August 12, 2019

Wildlife Galore in the Salish Sea!!

Bigg's Killer Whales in the Salish Sea!

Laura C. | M/V Kestrel | 8/12/2019 | 11:00am

Today was such a wonderful day out on the water!  M/V Kestrel headed to Flattop Island for our first stop to appreciate the diverse wildlife in the area!  There, we found some harbor porpoises, harbor seals and bald eagles!  A harbor seal was making a lot of noise and vocalizations as a large congregation of animals basked along the rocks.  It is weaning season for a lot of youngsters and some may be calling out for their mothers, as they are not yet used to being on their own.  As we were appreciating these adorable pinnipeds, a flock of pigeon guillemots flew down to the waters surface right next to our boat!  A sandlance was being carried in the mouth of one of the individuals and it was so cool to see it dangling as the bird flew by!

We had our first whale sighting of the day a few miles north of Roche Harbor.  Big Mama and a young juvenile were found foraging in this area, perhaps taking advantage of the moving herring.  Initially, they were staying up at the surface and fluked about every 2 minutes.  Then surprisingly, the juvenile lifted his/her pectoral flippers raised up towards the sky and abruptly smacked them down on the water’s surface!  This is the first time I have seen flipper slapping in the Salish Sea!  I am very familiar with this behavior from humpbacks on the East Coast but have mostly seen humpbacks conducting feeding behavior around these islands.  This is such an exciting activity to witness from a humpback whale!  Their flippers weigh about 1 ton each, or the size of an elephant, and can be heard hitting the surface all the way from our vessel!  Flipper slapping can be a form of communication between individuals, territorial behavior, or just for fun!  We can only guess what was on this juvenile’s mind today, but the pair seemed pretty relaxed to me.

Our day was still not over!  We had whale reports of Bigg’s killer whales to the north and after saying goodbye to our humpback whales, made a quick exit to find orcas!  We were all thrilled to see T18 and theT19s, four killer whales in all!  This family is easily identifiable by T19B and T19C, two extremely large males and one sporting a very curved and floppy dorsal fin!  This family was on the move, traveling around 12 knots or close to 14 mph!  They could be on the hunt, as many harbor porpoises were seen in the area.  It was so great to see such an active family on the move, all looking very healthy and powerful!  Before we knew it, it was time to leave these beautiful animals and head back towards home.  It is so easy to become entranced with these whales and forget about the time.  It was a wonderful trip today and certainly one of my most varied wildlife days!