April 24, 2019

Great Day with Whales and other Wildlife! T100's spotted in the San Juan Islands

Bigg's killer whales in the Salish Sea

[Sarah | 04/24/2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00pm]

Springtime in the San Juans is absolutely magical. The Salish Sea is in flux and there is such an interesting mix of our overwintering wildlife still lingering and some of our summertime species just arriving to our nutrient-rich waters. These conditions make the spring one of my favorite times to be on the water as the ecosystem is so incredibly dynamic and you just never know what you’ll see or where you’ll end up.

We started our tour today by heading north out of Friday Harbor, stopping by Yellow Island to find some sleepy harbor seals. These small pinnipeds are our most common marine mammals in the inland sea, and jus a joy to observe! Even though they look like sea puppies, they are more closely related to bears (the ursids) than dogs (the canids). After a great encounter with the harbor seals we motored north towards Spieden Island. On Green Point we found several Steller’s sea lions hauled out on the rocky outcropping. These humongous sea lions dwarf their smaller pinniped cousins, the harbor seals. We not only got to see the huge animals hauled out on land, but also swimming in the deep water beside the island. As we were watching the sea lions we got to see bald eagles on the shore and in the air as well as a river otter curled up on the rocks! River otters are the species of other that we usually see in our waterways around the islands. There is little to no evidence that the San Juan Islands have been home to a population of sea otters in the past, but occasionally we get the wandering individual! More often, but not usually, we get to see river otters utilizing the marine environment.

After our wildlife-filled stop at Spieden Island, Captain Brian got a call that made us turn back south. Orcas had been spotted by an off-duty whale watch captain taking a bike ride on the south end of San Juan Island. The whales were pointed up San Juan Channel at us making our way south. We picked up the group of Bigg’s killer whales in Griffin Bay at the south end of San Juan Island. The whales turned out to be the T100 family, traveling with T100B and her offspring T100B1. T100B and her kiddo typically travel separately from the rest of the T100’s so it was pretty cool to see the whole family together. In total we had six orcas traveling together, which is pretty typical, if not a large group, of the Bigg’s ecotype. We got great looks at all of the whales but particularly of T100C a teenaged male. Though he is not done growing yet, he is still way bigger than the rest of his family members! Orcas are what we call a sexually dimorphic species, meaning that males and females look different. The most striking difference in orcas is their dorsal fins: female fins will be three feet tall, while males will have a towering six foot tall fin on their backs.

After a great encounter with the whales we peeled away and headed for the dock in Friday Harbor. The whales had practically walked us home!