March 13, 2019

We found Killer Whales in San Juan Channel!: T101 and T90 Bigg's Orca families hunt near Friday Harbor

Bigg's male orcas

Erick | Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion| | 12:00 


This Wednesday was one of the first days it really has felt like spring here in the islands. The sun was out and there was only a slight breeze in the air. Captain Pete and I took a good-sized crew out to go see what wonderful wildlife was also out enjoying the sunshine. We headed south after we left Friday Harbor. We rounded Turn Island and just as we made our way into Griffin Bay we saw some blows just ahead in San Juan Channel! We slowed down and soon saw four dark fins rise from the water. They were Orcas! As we watched them we soon saw that there were quite a few more orcas around us too. They all converged on Turn Rock and appeared to be hunting. As they swam around the kelp forest we identified them as the T101’s and the T90’s! These are two different family groups belonging to the Bigg’s (Transient) orca community that lives in Washington and British Columbia waters. This type’s diet consists of a wide array of marine mammals so we have pretty good chances of seeing them year round due to the year round population of Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises that inhabit this area. After they passed Turn Rock, they split into three groups. Two traced the San Juan Island Shoreline two other traced the Shaw Island shoreline while the main part of the group took the exact middle heading north. We stuck with the two adult males swimming along the Shaw Island shoreline. These were two brothers, T101A and T101B, and they were swimming and hunting together. They caught and ate something just around Parks Bay. Most of the hunting and eating happens under water, but you can tell when they are successful because they have a bunch of gulls following them trying to get the leftovers. As they continued north in San Juan Channel we continued to follow these two big males. Once they reached Yellow Island we headed off to try and see some more creatures out there. We stopped by Green Point on Spieden Island to look at the Steller Sea Lions! These animals are huge and they spend their winters here in the San Juan Islands. The males weigh in at about a ton and it is always so fun to watch them waddle around and growl at each other! We then continued through Spieden Channel and saw a bunch of Bald Eagles soaring in the air and a few perched on the trees flanking the shorelines of Spieden and Sentinel Islands. Among the Bald Eagles we also saw some of the transplanted animals that were brought to the island to stock an exotic game hunting ranch that existed on the island in the past. The three species that are still on the island are Mouflon Sheep, Fallow Deer, and Sika Deer. We saw a bunch of the Mouflon Sheep and Fallow Deer grazing on the grassy hillside and we even got to see the albino Fallow Deer! We turned around at Sentinel Rocks and saw a bunch of Harbor Seals lounging on the rocks as well as some Harlequin Ducks! We then headed back in the direction of Friday Harbor and ran into that same group of Orcas again! They were right around Limestone Point and this time they were all grouped up together. Here we saw the T101’s and the T90’s grouped up together. They even started to socialize a little bit. This usually means that they had been successful at hunting and now were going to play some. This usually involves some tail-slapping and splashing in general. It was amazing to see these huge animals play around in the water! We watched them for a little bit longer and continued on back to Friday Harbor! What a wonderful day out on the water.


Whale folks until next time,