May 23, 2016

T for Two: Two Male Transient Killer Whales cruise in the Strait

Transient Orcas in Strait of Juan de Fuca

It’s still not summer. Despite the past unseasonably warm weather, El Niño, and new predictions for this to be a La Niña year, late may has brought some grey weather and some sporadic showers, but great whales! Captain Mike, Alex, Sarah, and I headed south to head to the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to check out the sea mounds over there. Sea mounds are kind of like hills submerged in water, and are great places to find groupings of plankton, tiny fish, bigger fish, and seals as each food level is searching for the other as food, but we were looking for the top of the food chain – Orcas. Orcas (aka Killer Whales) come in 10 different ecotypes. Here there are two main ones Transients and Residents. Since the Residents only really appear in force during the summer to chase salmon that are running towards their natal streams, today we were looking for those Transients, our local marine mammal hunters.

It’s a ways out there and there is a lot of water in between but we finally spotted dark fins in the distance. Two. It was two Transient males traveling together. This is pretty unusual but not unheard of. Orcas usually live in tight-knit family groups, and rarely stray from their matriarch-led family group, but Transients are known to have a looser social structure. So, sometimes you’ll see a lone male traveling by himself, or with a different family other than his own, and sometimes just small groups of males hanging out with each other, and this was what these two were doing. We were the only folks there, and it was absolutely beautiful to see them traveling through the glassy waters of the Salish Sea.

We eventually turned back to return, but that wasn’t the end. We saw quite a few Minke Whales and a bunch of Harbor Porpoises. We also stopped to watch some Bald Eagles, a huge group of Steller’s Sea Lions, and a funny little gathering of Pacific Loons!! What another super day out there folks. Keep it San Juanderful.


Naturalist Erick

M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris