March 6, 2021

Four Bigg's Killer Whales on the Hunt near Orcas Island!

Bigg's Killer Whales Hunting

Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 3/6/2021 | 1:00PM

To kick off the first official whale watch of the season, our orcas were ready and did not disappoint!  Passengers and crew had a phenomenal day out on the water!  The morning started off a little rainy but as our departure time came near, the sun came out along blue skies and calm seas.  The day was already looking bright and hopeful, just like summer!

M/V Sea Lion, Captain Pete, myself and 23 passengers made our way out of Friday Harbor and headed north into San Juan Channel.  We were ecstatic to hear of killer whales in the area and the radio was booming with excitement!  All vessels in the area are a part of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which is a private network used to communicate whale sightings in the Salish Sea while we are out on the water.  Four Bigg’s killer whales were spotted near Orcas Island headed towards the Rosario Strait!  Our vessel made our way to the last marked location north of Lawrence Point.  As we scanned the horizon and searched near the rocky outcrops of Orcas Island, a cluster of exhalations or blows were seen close to shore and headed in our direction!

These Bigg’s killer whales were identified as T87, a lone male, who was traveling with the T124A2s!  T87 is a very large prominent male, estimated to be almost 60 years old!  He may be the oldest male we know of in this entire population!  It is difficult to estimate the ages of whales prior to the 1970’s, when marine mammal research started taking off and individual whales were identified.  The main method is by photo analysis, looking at unique characteristics to their dorsal fins along their backs as well as saddle patches or grey areas right behind their dorsal fins.  It is so cool to think that we can look at an old polaroid from over thirty years ago and recognize him/her as the same whale on a whale watch we were viewing today!  T124A2 is a young female born in 2001 and had two offspring in tow.  One is a male born in 2013 and then a female born in 2016.  It was so exciting to see a male with this small family and speculate why he was choosing to spend time with them this afternoon.

It was not long before passengers were completely engrossed in watching a hunt take place!  Birds gathered overhead as our orca group circled tightly around one another, a sign that they must be passing a critter along underneath the water’s surface!  We even saw the tail of the young female wave in the air as she corkscrewed down below!   I could not make out exactly what they were feasting on, but there were plenty of seals seen around nearby islands on our way towards the whales.  We had a few awesome passes from this family as they made their way across West Bank, headed north.  After about an hour of captivating looks, it was time for us to head back towards Friday Harbor.  Along the way we passed Flattop Island, checking out at least 50 seals hauled out and enjoying the warmth of the day along the rocks.  Bald eagles were seen soaring in the sky today as we made our way up and back down President’s Channel.  They are an element of the pacific northwest I am always excited to see and cannot take my eyes off this beautiful and unique predator.  We made our way safely back to Friday Harbor and everyone was very happy to have seen Bigg’s killer whales on this beautiful Saturday!  Hopefully this is a great indication of the upcoming wildlife sightings to come this year and I cannot wait to get back on the water!