July 31, 2022

A Long-Distance, Epic Pursuit of Orca Whales!

Haleigh | M/V Osprey | July 31, 2022 | 12:30pm

 

As we headed off the dock on a beautiful warm day, we received an early report of Bigg’s Orca Whales… but they were running away from us. The T37A’s were making a run for it out the Strait of Juan de fuca, towards the open ocean. The only question was, could we get to them before they escaped? Captain Gabe yelled, “Full speed ahead!”, cranked the accelerator and the quest was afoot. 

 

We made our way through the bottle-necked channel created by the southern points of Lopez Island and San Juan Island, navigating the choppy waters created by the flooding tide. We went out passing Salmon Bank where birds were flocking over balls of schooling fish. We pointed our bow towards Port Angeles and the Olympic Peninsula. We enjoyed the beautiful blue water and the green mountains of Olympic national park. As we made our way, we noted three red-necked phalaropes, tiny shore birds migrating down from the Arctic to Peru. How amazing that those little wings could carry them so far and that they passed through our waters along the way. 

 

Two hours after leaving the dock, we finally caught up with the sneaky cetaceans. There was a blow in the distance, then another and another! We caught sights of tall black dorsal fins in the swell rolling in from the open ocean. It was the T37A’s, a family of five Bigg’s Killer Whales. Bigg’s Killer Whales are one the of 10 globally-recognized ecotypes of Orcas who range from California to Alaska, occasionally pushing offshore, and prey specifically on marine mammals. This particular family was spread in a wide line, with Mom (T37A, Volker) traveling next to Crinkle (T37A4) and her unnamed youngest (T37A5). Meanwhile, big brothers Inky (T37A2) and Spinnaker (T37A3) were further down the line showing off their growing dorsal fins during every surfacing. We had an epic 15 minutes with these whales where guests on the vessel exclaimed with joy for every breath! \

 

Everyone relaxed during the journey home, relishing in the time spent with these apex predators sharing a part of their day with us. Just before returning to the harbor, we made one final wildlife stop to see another top predator found in the Salish Sea, the Steller’s Sea Lions. The mostly-male population we have here were seen growling and leaping into the waters as we passed by Whale Rocks. Eventually we made it back to the harbor with memories that will last a lifetime!