September 2, 2020

Found the T65B's (Bigg's Orcas) near Lopez Island!

Bigg's Orcas

Erick | M/V Sea Lion | September 2, 2020 | 1:30 PM


We have come to my favorite time of the year in the San Juan Islands! As summer ends and we inch closer to fall the world starts to slow even more down here. All the historic orchards are heavy with fruit, the last native berries are just finishing their ripening, and the crickets are ever louder in the mornings and evenings. We are usually greeted each morning by a thick fog bank moving over the islands and then the sun starts to break through just before noon. Yesterday was a perfect exampe of a classic September day and Captain Pete and I took a smaller group out to go search for some local marine wildlife. We started south to go searching south of Lopez and San Juan Islands but made a turn after a report came in of some orcas close to James Island! We turned around and headed east to the other side of Lopez Island where we first saw them just passing Frost Island! It was a smaller group of Bigg’s (formerly known as Transient) Orcas! There were three in this family – mom and her two kids. We saw them once and then they quickly did and deeper dive! They popped up on the other side of us and were on the hunt! They were hunting a Harbor Seal – the staple of their diet in this area – and quickly caught and killed it! The gulls soon figured it out and quickly came over to get some scraps.

            Bigg’s Orcas are one of the ecotypes that we see in the Salish Sea. The other type is the famous and critically endangered Southern Residents. The Bigg’s only prey on marine mammals – Seals, Sea Lions, Porpoises, Minke Whales, etc. while the Southern Residents eat only fish and mainly Chinook Salmon.

            It is always amazing to see these incredible creatures, but it is even greater when they are so active. Soon after the hunt they were sharing the food and becoming more social. There were some jumps, some fluking, and somem tail slaps in celebration! We soon identified this family as the T65B’s! These three are part of a much larger extended family that we often see in our waters. There are the T65A’s, which is one of her sisters family. We sometimes see their mother, T65, herself, and rarely  see is here is her brother, T63. After that hunt they were on the hunt again. They approached the buoy in between Lopez and Blakely Islands. Here they really started to hunt. The mom, T65B, started moving very quickly and lauched herself out of the water a few times trying to hunt something. We eventually saw that it was a young Steller Sea Lion! These are a bigger than seals and this one was fast! The two kids stayed off to the side while mom hunted since this species tends to be a little bit more dangerous to hunt. After about 10 minutes though she either gave up or got bored and they moved on. It did not take them too much  more time to find another Harbor Seal! We watched them hunt that and do some more remarkable displays of cooperative hunting. Sadly we eventually had to leave. We headed home through Harney Channel and got to see a few live Harbor Seals on the way back to Friday Harbor! What another magical day in the San Juan Islands!


Stay Whale Folks,