May 16, 2019

T-Party, or perhaps B-Hive, of Bigg's Killer Whales off Whidbey Island!

Piper | Thursday, May 16, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00 PM

Today was one of those rare Spring days when we get to leave the dock with a sighting already reported. That never means we will definitely see whales, but it for sure increases our chances. Sometimes the animals give us the slip, but with the sun shining down strong Captain Gabe, myself, and an awesome group of people headed south into San Juan Channel, through Cattle Pass and out into the beautiful Strait of Juan de Fuca! We swung a left and went across the south end of Lopez Island, over to near Whidbey and Smith Islands. Our destination was a group of Bigg’s killer whales which were headed southwest from the Lawson Reef area. We arrived on scene to find a bunch of orcas all grouped together, with one big male swimming about a mile behind.

After some photo identification we figured out exactly which whales we were seeing, we had the T90s and their companion T87 (that lone male), as well as the T123s! The T90s and T123s are both groups with a mom who was born in the 1980s and their two teenage children, an older son and a younger daughter. T123 has recently had another calf so we got to see a little orange-tinted nugget of an orca keeping up with the rest of the group. All-in-all we had eight orcas today and they were just gorgeous! We watched as they traveled through the massive open waters of the strait, always searching for their next meal. The lone male swam quickly, catching up with the group but still staying on the outskirts. There could be many reasons the male was swimming off to the side, all speculation, but this lone male was estimated to have been born in 1962 and has been hanging out with the T90s for years now, often seen with them, but sometimes he swims “alone”, though these whales are in vocal range of each other up to 10 miles away!

We got to see these whales for quite a while before we turned back in the direction of Friday Harbor. When we got back over to the narrow pass between the southern tip of San Juan Island and southwest Lopez Island we stopped at Whale Rocks and got some epic views of the Steller sea lions which are still hanging out in the Salish Sea before their summer migrations to Alaska, along with a haul-out of comparably tiny harbor seals! We finished up the trip cruising back up San Juan Channel, checking out the details of a Steller sea lion skull along the way. Till next time, folks!