September 15, 2021

Welcoming New Baby in Bigg’s Killer Whale Family, T99's

Baby Bigg's Killer Whale

Haleigh | M/V Kestrel | September 15, 2021 | 2:00 pm


Today’s adventure tour was a blast! We left Friday Harbor headed southbound through the San Juan Channel. We stopped to hear the sounds of Pelagic Cormorants and California Gulls nesting on Goose Island and then followed the smells of Steller’s Sea Lions across the channel to Whale Rocks. One curious sea lion was jetting through the kelp and jumping up and out of the water like a missile! Others were hauled out on the rocks with their heads held high towards the sun. As we were watching these animals, we received a report of some orcas around the bend near Cypress island.


After a ~20 minute drive, we slowly approached a scene of Bigg’s killer whales porpoising through the surface of the water, frightening the birds that were once sitting peacefully. As we continued to observe, we noticed lots of movement back and forth in a non-directional pattern, indicating these whales had just made a kill! Four large whales were feeding while one little kidney bean-shaped whale was around observing and getting bits and pieces of whatever was caught. With a yellowish tint to their saddle patch and eye patch, we ID’d this as the new calf of this family -- the T99’s! T99 likely gave birth to this calf in the last year given their coloration and size. After they made their kill and did celebratory tail slaps, this family began moving north, still hugging Cypress Island. We watched as the baby used all of its energy to surface, looking almost like a porpoise as it pushed its little body above the water while still sticking close to mom. It was such a special moment to see this healthy family, we can’t wait to see how this baby continues to grow!


As we began our travels back towards Friday Harbor through the inter-island paths, we made a detour to check out a group of orcas that had been spotted near Shaw Island and Orcas island. We arrived to a T-party, or gathering of multiple families of Bigg’s (previously called Transients) killer whales. The T18’s and T65B’s had just made it out to San Juan Channel and were rounding Yellow Island to harass the idling harbor seals. They made their way close to the shoreline and shortly after we saw tons of splashing and tail slaps! Meanwhile, two of the seven whales were checking out some kayakers to see what was going on. It was a sweet look during golden hour here in the Salish Sea, and special to reflect on how the day had progressed into an extraordinary wildlife day!