August 11, 2017

Orcas, Seals, and Birds, Oh My!

[Naturalist Sarah C. 8/11/17 2pm Kestrel]

There was wildlife abound today in the Salish Sea! In a lovely continuation of a trend, we've been spotting orcas fairly consistently over the past week. Today's family was especially a sight for sore eyes - called the T65A's after their matriarch (and mother of the rest of the group), this family of five are frequent visitors to the San Juans but hadn't been spotted nearby for nearly a month... before today!

We left Friday Harbor today with an excited group of whale-watchers aboard Kestrel, our high-speed adventure vessel. On our way up and around Orcas Island, we stopped briefly for a bald eagle, perched perfectly atop a douglas fir, overlooking the waters below. We continued northeast in the direction of the last reported location of the T65A's, and were soon on scene with a sleepy group of orcas. 

Sleep is difficult if you're a killer whale - you have to always be at least a little bit awake in order to remember to breathe. That's why we call orca sleep "resting," because in reality they're not completely asleep. Half of their brain is awake and functioning enough to keep them surfacing methodically, breathing in and out consciously as the rest of their brain catches up on some Z's. We observed this calm, slow traveling behavior for a little while, getting some excellent looks at these surface-happy whales.

img_9913_large.jpg

On our way back, we stopped by a few rocky islands and reefs to see what other wildlife we could spot on our tour. Lucky for us, there were seals and birds to spare today! We watched as harbor seals hauled out and hunted in the waters nearby the T65A's, either oblivious to the presence of these apex predators, or savvy enough to recognize that a sleeping whale is not as much of a threat. We even caught a glimpse of a bizarre orange-hued harbor seal hauled out on the rocks.

img_9919_large.jpg

img_9926_large.jpg

We also caught sight of some unique shorebirds - oyster catchers! These black stilt-legged mussel-eaters feature a vibrant red beak, designed specifically for prying open their favorite food source (and namesake). We also watched as a goofy juvenile bald eagle soared against the strong southern wind, with a branch clutched between its talons like a kite tail! 

img_9929_large.jpg

Naturalist Sarah C.

M/V Kestrel