June 7, 2018

Two Families of Bigg's Orcas Play in Admiralty Inlet!

Bigg's Orcas

[Monday, 6/4/18 - M/V Kestrel - 2:00PM - Naturalist Erick]


On Monday, Captain Gabe and I took M/V Kestrel with a smaller group of folks out to look for amazing wildlife out in the Salish Sea. We headed south down San Juan Channel. We made our first stop at Whale Rocks situated at the entrance to San Juan Channel This entrance called Cattle Pass is a very small channel with a lot of shallow areas so as the tide moves in and out the currents rip through here often causing white water to run around the rocks. This dynamic area also usually have a bunch of animals here. Today there were a huge group of Harbor Seals and also a few Steller Sea Lions left! These giant pinnipeds spend their summers up north for mating season so usually all of them are gone by this time. Here there were a bunch of young ones still hanging out along with a few of the large adult males. These adult males often weigh over a ton and are just grumbling giants. It is always so fun to watch them roll around on the barren rocks and growl at each other. As we turned around the rock we saw some of the Steller Sea Lions swimming in the water around the kelp forests here as well as two majestic Bald Eagles sitting atop the rock waiting to steal some food whenever the chance presented itself.

Next we continued south across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We soon arrived close to Point Wilson and began to see blows in the glassy water that was only interrupted by the slight ocean swell that had managed to sneak through the strait from the Pacific Ocean. As we continued to watch them we could notice that these were two family groups of Bigg’s Orcas (Transient Orcas). Families of orcas are always led by a an older female as a matriarch who is usually traveling with her offspring and sometimes her grandkids! This group was only adult females and younger orcas as you could tell from the lack of larger fins. These two groups were the T37’s and the T34’s. They were traveling together and being very social. They were pushing each other, spyhopping, and swimming backwards which we call “moonwalking”. A few of the younger ones were riding on their mothers’ faces and a few even breached! It looked like they may have been snacking as they were socializing since the gulls were following and picking scraps up out of the water. We watched them as kept playing and jumping and traveling northward. We eventually left these amazing creatures and headed back north. We made another stop at Smith Island where we saw everyone’s favorite bird -  a Tufted Puffin! There were a few of them here and they are so beautiful. They have bright white faces, big orange beaks, and beautiful yellow feather over their eyes. After watching them for awhile I don’t think the trip could get any better so we headed back home! What another great day!


Whale folks until next time,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris