March 15, 2019

Spyhop!: Bigg's Orca family, the T99B's, hunt and play in Rosario Strait

female Bigg's orcas hunting

Erick | Friday, March 15, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00


On Friday, it was another beautiful sunny day that reminded us that spring is just around the corner for us! Captain Mike and I headed out with a great group up north to go see what we could find! We headed through San Juan Channel, then to Spring Pass, and through Presidents Channel. In Presidents Channel we got to see a lot of Harbor Porpoise. I sometimes call this area Porpoise alley. Harbor Porpoises are definitely our smallest and most numerous cetacean here and it is always fun to see how many we can count as we pass them by. We rarely stop to look at them since they are very shy due to being lower on the food chain. Next we headed over to Sucia Island were we skirted around the sandstone cliffs that have been carved by the wind and waves. Just on the tip of the island we saw a bunch of Steller Sea Lions all lounging on the rocks. These giant pinnipeds spend their winters here and I personally love watching these fluffy behemoths growl at each other and jump into the water. After seeing them we went over to Matia Island and got to see many Harbor Seals (the Steller Sea Lions smaller cousin) also lounging on some exposed rocks along the shore. As we continued south we saw bunches of Bald Eagles catching thermals over the tiny outer islands of the San Juans. We soon passed Point Lawrence where there was a huge aggregation of birds in the tidal rip and  headed past the Pea Pods. Just after we passed them we saw some blows in the distance! They belonged to Orcas! As they we approached we saw that there were about four of them traveling northward towards the Pea Pods. They looked to be the T99B’s. This family is part of the Bigg’s/Transient Ecotype. This type calls the Salish Sea their home too but only prey on marine mammals! Here, their main food source is Harbor Seals and those Sea Lions we saw recently. We watched this group hunt together and catch a seal. They cooperatively ate it very fast and then proceeded to have a little party. They started to splash around, have fun, and one even spyhopped! Spyhopping is when a whale swims straight up and only sticks their head out of the water to see what is going on at the surface. So it is kind of like they are watching us watch them! We watched them party for a little bit longer until it was time to head back home!


Whale folks until next time,