August 24, 2019

Four Family Pods of Bigg's Killer Whales on a Sunny Saturday!

Erin | M/V Sea Lion | Saturday, August 24, 2019 | 1:30PM 

It was one of the best whale watching trips of the season today! We began our trip with a multitude of reports of killer whales in our area. We were all so excited that there were so many around. We decided to first head toward Boundary Pass, which is north of Friday Harbor. We left out of the harbor and got into San Juan Channel. We passed Jones Island and found ourselves right by Flattop Island, looking at blows and dorsal fins in the distance. We had found some killer whales! There were 7 total whales in the area, and they were travelling as a close-knit pod. We were actually watching two family pods travelling together. They were identified as the T34's and the T37's. They are Bigg's killer whales, so their primary food source is marine mammals. In each pod, there is a two year old calf. One of the matriarchs, T34, is believed to be at least 50 years old! She was travelling with her 12 year old daughter and her 2 year old. The other matriarch, T37, is 40 years old. She was travelling with her daughter and her two grandchildren. The whales seemed to be pretty restful at first, but then they began to pick up speed and head south down San Juan Channel. We watched them for a while and then we left in search of other orcas in the area. 

On our way to find some other orcas, we went past the backside of Spieden Island. We saw two adult bald eagles resting in the treetops! Bald eagles reach adulthood at 4 or 5 years old. We also saw some Mouflon sheep roaming near the shoreline. They were eating the algae off of the exposed rocks and searching for some freshwater sources coming out of the rocks. We went around Spieden Island and soon we could see more blows and fins in the distance! The first pod of orcas we came across was the T36A's. There are 4 whales in that pod. They were heading toward the shoreline of Stuart Island, most likely attempting to find some harbor seals that were foraging. The matriarch of this pod is 29 years old, and she has 3 offspring. After watching them for a bit, we headed along the southern shore of Spieden Island, where we saw harbor seals hauled out! Harbor seals in the Salish Sea are unique because they don't migrate, so we have the potential to see them year-round! They were fortunate to be left alone as we watched them, because on the other side of the boat there was yet another pod of killer whales! All of the killer whale pods that we saw are Bigg's killer whales, and harbor seals are their favorite food source. 

The final pod of orcas that we watched are known as the T99's. They have 4 whales in their pod, and the matriarch is believed to be about 35 years old. The whales split up and went around Sentinal Island. Two of them went around the right side and the other two went around the left side. When they met back up, it looked like they had caught something. There were seabirds coming into the area and diving into the water near the whales to grab scraps from their lunch. We saw the circle of life happening right in front of us. After an amazing, wildlife-filled adventure, we headed back to Friday Harbor with memories to last forever! Until next time, folks! 

Naturalist Erin