July 29, 2022

Hunting T037A Killer Whales in Griffin Bay

7/29/22

MV Kestrel

Helena

2pm

 

Our crew signed up for the adventure tour and oh boy did we get one! We began our day by heading south down San Juan Channel following reports from other vessels already out on the water. No whales in the Salish Sea are tagged and all reports of wildlife are publicly shared with all whale watching and research vessels alike based on sightings in real time. 

 

It did not take long to catch up to the excitement of the T037As traveling through Griffin Bay on the eastside of San Juan Island. We observed this family of five individual orcas make their way up to the rocky shoreline where several dozen Harbor Seals were hauled out. Harbor Seals are the main source of food for the Bigg’s Killer Whale or marine mammal-eating ecotype of orca that we find here in the Salish Sea. The T37As consist of a total of 6 individuals:

 

- T037A, “Volker” (F) b. 1994

- T037A1, “Inyo” b. 2007

- T037A2, “Inky” b. 2009

- T037A3, “Spinnaker” b. 2013

- T037A4, “Crinkle” b. 2015

- T037A5, no name yet! b. 2019

 

We could not keep our eyes off these cetaceans as we watched splashes and tail slaps, indicating that they were on a hunt. Bigg’s Killer Whales are opportunistic hunters, working together as a family to take down their prey. Depending on their size, these whales eat anywhere from 150 to 400 pounds of food every single day! They celebrated their meal with multiple breaches into the air! A breach is when a whale propels itself fully or 3/4 of the way out of the water and splashes back down on its side. It truly is a remarkable sight to see these gigantic mammals airborne! 

 

After this energizing encounter, we headed into Salmon Bank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It only took a few minutes of scanning before we spotted not one but two Minke whales! Minke whales migrate here for the summer to feed on small schooling fish. We got some great looks at this whale’s baleen keratin plates as it lunge fed at the surface. 

 

Before long it was time to head back to the harbor. On our way home we were called on scene to assist a private vessel that was in distress. We were able to successfully support a tow out of some intense current and rocky waters before the Coast Guard and TowBoat USA took over. Never a dull moment! Happy to say that the boat's passengers were safely evacuated and we arrived back in Friday Harbor buzzing from all that happened in a mere three and half hours!