October 13, 2019

Heaps of Bigg's Orcas and Humpback Whale! (T123s, T35A's, T38A's, T99's, & T37A's)

Male Bigg's Orca

Naturalist Erick | Sunday, October 13, 2019 | M/V Kestrel | Noon


We couldn’t ask for better fall weather today when Capt. Pete and I took a full group out to go search for wildlife in the Salish Sea.  We started out by heading east through Upright Channel and through the small passage between Obstruction Island and Blakely Island called Peavine Pass. We had heard earlier of reports of some orcas in Rosario Strait and were looking for them. There they were heading north towards Lydia Shoal. It was quite a large group of orcas all traveling close together. We quickly could see that these were Bigg’s Orcas (formerly known as Transients) traveling together. It was a big group and we eventually could tell that it was several families traveling together. It was the T123’s, the T35A’s, and the T38A’s! With this many families together we could see so many different ages of orcas. There was one really big male, T123A, with a 6-foot dorsal fin. There were a few adult females. T123A’s mother T123, has a really big fin for a female orca. There were also a bunch of younger ones and a pretty small baby! We watched these orcas a travel and stop a few times and one even spyhopped! This is when they stick their heads straight out of the water and look around. It is so cool! We watched them as they approached the Pea Pod Islands and continued north.

                We turned south and journeyed through Rosario Strait. We passed a few Harbor Porpoises near James Island and continued down into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Here at the southern edge of MacArthur Bank there was a Humpback Whale! Humpbacks are just starting their migration south for the winter months. They gather in tropical breeding grounds, but before they head south they eat a lot since they don’t eat anything during the winter. We are always so excited to see Humpback Whales here since they were hunted out of this area and were absent for several decades! This one was big and was feeding along the shallow bank. It was so cool to see it in such calms waters as it slowly rose and dove. It never show us its flukes so we couldn’t identify it, but it was still amazing to watch!

                We made our last stop at Smith Island. There was another group of Bigg’s Orcas here (the ones that feed on marine mammals) looking around the sand bar that connects Smith and Minor Islands. This was another large group and it was made up of two separate families, the T37A’s and the T99’s. They seemed like they were searching along the kelp forest and the sand bar maybe for an unsuspecting Harbor Seal but we did not see them catch any. They did disturb some of the fun birds hanging around -Surf Scoters, Western Grebes, Marbled Murrelets, Ancient Murrelets, and Rhinoceros Auklets! We watched these families travel for quite some time until we had to head back home. What another perfect day in the San Juans! Hope to see everyone out here soon!


Naturalist Erick