August 16, 2019

A large family of Bigg's killer whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

Erin | M/V Kestrel | Friday, August 16, 2019 | 3:00 PM

What an incredible afternoon of viewing wild animals in the Salish Sea! We left south out of Friday Harbor and headed toward a report of a large family of killer whales near Victoria. We went through San Juan Channel and rounded past Cattle Point lighthouse, which marks the southernmost point on San Juan Island! We entered into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the weather was absolutely beautiful! The seas were calm and the sun was shining! We searched for some wildlife as we made our way southwest. We came across a giant baitball, which is when there are small baitfish gathered near the surface of the water and lots of seabirds around to grab them out. We got to see the baitball pretty closely, and we noticed a lot of fish scales in the water and even got to see some of the fish! Many of the birds were gulls, but there were also common murres and auklets. We continued on our journey, making sure to look for any blows or dorsal fins. We eventually came upon a large family of Bigg's killer whales. 

The whales are known as the T46's and the T46B's. They are all related to each other. T46B is the daughter of T46 and the sibling of T46D, T46E, and T46F. T46B was travelling with her 5 offspring and two of her granchildren! There were 13 whales in total! There were two calves in the large pod. One is T46B's newest calf and the other is T46B1's newest calf. T46B1's calf has a condition known as leucism, which means that the whale is lacking pigmentation. This whale has been identified as a male, and he appears to be very silvery white. He is adorable! The whales were just travelling east pretty slowly. They were most likely resting. With a pod of that size, it would be very difficult to hunt without splitting up. We got some absolutely incredible looks at this huge pod of whales, and it was such a peaceful encounter. We heard them breathe and watched them travel in a close-knit pod. There were two large males within the pod, which are always exciting to see because of their pronounced dorsal fins. We soon had to leave the whales and head back toward the harbor. 

We travelled to Salmon Bank to try to see if there were any baleen whales. We didn't find any more whales, but we saw some more baitballs! Salmon Bank is a popular spot to see all sorts of wildlife because there is a lot of upwelling that happens there. This brings nutrients up to the surface, so all types of animals have food! After scanning Salmon Bank, we went to Whale Rocks, where there were lots of Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks! It was amazing to see the largest sea lion in the whole world! We got very lucky and got to see two of them swimming around in the water as well. They swam pretty close to our boat, and we got an idea of how massive they really are! It was an afternoon full of great wildlife, and when we got back to the harbor, we all had so many memories to take home with us. Until next time, folks! 

Naturalist Erin