June 3, 2018

Marine Mammal Palooza! Orcas, Humpback Whales, and All the Pinnipeds in One Trip!

Bigg's Orcas

[Thursday, 5/31/18 - M/V Sea Lion - Noon - Naturalist Erick]

On Thursday, the grey morning broke into a sunny afternoon. Captain Mike and I took a wonderful group of folks out to search for wildlife in the Salish Sea. We headed north once again through San Juan Channel and Spieden Channel and eventually ended up in Haro Strait. Here, we saw several blows in the distance and as we approached we could see the black fins rising and going down into the water. It was a fairly large group of Bigg’s Orcas traveling up ahead. The Bigg’s Orcas, also known as Transient Orcas, are the ecotype of orca that inhabit the northeastern Pacific Ocean and prey on marine mammals. This was a combination of three family groups hunting and traveling together. It was the T101's, the T86A's, and T124A2A and her calf!

Family groups of orcas consist of a matriarch who is leading the group as an older female and usually her offspring - and even sometimes grandkids! So even though one of these family groups had some large, adult males in it those aren’t usually the mate of the adult females in the family. Although, since there were other families here too this would be a normal time for mating to occur. They traveled awhile and at one point appeared to have caught something. In our waters the preferred food choice is Harbor Seals and that is most likely what they had caught.

After the hunting we continued north and just as we entered Swanson Pass we saw some more blows! These blows were a lot bushier and larger and as we arrived we saw that they were two Humpback Whales! These two were both adult Humpback Whales and were the ones that have been traveling around this area for awhile - Splitfin and Zigzag. It seems like they are pretty good friends. We watched them traverse back and forth around the southern tip of Moresby Island maybe just travelling and maybe eating too. It was amazing to see the size difference between the Orcas and the Humpback Whales and even more amazing when you see them fluke up. This is when they lift their massive tails up out of the water as they go on a longer dive.

After a bit of time with them we headed back down south and got to see those three family groups of orcas once again on the northside of Henry Island. They were traveling with more purpose now now so we saw they swim south, let them pass and headed back towards Friday Harbor via Mosquito Pass. This took us through a skinny pass in between San Juan Island and Henry Island. On one of the many rocks dotting the shoreline, only a few inches above the rushing water there was a majestic Bald Eagle and then a Red-Tailed Hawk buzzed him! So cool!

Next we made our final stop to see a whole pile of Harbor Seals at Sentinel Rocks. There were some sunning themselves on land and others were swimming in the Kelp Forest around the rock, and then one breached! It probably wasn’t but it looked just like it was impersonating a whale - so funny! Right after the breach a California Sea Lion swam by too! These guys are rarer than the Steller Sea Lions that we see a lot in the winter but aren’t unheard of in these parts. Then we headed back home through San Juan Channel, but just before we made it home a young Steller Sea Lion popped up at Point Caution! After seeing the California Sea Lion it was very easy to tell the difference especially in size between the two related species. Wow, what an amazing day, we almost saw all the marine mammals that one can normally see in the Salish Sea all in one trip!


Whale folks that’s all for now,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris