April 15, 2021

Multiple Families of Bigg's Killer Whales Found in the Salish Sea!

Bigg's killer whales

Laura | M/V Sea Lion | 4/15/2021 | 1:00PM

Today was a spectacular day out on the water!  We left the dock on M/V Sea Lion with a morning report that orcas had just been spotted near Orcas Island in East Sound!  Passengers were super excited to head out in hopes of finding whales close by on such a beautiful sunny day!  As we headed out of Friday Harbor our Captain, Pete, noticed two majestic bald eagles neatly perched along an exposed branch near the Friday Harbor Marine Labs.  They were clearly a nesting pair enjoying the gorgeous view and calm seas below.  After checking these two out for a bit we moved on through Wasp Pass and towards East Sound.  By the time we arrived we found the T90s coming out of the sound in shallow waters by Twin Rocks.  The T90s are family of 4 Bigg’s killer whales, including T90 from 1980, a male T90B from 2006, a female T90C from 2010 and T90D from 2017, sex unknown.  They stayed in a nice tight family group but were traveling in more of a zig-zagged fashion.  Luckily, we all had wonderful looks at this family traveling around as they scanned the area for nearby prey.  As they popped up from side to side everyone got a nice clear view, and it seemed like these whales rotated showing up near each boat in the area one by one!  We heard on the radio that some people saw some hunting activity a few hours ago so they may have been spending this time resting a bit after the hunt.  The water was flat calm today and the sunshine made it feel like a warm summer day, a perfect time for a lazy afternoon.  My favorite part of the encounter occurred when this family peacefully passed by Mount Baker and the Cascades.  It was a most picturesque moment in the Salish Sea watching their exhalations and dorsal fins cross under a beautiful mountain range.  Passengers were able to watch the T90s for over an hour so by the time we left everyone on board was great at recognizing and identifying every individual in the family!

M/V Sea Lion headed towards San Juan Channel and then started southbound in hopes of finding some Stellar sea lions.  Funny enough, we did not even make it to Whale Rocks today because on the way down the channel we found more orcas headed our way!  I was thrilled to report to the captain that I was seeing blows through my binoculars of two male orcas!  As we got closer and slowed down, I was able to see their dorsal fins and saddle patches quite clearly.  These two males turned out to be T49A2 and T77A1!  This is a very interesting pair to be traveling together today.  We saw the T49As and T49Bs yesterday by Matia Island but T49A2 was not in attendance, so he was probably with T77A1 yesterday as well.  This male is 14 years old and last year conducted similar behavior by leaving his family to travel with other lone males in the area.  What a rebel!  T77A1 is 25 years old and is commonly seen having some fun around boats and fishing gear, so he may be very intriguing to T49A2 to hang out with.  T77A1 is also a beautiful large male and folks onboard had awesome views of these males cruising around us in the channel.  They were up at the surface taking about 5-6 breaths per sequence and 2 to 3-minute dives.  I looked around the area and didn’t see any porpoises or seals, so they must have sensed that these two were headed our way!  These two boys ended up escorting us up San Juan Channel and towards Friday Harbor, where we departed from them with the most fulfilling feeling of having just spent three amazing hours among orcas.