July 1, 2022

T49A's Bigg's Killer Whales in the Strait of Georgia

MV Kestrel

This morning’s adventure on MV Kestrel was filled with beautiful wildlife and stunning views of the Gulf Islands here in the Salish Sea. We began our journey north out of Friday Harbor and up San Juan Channel towards Boundary Pass. Our first stop was White Rock where we spotted some Harbor Seals hauled out along the shoreline. Our harbor seal population is considered to be at carrying capacity, hovering around 40,000 individuals total, which is the greatest density of seal individuals that this area can successfully support without being detrimental to the surrounding marine ecosystem. 


We continued north across Boundary Pass into Plumper Sound, hello Canada! We hugged the eastern shore of Saturna Island before Captain Gabe took us through a scenic tour of the Georgeson Strait and into the Strait of Georgia. It was there that we caught up with a few other vessels that were on scene with the Bigg’s Killer Whale pod family, the T49A’s! On scene was the matriarch, Nan (b. 1986) and four of her five calves: T49A2, M, b. 2007, “Jude” ; T49A3, M, b. 2011, “Nat”; T49A4, M, 2014, “Neptune” and T49A5, F, b. 2017, “Nebula”. Her eldest, Noah (T49A1 b. 2001, M) was reported to be farther offshore. There are two ecotypes of orcas here in the Salish Sea: the Southern Resident Killer Whales that feed on salmon and the Bigg’s Killer Whales that feed on smaller marine mammals. We discussed that due to our robust harbor seal population, the Bigg’s Killer Whale population is doing well with this large amount of prey to sustain their growing population. This is not the case for the Southern Residents who are critically endangered as a result of a rapid decline in the Chinook salmon population in the area. 


Before we knew it, it was time to head back home! The ride south through the Gulf Islands did not disappoint as we took in the Northern Cascades and the base of Mount Baker on the way back to Friday Harbor.