March 10, 2019

A Sunny Tour around the Gulf and San Juan Islands: The T137 Bigg's Orcas hunt among the islands

Bigg's male orca

Erick | Sunday, March 10, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00 


Today we were fortunate enough to have another beautiful, sunny day. Captain Mike and I headed out with a small crew to search for the whales and other wildlife of the Salish Sea. We first dipped a little bit south around Turn Island to scan around Griffin Bay. Here, we saw a wonderful Bald Eagle perched high up in a gnarled Douglas Fir. Underneath him amidst the glassy upwelling next to Turn Island we saw a few young Harbor Seals playing in the water. After we were done viewing this regal bird of prey, we turned back north up San Juan Channel. We searched through the many, tiny Wasp Islands and through Spring Pass. We made another stop at White Rock which is nestled in between Flattop Island and Waldron Island. Here we saw another pair of Bald Eagles and underneath them was a whole bunch of Harbor Seals sunning themselves on this sunbaked rock. These cute dog-looking animals are adorable and like to look back at you as you stare at them. We watched them squiggle around on the rocks as well as some that were swimming right next to the rock. We continued up north through Plumper Sound in between the mighty, tall islands of Saturna and Pender and their honeycombed carved sandstone cliffs. We then went into my favorite area of the Gulf Islands – Georgesen Pass. This pass is incredibly beautiful and a unique place. The long, skinny sandstone islets that make up the Gulf Islands are squeezed very close together with deep channels separating them. You can cruise here feeling like you can touch the tree covered shorelines on either side. We exited on the other side into the wide-open waterway that is the Strait of Georgia. We cruised southeast and took a stop at the Belle Chains. This line of sandstone rocks jutting out of the water were covered with Steller Sea Lions. These giant pinnipeds were growling at each other and crawling over each other with steamy breath and serenaded us with a chorus of deep throated roars interrupted sometimes with the cute bleating of a younger sea lion. These guys are huge! And so fuzzy and one of the most dynamic animals we see here and even though they only visit in the winter we love seeing them. We continued on our journey south passing by Tumbo Island, Eastpoint, Patos, Sucia, and Matia Islands and headed south into Rosario Strait. We came back into the San Juan Archipelago through Peavine Pass and headed toward Decatur Island. Here we started to see blows in the distance. As we approached, we saw that it was a family of Orcas! They were identified as Bigg’s Orcas which are the orcas that feed on marine mammals in our waters. They are very different and not closely related to the Southern Residents Orcas which are the ones that travel as J, K, and L pods and eat salmon. This family was so cool to watch. They were hunting around the northern shoreline of Decatur Island. They were the T137’s, which is a great family group. Family groups in Orcas consist of a matriarch and here offspring usually. This group consisted of a matriarch, T137, her very big adult son, T137A, with his 6-foot tall dorsal fin, and her two other children, T137C and T137D. We watched them continue to hunt as a group as the changed directions rapidly in pursuit of a prey. It looked like they might have let this one go since they changed back to traveling slowly and it seems like they had recently caught something right before we arrived. These Orcas passed by and gave us some beautiful views as the sun set lighting up the Olympic Mountains in the background in a stunning way. We soon had to leave this family has they passed Frost Island and continued their journey. What another beautiful, sunny March day!


Whale folks, until next time!


San Juan Safaris & San Juan Outfitters