June 17, 2021

Wild Evening With Bigg’s Killer Whales

Bigg’s Killer Whale

Maxx K. | M/V Osprey | 06/17/2021 | 5:30pm


After an insane early afternoon tour the crew onboard Osprey were ecstatic for a sunset tour. We had just left a group of 21 Killer whales on the west side of San Juan Island. They were heading north but also straddling the US/Canadian border so we had all of our fingers and toes crossed that they might stay within US waters and we could have a second opportunity to observe them. 

    Bigg’s killer whales typically keep to smaller group sizes as they rely on the element of surprise when hunting their favorite prey of harbor seals and porpoises. I like to phrase it like this: Imagine trying to hunt in the wilderness with your entire extended family. It’s going to be hard enough sneaking up to unsuspecting prey as it is, let alone with all your uncles, aunts and cousins causing a ruckus around you. So typically we see Bigg’s Orca in smaller groups, yet they will rejoin with other families to socialize and reproduce. 

    When we arrived on scene with the whales, all six families (T034’s, T037’s, T036’s, T036B’s, T065A’s, T086A’s)  were still loosely traveling together, all within about a half mile of one another. Within 15 minutes of being on scene, they began to split however, with one group branching off ahead of us and the other wrapping across our stern. With the engine off we sat in silence as families of orca came to surface for breath all around our vessel. 

    Following closely behind was T065A2, Ooxjaa, the oldest child to T065A, Artemis. As we silently floated in Boundary Pass he approached us. He surfaced right behind our stern, his massive dorsal fin wobbling ever so slightly as it sliced through the water a mere few yards away. As he then moved away from us he joined with the T065A’s and the T086A’s to the north. 

    They were having a blast! Like a giant orca puddle they rolled over across one another. Suddenly there were tail and pectoral slaps and spy hops. It was incredible to witness. 

    We left the now northernmost group to get one final glimpse of the four families still traveling together to the south of us. They porpoised through the water as we approached then suddenly, their behavior changed: They began logging, their still black and white bodies bobbing at the surface of the water. 

    We watched in wonder at the families socializing with one another as the final moments of sunlight touched over the north side of Waldron Island. We soon began moving back towards Friday Harbor, in awe of what we had just witnessed. This was an insane tour and one that I won’t soon forget.