July 27, 2017

Transient Killer Whales in the Salish Sea on the Sunset Whale Watch

Mt. Baker

[Sarah M. – 07/26/2017 – M/V Sea Lion – 05:30pm]


Today’s sunset whale watch from Friday Harbor was one for the books. With glassy waters and beautiful islands, the night was already off to a great start. Add in a late afternoon report of killer whales and the night got even better!


We left Friday Harbor and headed north towards Boundary Pass, which separates the San Juan Islands in the United States from the Canadian Gulf Islands. There we found the T046 family group of Bigg’s killer whales. These massive orcas are marine mammal eaters, eating mostly harbor seals here in the Salish Sea. Tonight this group of whales was on the hunt for harbor porpoise!


Harbor porpoises are the second smallest cetacean in the world, only larger than their cousins the highly endangered vaquita porpoise. These tiny porpoise are usually four to five feet long and weigh 150 pounds. In our waters here in the San Juan Islands we often look for these animals in areas where we have currents colliding, or straits and passages meeting.


Tonight, we saw the killer whales take advantage of that same knowledge, cruising the tidal rips and high-current lines. We watched the killer whales spread out and dive as a handful of porpoise surfaced, seemingly unaware of the danger that loomed beneath the surface. A flurry of activity caught our eyes, a porpoise fleeing for its life closely pursued by two orcas corralling the animal towards the rest of the family! We watched as the orcas completed an extraordinarily coordinated attack, participating in many acrobatic behaviors as they killed the porpoise. After their meal the whales settled down and began to travel north again along the Saturna shoreline.


We peeled away from the whales on the search for other wildlife. We got some wonderful looks at seals, bald eagles, and the exotic animals on Spieden Island. It was a fantastic evening!