August 22, 2017

Transient Orcas (T46B's) Travel Through Pole Pass

Transient Orcas

[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Kestrel,  8/18/17, 10:00AM]


Finally Friday! On this day Captain Mike and I headed out on an wildlife adventure with just a few folks in the morning. One of the families (matrilines) of Orcas (Killer Whales) that we had been seeing the past few weeks was spotted pretty close from land. We zipped over to Harney Channel in between Orcas and Shaw Islands. There they were tranquilly swimming along the Shaw Island shoreline. This particular family of Orcas was Transients (Bigg’s) and more specifically were the T046B’s. Phew that’s a lot of information, but all together means that this was one family of mammal-eating orcas. Orcas live in every ocean basin in the world and there are various ecotypes around the world that no longer interbreed or interact with each other anymore. These ‘Transients’ actually spend a good amount of time in the inland waters of the Salish Sea, and that terminology is inaccurate and a misleading. We usually see the same ‘Transient’ families for much of the year here.

            The term family or matriline means here that all orcas are matriarchal so each family group usually consists of a matriarch, which in this case is T046B, and her offspring and sometimes even another generation of orcas. The T046B’s are a multigenerational matriline since T046B1 has her own calves now, making T046B a grandmother.

            We watched these families for a while as they skirted the interisland coastlines in search of unsuspecting harbor seals. They even went through Pole Pass, a tiny passage no wider than 30 feet at that time. After they passed Deer Harbor we left to go look at some Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Pigeon Guillemots around Flattop Island. While there are many, many seals hauled out on various rocks around the San Juans, it’s easier for the orcas to catch one that is distracted and swimming, so these mammal eating orcas usually hunt in shallow, rocky reef areas where they know seals spend their time hunting for their own food.

            We stopped by to see the T046B’s one more time before heading further south. We shot down to Cattle Pass and looked at the early arrivals of the Steller Sea Lions that come down during the fall. These sea lions are also on the menu of the Transient Orcas, but we usually don’t see them until September. After watching these sea lions that are about half the size of most orcas we headed back home to Friday Harbor.

            Even though summer feels like it’s almost over here, there is still a bunch of cool wildlife around, so come see us!


Until next time,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris



Transient Orcas