June 28, 2018

Found! Bigg's Orcas (T65A's & T49A's) Hunt and Play in Rosario Strait

Bigg's Orcas

[Tuesday, 6/27/18 - M/V Sea Lion - 5:30PM - Naturalist Erick]

On Tuesday, Captain Mike and myself were on our own with a smaller group of guests on the sunset tour - aka my favorite tour. We went south through San Juan Channel and Cattle Pass to eventually head towards the southern end of Rosario Strait. We were pointed in this direction to look for a Humpback Whale that we had seen during the afternoon trip. On our way there we stopped at Whale Rocks in Cattle Pass to look at the Harbor Seals and Steller Sea Lions sunning on the rocks and playing the in the swift white-water topped tidal currents in this skinny pass. Steller Sea Lions, one of the larger pinnipeds in the Salish Sea, are all slowly headed north for summer breeding season. Here though there a bunch of younger ones who are not of breeding age yet and a few older stragglers still feeding and playing in the waters around the rocks here. They are always so amazing to watch as these fuzzy giants belly-flop into the water and growl at each other for their favorite spots on the rocks. We moved on heading east. Capt. Mike took us into the tiny pass in between the rocky cliffs on the south side of Lopez Island and the tall but small islet called Castle Island.

As we passed into the giant shadow of Castle Island it felt like we could stick our arms out and touch both islands simultaneously, and just at the skinniest part towards our left there was a Bald Eagle perched just a little above eye level on the rocks of Lopez Island. We continued on to Davidson Rock and Lawson Reef on the east side of Lopez Island. We soon saw blows in the distance and we assumed that they were the Humpbacks that we left here earlier, but after I quickly looked at them through the binoculars I saw that it was a group of orcas! Yay!

We approached and saw that it was two family pods of Bigg’s/Transient Orcas. These are the orcas that live in the B.C and Washington waters and feed solely on marine mammals. These two families are the T65A’s and the T49A’s. These two families have been traveling together for awhile now and it was wonderful to see them again. The T49A’s were missing T49A1 who has been traveling solo lately. We paralleled them as they traveled north and as they zig and zagged outside of Watmough Bay we started to noticed all the Rhinoceros Auklets popping up out of the water below with beaks just brimming with baitfish. There was definitely a huge school of fish below us and soon we saw that there was also a few Harbor Seals underneath us as well. The two families converged fast and quickly dispatched their favorite prey in these waters - a Harbor Seal. They shared their prey and quickly ate it as they moved up and down quickly in one spot causing the water to froth a little bit. Then as they finished the playing began.

They began swimming backwards and breaching around. They swam upside down and slapped their tails in celebration after their meal and when they came up to breathe the angle of the sun made rainbows in their blows - rainblows. Well it can’t get much better than that. We left these amazing creatures to their normal evening programming as we wound through tiny passes in between sandy spits and rocky islets around Lopez Sound.


Whale folks what a night,


Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris