July 18, 2020

Two Families of Bigg's Orcas! : The T65A's and T37A's travel in Rosario Strait

Bigg's Orcas

Erick | M/V Kestrel | Saturday, July 18, 2020 | 2:00PM

 

It was another beautiful summer day here in the San Juan Islands! It was sunny, breezy, and beautiful blue skies everywhere you look. We could see Mt. Baker, the Olympic Mountains, and all the way down to Mt. Rainier! Capt. Brian and I took a full crew of guests out to look for whales and other wildlife. There were some early reports of some Orcas east of San Juan Island that were spotted near the ferry lane, so we headed that way. We went through Upright Channel and through Thatcher Pass until we made it to the east side of James Island in Rosario Strait. Here when we stopped, we first saw a group of Harbor Porpoises right off our bow! They were hunting for fish in the strong, swirling currents around James Island. As we looked ahead, we could start to see some blows near the shoreline. It was a group of Orcas. This was a family of Bigg’s Orcas which are the ones that we see in our waters that prey exclusively on marine mammals. This family was bucking the strong flood tide that was rushing past James Island. As we approached, we could see that it was the T65A’s! This is an exciting and common Bigg’s Orca family that we see in our whales. T65A has a bunch of offspring and the oldest one with her now, T65A2, Ooxjaa, is a large male. He is pretty big but not fully grown quite yet so he is going to get even bigger! When adult male orcas are grown, they are bigger than females and their fins get substantially larger too. Most impressive is the dorsal fin which grows to about 6 feet! We watched Ooxjaa surface several times alongside his mother and his siblings as they traveled south. They did not seem interested in hunting since they did not go toward Bird Rocks which has a lot of Harbor Seals, nor did they hunt the small group of Harbor Porpoises swim near. We continued to watch and got some great looks a few more times before we headed off. We took a detour to Bird rocks to go see a male Steller Sea Lion. These guys are a lot larger than the Harbor Seals and sometimes weigh a whole ton! We looked at this furry, swimming bear sun himself on the rock up ahead. He lifted his giant head to take a look at us and then quickly resumed his napping. We continued on south and rounded the south end of Lopez Island. Right next to Castle Island we saw two blows appear. It was another group of orcas! These two also were Bigg’s Orcas and looked like they were hunting in the even strong currents in between Colville and Castle Islands! These two were T37A2 and T37A3 it looked like and they are members of the T37As who had been traveling with the T65As all morning. We watched these two play and hunt in the really strong currents for a while and even got to see the younger one spyhop to take a look around the surface. As we watched them travel, we saw that the rest of their family were deep in Aleck Bay up ahead! I think they realized how far away they were from their mom, so they started speeding towards her, which was pretty fun to think about! Well, it has been another magical day in the San Juans!

 

Stay Whale out there,

Erick