June 9, 2022

Humpback Whale Mum and Calf Breaching and a Family of Biggs Killer Whales

June 9th, 2022

Abby Dahl

12:30pm Osprey

We boarded Osprey on a typical, rainy northwest afternoon. Cruising out of the harbor, we turned northbound and entered the San Juan Channel. Reports loomed of a humpback whale mother and calf heading through Boundary Pass, so we thought we’d give it a go, scanning for orcas along the way as the misty air hung in a still balance amidst a lush island backdrop.

We cruised along while harbor seals seemed to drift in and out of sleep on the rocky shoreline. “Lazy sea puppies,” I chuckled silently to myself. The rain didn’t let up, but the crew and the guests cozily chatted about the surrounding ecosystem, amazed at the biodiversity of the Salish Sea.

As we surpassed Waldron Island and headed into Boundary Pass on the Canada/US border, we saw bushy exhalations against Saturna Island. It was “Big Mama” a humpback that returns to the Salish Sea following the migration patterns of the Eastern Pacific humpback whale population. But this time, there was not one, but two blows, one slightly smaller than the first. It was a new calf!

It was my first day back on the water for the season, having previously lived in Maui for the past six months. I had moved to Maui to follow the humpback whale migration, and couldn’t help but wonder if any of the thousands of whales I had just seen could have been this pair. It was a truly reflective experience; the calves I had just left in Maui grew so quickly in their fist six weeks of life, little nuggets getting ready for one of the longest migrations on the planet. Looking at Big Mana’s calf, it was a remarkable comparison to see just how much larger this calf was after traveling so far in such a short period of time. With a keen eye and a fuel ignited, I sat still, awestruck. Then he breached.

The guests cheered on as both Big Mama and her little boy (verified through photo identification) pec slapped, breached, and head lunged one after the other. This went on repeatedly for the better part of an hour. I had seen many humpback whales breach before, but there is something enlightening about seeing the spectacle unfold against a new backdrop. This was only my third time seeing humpback whales breach in the San Juan Islands, or the entire Pacific Northwest, for that matter.

Crew and guests glowed after the encounter, as we motored towards President’s Channel. Our captain Gabe then received a report that Biggs Killer Whales had been spotted just southwest of where we spotted Big Mama. Gabe turned Osprey around and backtracked where we had come from, notifying everyone of the report and why we had suddenly changed direction. As if this day couldn’t get any better…

We headed for the Java Islets on the southern side of Saturna Island. As we approached, multiple exhalations rose above the surface of the water, and black dorsal fins pierced the oxygenated world they were briefly entering. We had:

  • T075B (Female), 1995
    • T075B2, 2015
    • T075B3, 2017
    • T075B4, 2021

Because we had spent so much time with Big Mama and her calf, and having cruised up into Canadian waters, we were lucky to have a quick glimpse of these cetaceans. A brief, but memorable encounter and a glimpse into the world of orcas.

We motored back towards Friday Harbor both excited and exhausted. That much passion and enthusiasm can have one drifting off to sleep on the ride home, as many of our guests experienced. After one of the best whale watches I’ve had in some time, I was left reminding myself that this was just the start to the 2022 season.