March 9, 2019

Sunny San Juan Islands: Two Families of Bigg's Killer Whales get their babies to play!

New calf in the T124A family

Erick | Saturday, March 9, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00 

If you can imagine a perfect March day, then that day was today. The sun was shining bright, there were a few fluffy white clouds hanging out above the islands, and the breeze was slight. Captain Mike, Sarah, and I took a pretty large group out aboard M/V Sea Lion. We left from Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. And headed south into San Juan Channel. The channels in between the main islands of the San Juan Islands are not very wide but they are deep and usually have a smorgasbord of food options for the various whale species that like to travel through these waters. It was not very long till we spotted some blows followed by dark fins in the distance. As we approached Turn Rock we could clearly see a family of Orcas swimming through the kelp forest the surrounds the rock. As we got closer, we could see that these Orcas belonged to the Bigg’s Ecotype. This Ecotype is one of the two we see here and is the one that preys on marine mammals. Sarah soon identified them as the T124A’s. This indicates that the family’s matriarch is T124A and that she was the first recorded offspring of T124. She was traveling with her offspring in the usual orca fashion which will carry the identification of T124A, B, C and so on. This family has a pretty young calf travelling with them which was incredible to watch as it swam around its family members, especially around its mother as it had a wonderful time. We watched them continue south into Griffin Bay. As they traced the shoreline in a seemingly erratic pattern, we got to enjoy great views of this family group swimming, breathing, and interacting with each other as they traveled along. We got to spend around 30 minutes with them as they continued southward when we decided to leave them and to continue further south. We wound our way between Lopez and Deadman Islands where we saw some soaring juvenile Bald Eagles and a whole bunch of Harbor Seals both sunning themselves and swimming in the fast-moving waters. As we exited that tiny channel, we headed to Whale Rocks. Here on the northern rock we saw a pair of adult Bald Eagles returning our stares with their steely gazes. As they took off and soared above us, we moved to the southern rock and saw all the Steller Sea Lions hauled out. These giants that often weigh around 2,000 lbs (900 kgs) were growling and sunning themselves on the dark basalt rock. These sea lions are only winter visitors here, so it is always awesome to see the tan brown swimming grizzly bears that they are take over the rocks and the swirling waters around it. As we watched they growled at each other and pushed each other at off the rocks. And soon continued on east tracing the southern, rocky shoreline of Lopez Island towards Rosario Strait. This is one of my absolute favorite places to cruise around in the San Juan Islands. For one there are always a great number of birds floating and flying around as you get great sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Mountains, and the Cascade Mountains. Then on top of that you slalom your way in between the massive cliff faces that make up the southern edge of Lopez Island and the small islets – Long, Swirl, Blind, Castle – that stand as vigilant sentinels to the small archipelago that we call home. We turned north after passing Watmough Head and quickly wound through the next small, beautiful channels of Lopez Pass and Spencer Spit. In the Islands you can often get so close to the shoreline that you feel like you are walking on land without the worry of running aground because most of our passages are so deep. We continued to enjoy the wonderful vistas as we approached the north end of Lopez Island and spotted another group of Orcas! This was another family of Bigg’s called the T123’s and guess what?! They also had a super young and adorable baby! You could tell that they had recently kill something because they had a gang of gulls diving after them trying to pick up scraps. This family was traveling west and we were wondering why they were tail slapping the water when we saw the other Orcas! It turns out that the first family of Bigg’s Orcas that we saw, the T124A’s, had turned around and swam to meet up with this family. We watched the two families meet up and start swimming in a completely different direction down Harney Channel. They continued to have a great time swimming in between one another and tail slapping. We even got to see the two new babies from the two different families start to play with each other. Everyone loves new friends! Well, days don’t get any better than this: Beautiful weather, Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, Steller Sea Lions, two families of Bigg’s Orcas, and BABY ORCAS!


Whale folks, until next time,


San Juan Safaris & San Juan Outfitters