October 25, 2017
Surprise orcas are the best kind of orcas in the San Juan Islands!
[Naturalist Sarah – 10/25/2017 – M/V Sea Lion – 12:00pm]
Is this July? Is this the summer? Well, the weather didn’t seem right today, but the sighting sure did… more orcas! Usually we expect to see most of our orcas May-September, with a 90% success rate. In the spring and fall, our orca sightings are usually fifty, fifty, as most of the Chinook salmon that our Southern Resident killer whales feed on has diminished in the inland waters. This fall we have been seeing a lot of our Southern Resident Killer Whale population as they have followed our fall run of Chum salmon. It has been a nice treat to see these whales in the fall season.
Steller’s Sea Lions
Leaving Friday Harbor today we headed south through San Juan Channel towards Whale Rocks where we found the colony of Steller’s sea lions. We watched many of these huge pinnipeds zooming around in the water at the base of the rocks, and marveled at their huge bulk hauled out on the rocks. These sea lions are seasonal visitors to the San Juan Islands: we don’t see them in the summer months while they are on their breeding grounds in Alaska.
The Best Kind of Surprise
Leaving the Sea Lions we poked our heads out into a churning Haro Strait. We meandered our way across Salmon Bank and then further west towards Middle Bank. As we travelled, Captain Mike and I scanned the waves looking for blows and dorsal fins. In open water we found many sea birds including common murre and even some white-winged scoters. As we scanned… POOF! Orcas! We had stumbled across the L54s in open water!
The L54 Matriline
The L54s are an uncommon family of five belonging to our Southern Resident Killer Whale population. This family is led by L54 “Ino” who was born in 1977. She travels with her two biological sons L108 “Coho” and L117 “Keta,” as well as her to adopted adult sons L88 “Wavewalker” and L84 “Nyssa.” Femal killer whales have long demonstrated their altruistic tendencies, “adopting” unrelated animals. We had a great encounter with the orcas before heading back towards the San Juan Islands.
As we headed for Friday Harbor, we had a chance to check out some Harbor Seals and even some bald eagles. It was an incredible late-October day in the Salish Sea.
Please enjoy some photos from the day!