August 11, 2019

Peaceful encounter with a lone male killer whale!

Erin | M/V Sea Lion | Sunday, August 11, 2019 | 5:30 PM 

It was a lovely evening in the Salish Sea. We began our trip not knowing which direction we wanted to head. There were whales either very southeast of us or far northwest of us. Captain Erick decided to head in the northwest direction, where there was a report of a lone killer whale. We headed up the San Juan Channel, which was quite calm. We were able to see harbor porpoises popping up around us throughout the channel. They are the second smallest porpoise in the world! We see them all throughout the Salish Sea, and we usually just get slight glimpses of them before they dip back under the water's surface for a dive. They like to feed on baitfish and squid in these waters. We continued heading northwest and found ourselves in the Spieden Channel. Spieden Island is the star of the show in this channel. Its south-facing side is bare because of prevailing winds and storms from the south. However, its north-facing side is abundant in vegetation. It is quite the phenomenon. 

We passed through Haro Strait and headed toward the Canadian Gulf Islands. We went through some neat passages, and eventually ended up in Satellite Channel. This is when we saw our first glimpse of a giant male orca dorsal fin sticking up out of the water! We were all amazed at how large the whale was, and he was surfacing next to a small boat that was in the area. It appeared as if he was larger than the boat! We slowed down to watch what his behavior was like so that we could respectfully watch him. The next time he surfaced, he had only moved slightly towards the west. This whale appeared to be sleeping! He was moving at a very slow speed whenever he was at the surface, and it was very easy to keep track of him. The water surrounding us was so calm, the sun was beginning to set, and we had the perfect environment to view such a peaceful animal in his natural habitat. As we sat still and watched him, we could hear his powerful exhalation when he came up to the surface. It was awe-inspiring. 

The whale is known as T65A2, or Ooxjaa. He is a member of the T65A family pod, but he occasionally is seen travelling on his own. He is 15 years old, so he hasn't even reached physical maturity yet. It is amazing to think that his dorsal fin and body will grow even larger than it is today! Male dorsal fins can grow to be about 6 feet tall! We left the whale with memories to last a lifetime. We headed back toward Friday Harbor as the sun set behind us and casted magical colors onto the islands and the water surrounding us. On our way back to the harbor, there were some baitballs at the surface of the water. Baitballs are noticeable because of the presence of birds up at the surface. The birds gather there because of baitfish that are schooling below them. They grab them out of the water and get a nice meal. After a long trip to Satellite Channel, we were glad to see the harbor come back into view. What a wonderful trip aboard the M/V Sea Lion! 

Naturalist Erin