September 20, 2021

Spy hops galore with the T065B Killer Whales

Bigg's Killer Whale

Maxx K. | M/V Kestrel | 09/20/2021 | 2:00pm

    Today’s tour was a naturalist's dream. When Solan pulled Kestrel out of Friday Harbor we turned northward. A family of unidentified Bigg’s Killer Whales had been reported off the south side of Saturna Island. We had our heading and off we went! 

    We stopped briefly to check out a Bald Eagle, perfectly poised on a small sign post on Jones Island. From there we moved north towards White Rock to admire some Harbor Seals and cormorants that loomed above them. We sat in silence for a while, watching the seals watch us with their big wondering eyes. Seals have incredible vision when in the water, with high numbers of rod cells that allow for the gathering and reception of light. It is assumed that their vision is far superior in the water than on land, as dark murky conditions may be ironically easier to see through than bright above water conditions. 

    We moved away from the White Rocks and off towards some interesting reports a few miles away off the southern side of Canada’s Saturna Island. At the time of our arrival the family of Bigg’s Killer Whales was traveling through a vessel traffic exclusion zone that has been established as critical habitat for the Southern Resident Killer Whales that historically called the Salish sea home. 

    We waited from afar while they moved eastward, around East Point Lighthouse where they then stopped to begin their hunt. 

This family group consisted of four animals: 

T065B “Chunk” F

Her children, T065B1 “Birdsall” M, and T065B2 “Nettle.”

Joining the family was chunks nephew, T065A5 “Elsie.”

    Suddenly there was a spy hop. And again. And again!

    Solan and I reckon we witnessed at least 12 spy hops during our visit with them. Now spy hopping is assumed to be a whales method of observing the environment above the waterline. Perhaps they were checking out our vessel. Or perhaps they were scouting out the rocky shoreline for seals… 

    The family rolled over one another, surfacing to the left then again to the right. Were they in fact hunting? 

How lucky were we that our resident social media manager and staff photographer Kelly was on board! Because of her quick snaps we were able to see that not only were they indeed hunting a small harbor seal, they were actively flinging it around the above water! How insane that we were watching this right in front of us! We sat with them as they shared their small harbor seal meal before slowly turning away and moving back towards Friday Harbor!