October 5, 2019

Minke Whale and Orcas! ( The T18's and the T37A's)

Bigg's Male Orca

Naturalist Erick | Saturday, October 5, 2019 | M/V Kestrel | Noon



Saturday started in a pretty typical Pacific Northwest way. Rain and low hanging clouds fell and scraped the tops of the evergreen hills of the San Juan Islands. As Capt. Pete and I got ready to take a full boat out to search for the exciting wildlife of the Salish Sea blue skies started to appear and the sun came out! We motored north through San Juan Channel and started our journey at White Rock. Here we saw a Bald Eagle perched on top of the tall sandstone mound jutting out of the placid green waters. The eagle stared back at us and eventually took off to go harass some other birds. On the rocks here we also saw a bunch of Harbor Seals sunning themselves here. We watched these goofy rock sausages roll and snort in our general direction for a while then slowly motored away to go look at some bird activity that was just picking up a little bit east of us. These ‘bait balls’ happen when birds find a school of small fish right underneath the surface and these fish are usually pushed up by seals, sea lions, or sometimes whales! We watched a few of them and saw a bunch of Common Murres and gulls and then when we arrived at our last one, we saw a whale! It was a Minke Whale that surfaced in front of us. Minke Whales are sleek, torpedo shaped baleen whales that are naturally rare on the west coast of North America. The largest population of them on the west coast is in the Salish Sea here! We watched this guy bounce from bait ball to bait ball surface and feed for a time. IT was amazing to see this sleek grey whale maneuver around! What a great first whale sighting! We continued on towards the west and saw a group of Harbor Porpoises feeding around Flattop Island. We made another stop at the south side of Spieden Island and saw a few Bald Eagles and a bunch of exotic game. This island was used as an exotic game hunting ranch for a while a few decades ago and three species were left here when it was sold: Mouflon Sheep, Fallow Deer, and Sika Deer. On this sunny day we saw all three species grazing on the grassy slopes and saw a few of the males harass the females as everyone starts to realize it is that time of year again.

We soon moved off towards the Canadian border and right around Mandarte Island we saw more blows! It was some orcas! It was two families of Bigg’s Orcas (formerly known as Transients) that were traveling together. They were so cool. One family was the T37A’s which is a family of a matriarch and her 5 children and the T18’s which is a matriarch her daughter and her daughters two huge sons! You can tell the males from the females because the males have tall straight sometimes 6-foot tall dorsal fins! We watched these groups travel and swim around each other for about half an hour, and it was beautiful as their shiny fins and blows gleamed in the fall sunlight. What another magical day in the islands. After getting some great views we had to head home.

We are still doing trips in the fall so come check us out before the season ends!