September 25, 2019

Two Ecotypes of Orca, a Humpback Whale, and other Critters! Amazing Day Whale Watching

Male killer whale surfacing in the Salish Sea

Sarah | M/V Sea Lion | 09/25/19 | 12:00pm

What a day out on the water! It was a spectacular September day here in Friday Harbor, and we left the dock with great reports of whales and other wildlife in our area. Captain Erick started off our tour by steering M/V Sea Lion north out of Friday Harbor.

It wasn’t long before we came across the T100 family of Bigg’s killer whales. Formerly known as the “transient” ecotype, these large bodied orcas are marine mammal eaters, specializing mostly on harbor seals and harbor porpoise in our waters. These orcas travel in small matriarchal family groups as they look for their warm-blooded prey. We watched as the whales swam into the strong flooding current, marveling at their size and power.

After a great encounter with the Bigg’s killer whales, we decided to head south to look for some of the other wildlife species in our area. As we motored south we got a chance to see some surfacing harbor porpoise and harbor seals. In Cattle Pass between San Juan Island and Lopez Island we stopped at Whale Rocks to look at some Steller’s sea lions hauled out of the water. These behemoths can be up to twelve feet long and weigh over 2,400 pounds, making them the largest sea lions in the world.

As we were looking at the sea lions Captain Erick got a call that there was a humpback whale just to the south of Lopez Island off Iceberg Point. After seeing the whale fluke up for a dive, raising its massive tail into the air, we were able to identify it as MMX0006 “DoubleDrop” using the unique markings underneath the flukes of the tail. At one point we got to hear the whale’s explosive exhale… truly putting the size of the massive animal into perspective. We watched the whale feeding in and amongst rafts of common murre and Heerman’s gulls, before deciding to move on to look for other wildlife.

To cap off our day Captain Erick decided to head to a final whale report: some of the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales off the south end of San Juan Island. With only 73 of these salmon-eating orcas left in the world today, it is always a treat to get to spend any time with them and to be able to share their stories with our guests. We had the privilege to spend a few minutes in the presence of K21 “Cappuccino” a large adult male as he foraged. We shut down the boat and drifted as the huge whale zigged and zagged chasing salmon under the water. We got a great look at his broad dorsal fin with a notch on the trailing edge and his bright, open saddle patch as he passed by our boat.

It was an incredible day on the water spent with inquisitive people watching amazing animals. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!