August 8, 2019

Trifecta of Whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca!

Piper | Thursday, August 8, 2019 | M/V Kestrel | 11:00 AM

This morning the skies in the San Juan Islands started out quite gray, which in my opinion makes for wonderful sighting weather, and that proved true today! As Captain Gabe and I got the Kestrel off the docks and out of the marina, a report of Bigg’s killer whales ran across the radio! They were all the way down by the Olympic Peninsula, so we hung a right and headed south through San Juan Channel.

When we reached Cattle Point, we heard that a boat in that area had spotted a Minke whale so we slowed our roll and waited to see if it would surface. We were about to head out when up it came off our 10 o’clock! We watched as the Minke, a smaller baleen whale, continued to surface, headed south.

After a while we continued along our way, but we were stopped short again just a minute later as another Minke whale surfaced, this time off our bow! We slowed and watched as this whale circled around where the sea floor rose up, likely looking out for lots of little bait fish. While waiting in between surfacings, we spotted a little harbor seal floating about!

We knew we had to go a long way to get to the orcas though, so we soon picked up the pace and headed down Port Angeles. Upon arriving to the area we heard a vessel was leaving the scene of a humpback just nearby, so we went to go find that whale. It took some patience but suddenly I spotted the large back of the animal, maybe a mile or so northwest of us!

We made it over there and got to see the humpback fluke, its tail rising into the air before going down on a four-minute dive. When it came back up, we watched as it gracefully, or lazily, swam just under the surface, taking a breath every minute or so. It was heading away from the orcas (probably in its best interest), so we eventually turned around for our third giant type of cetacean, the Bigg’s killer whales!!

This family of mammal-eating orcas were the T137s, a group made up of four orcas, the 36-year-old matriarch, T137 (also known as Loon), and her three kids, T137A (Jack), T137B (Tempest), and T137D (Wright). Most of the time, mama was swimming with her two younger kids in the front while we 17-year-old son swam about 50 yards behind them. Every once in a while, the group would turn around and face the son, but then they’d turn right back and keep going westward.

We got some awesome looks at these guys before heading back to the marina, spotting some harbor porpoises and harbor seals along the way! What an awesome day on the water!