May 30, 2021

Humpback Whales and Bigg's Killer Whales (With California Transient), Oh My!

Abby | Kestrel | 5/30/2021

The boat was full and everyone suited up. The cetaceans were out of the country; two humpback whales in Canadian waters and the orcas from this morning also heading further into international territory. We took off out of the harbor and jetted North through San Juan Channel. At least the sun was on our side; nutrient-rich waters lit up while harbor porpoises somersaulted over small wave breaks in the sea.

We decided to try our luck with the humpbacks after all, considering they were moving closer to the American border. It was a risky move, but Captain Brian and I are thrill-seekers, after all.

We made it just in time to spot yesterday’s stars; Divot and her humpback whale calf. They were several hundred yards past the border, our bodies yearning to be on the other side of that transparent line. We stayed with them until they swam further North, out of our reach. We were alone on the water, except for a lone harbor seal (or rock sausage, as I refer to them) staring into our beings as if to say, “well, what now?”

We scoured the entire West side of the islands, from Patos Island to Turn Point at Stuart Island and beyond. Then, as if all the guest vibes came to fruition… transient orcas. They were the same group the A/B Team (Abby and Brian) found this morning.

As we happened to learn after our morning trip, we encountered something quite special today.

We had the T099 Matriline of four orcas:

  • T099 (1984, Female)
  • T099B (2007, Gender Unknown)
  • T099C (2009, Gender Unknown)
  • T099D (2015, Gender Unknown)

With two older orcas:

  • T134 (<1959, Female)
  • T132 (<1969, Male)

And a California Transient!

  • CA177

To my knowledge, this is the first time this California Bigg’s killer whale individual has been spotted in these inland waters. So, we had multiple different families and a newbie!

We stayed with the orcas for some time, soaking in all their orca glory. We talked extensively about conservation and our major ecological shift between SRKW’s and Bigg’s killer whale visitation frequency. The Center for Whale Research was on the water photographing the orcas, which was a beautiful ending to a unique day, seeing science in action.