April 10, 2021

First Sunset Tour with Both Transients and Southern Resident Orcas!

Jordan Higgins Blogs

Jordan | M/V Sea Lion | 04/10/2021 |5:00pm

Today was the very first Sunset Tour of the season!! Captain Pete and I were very excited to enjoy the islands at such a beautiful time of the day. We invited our guests to our vessel, the Sea Lion, and set out of Friday Harbor to find some wildlife.

We boated up north through the San Juan Channel and up towards tiny Islands near Orcas and Shaw Island. We wound our way around gorgeous rocks and nearby forests. As we turned the corner, a beautiful sailboat caught our attention. We were admiring the boat when suddenly, there was a breach!! A massive orca whale leapt out of the water! The people who saw this were so thrilled.

We slowed the boat and quietly headed closer to the whales. We found two orcas whales! By looking at their dorsal fins we knew they were transient whales named T77A and T49A2. Together they swam and explore the area looking for food.

Suddenly we saw swarms of gulls swooping in towards the whales as the orcas started splashing and twisting, turning, tail slapping and spy hopping! They were hunting!! They circled an area breathing and diving and splashing as they shared their meal underwater. We didn’t see any carnage but the birds seemed to peck at whatever scraps floated to the surface. It was very exciting to see them in action and very impressive that they are so efficient in their hunting. A few times we even saw them swimming backwards. We call this moonwalking which is a sign of food sharing!

We eventually continued on our adventure and let the whales finish hunting, eating and playing. But we were only boating for a few minutes until we stumbled upon J Pod! We found the Southern Resident Whales! I can’t believe we were lucky enough to see both ecotypes of orcas just minutes apart. We watched as a nearby research vessel observed these very special and endangered whales and gathered data that will hopefully benefit the population in the future. We watched as all 25 whales casually travelled down the channel as they relaxed alongside the setting sun.

We then said goodbye to the whales and went to Spieden Island. Here, we saw mounds of Steller sea lions and lumps of harbor seals! Rafts of them were swimming in the water and seemed to be breathing and diving in unison.

On land, we saw herds of mouflon sheep, fallow deer and sika deer! It was extraordinary to see so many exotic species gallivanting around this private island in Washington.

We were also lucky to see so many bald eagles! Normally we could see 1 or 2 at a time but there seemed to be countless bald eagles scattered all across Spieden! Very impressive.  

Finally, we headed home as the setting sun set fire to the sky and sent streaks of bright orange and purple throughout the clouds.

What a wonderful first sunset tour!