August 23, 2017

Four Families of Transient Orcas Around the San Juans

Transient Orcas

[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Sea Lion, 8/19/17, 5:30PM]


The evening trips aboard the Sea Lion are my absolute favorite. We are coming up on the last week of them, but each time I go on one, it’s just so much more relaxing, there usually are less boats on the water, and less folks on the boat. Oh yeah, and the lighting is just spectacular. This evening we started out by heading north. We stopped at one of our favorite places, Flattop Island, to look at some Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and a lot of Pigeon Guillemots. I love the little red feet of the Pigeon Guillemots! After seeing sufficient numbers of those lovely rock sausages we continued north.

We were heading in the direction that we believed the Transient Orcas we saw earlier in the day most likely would have traveled. Transient (Bigg’s) Orcas are the ecotype of orca that feeds on marine mammals. So they are going after seals, sea lions, porpoises, and larger whales. And despite what their name might imply there are a good number of Transient Orca families that spend a lot of time in the Salish Sea and know this place very well. So well in fact, that they will just zig zag through the islands going to their favorite seal ‘hot-spots’ where they know they will have the best chances of finding an unsuspecting seal. They then eat a few seals and move on to the next spot. The family that we saw this evening was a mixture of a few families of Transient Orcas. It was the T046’s, T37’s, and the T36A’s. We found them this evening hunting around Waldron Island. There is a shallow rocky reef that is a great spot to find seals. While we were watching they did a split maneuver and rounded White Rocks and eventually caught a seal! They quickly dispatched and ate it and spent the rest of the time socializing with each other.

After leaving those party animals we headed around the Cactus Islands and the north side of Spieden Island to check out some more beautiful scenery, Bald Eagles, and other birds before we headed to the south side of Spieden Island, where there was another group of Transient Orcas. This group was headed south and it was the T034’s and the T037B’s. This group seemed to be more interested in traveling than hunting as they rounded Green Point then turned around and headed towards O’Neil Island. Once they went to the San Juan Island shoreline, they either started chasing something or just really wanted to race, because a few started to porpoise south. (This is when they are swimming extremely fast, and is what you see most other dolphin species do to swim very quickly). Since they were headed the same way we were, towards Friday Harbor we watched them for a while before we headed back home just as the sun was setting.


Whale folks, until next time,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris