April 28, 2022

Feeding Bigg's Killer Whales and an Opportunistic Bald Eagle

Olivia | M/V Sea Lion | April 28th, 2022 | 12:30pm

Leaving the dock today, we were elated with the weeklong streak of sunny weather. Cool winds and warm skies guided us inner island towards Rosario Strait, passing heaps of bait balls and feeding Rhinoceros Auklets. Kissing the southern end of Lummi Island, we spotted black dorsal fins seemingly hugging the shoreline.

In my opinion, Lummi Island is one of the most breathtaking islands within the San Juan’s. The lush green, cliffy coastline created an aesthetic backdrop to the small spouts of eight Bigg’s Killer Whales, pairing beautifully with the shimmering of their jet-black dorsal fins. Ranging from four-year-old calves to 30-year-old males, these dorsal fins had a range of heights as they traveled together.

The T071B’s [primarily seen in Alaska], T124D’s, and T124C ultimately decided it was time to eat and very abruptly flung a Harbor Seal into the air from the shoreline.  We watched as the families worked together dragging around their prey while the juveniles mimicked the behaviors of their mother and older siblings. Not only did it feel special to witness a meal being shared, but to also witness history. Every behavior is generationally learned and passed down from their elders. This means that while all the families in this ecotype are culturally similar, they each have their own traditions, behaviors, and ways of communication just as each of our human families do.

We traveled slowly along Lummi Island watching the orcas finish their meal, only to see gulls and a Bald Eagle swoop in to take advantage of the easy scraps. Eventually ending at a larger Harbor Seal haul out, we chatted about thermoregulation while watching the Pinnipeds bask in their cliché banana pose. Motoring back to the harbor, we looked at the photoidentification guide, talked about family structure, and admired the occasional Harbor Porpoise swimming by.

With sunny skies, feeding apex predators, and lots of birds, this trip turned out to be one of the highlights of our 2022 season thus far.