March 25, 2019

Orcas Spyhop at Salmon Bank South of San Juan Island: Bigg's Orca family T49A's hunt and play

Bigg's Orcas

Erick | Monday, March 25, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00 


It felt a little bit more like normal springtime weather today. There was a heavy grey cloud cover that diffused all the sun light, but the good news is that the clouds were quite high up so you could still see far into the distance where Mt. Baker loomed on one side and the Olympic Mountains stretched west on the other. Captain Mike, Alex, and I took an excited group out to look for all the fun spring time wildlife in the Salish Sea. We left Friday Harbor and headed south through San Juan Channel. There was barely a ripple on the water but you could see how the water swirled underneath us as the large tide switched and flooded its way back into the islands. We made our first stop at Whale Rocks right in between Lopez and San Juan Islands. On one of the rocks there were around 8 Bald Eagles all congregated and watching the world go by. As we approached the rocks a female Steller Sea Lion popped her head out of the water to take a quick look at us. She stayed next to the boat for a while and kept just popping her head above the water to take little peeks at us as we cruised on by. We moved closer to the larger of the rocks and saw around 30 more Steller Sea Lions - males and females – all lounging around and drying out. These giant sea lions (the adult males weigh around a ton) seem to be constantly growling and roaring at each other. We marveled at these giants for quite awhile as some jumped in the water and others dragged themselves back up to the rock. I love seeing them and it will be sad to see them leave when they migrate north for the summer months. We next moved further south along Salmon Bank and soon saw blows and dark fins in the distance. It was some orcas! We quickly identified them as the same family group of Bigg’s (marine mammal eating) Orcas that we saw yesterday – the T49A’s! Yesterday they were in Boundary Pass and it looks like they swam the 20 or so miles down Haro Strait and were now hunting south of San Juan Island. As we watched them they were preying on several seals and ate them quickly while hordes of gulls swarmed in to pick up the left over bits. This family has 5 members. There is mom, her adult son, and three younger ones. The youngest one was born in 2014 and it was great to watch that one mimic its brothers and sisters as they tailed slapped, splashed, and spyhopped all over the place once they had finished eating. A few even moonwalked (that’s when they swim backwards)! It was so cool! We watched the, play and splash and push each other around for a while with the wonderful backdrop of Mt Baker. So amazing. We eventually had to head back but we made one last stop to see 10 Harbor Seals resting on the rocks (aka the lucky ones for today). Whale folks, until next time!