. They were hugging the shoreline of Cypress Island, providing a beautiful backdrop for each of their surfacings. We stayed as long as we could, taking in the wonder of a family of orcas traveling as a tight-knit unit. Later in the day, these whales were identified as the T36’s, made up of three generations including 1 grandmother, a mother, and 3 grandchildren. Overall, trips don't get much better than this.