Erin| M/V Sea Hawk | Saturday, Septemer 7, 2019 | 2:00 PM

What an incredible trip aboard the M/V Sea Hawk today! We headed north out of Roche Harbor in pursuit of a report of killer whales near Waldron Island. We went through Johns Pass, which is a lovely area in between Johns and Stuart islands. We couldn't get over how calm the sea was around us. It was a perfect day to be out on the water. After going through Johns Pass, we found ourselves in Boundary Pass. This is where we soon caught sight of some whale watching boats in the distance. As we got closer to the boats, we could see tall dorsal fins and blows! We were all so excited-we were in the presence of some killer whales! 

The whales were a little bit spread out when we first arrived on scene with them. We could tell that there were at least six whales in our general vicinity. Three full-grown adult males were amongst the group. It was awesome to see their 6-foot-tall dorsal fins tower above the surface of the water. There were two families of Bigg's killer whales reported in the area. Bigg's killer whales are the marine mammal eaters. They have small pods and are generally very stealthy whales. One of the family pods in the area was known as the T101's. T101 is the matriarch, and she is thought to be around 50 years old. She has 3 presumed sons. One of them is 35 years old, one is 26 years old, and the other is 22 years old. Males reach physical maturity around 20 years old, so they are all thought to be fully grown. The whales did a big circle as we were watching them, and the males kept splitting up and forming sub-pods with members of the other family in the area: the T36A's. 

The T36A's are also a pod of 4 whales. T36A is 29 years old. She has one known daughter who is 14 years old and two other offspring who are 7 and 4. It was cool to see some juveniles amongst the adult killer whales. Their movements aren't as precise, so it is easy to tell that they are young and learning. At one point as we watched the whales, they started to travel really quickly, making it seem that they were hunting. However, shortly after that, we saw them turn around and slow their speed drastically. We got to see a group of five whales pass by our boat. They surfaced in unision a few times and were swimming very slowly. It seemed as if they were sleeping! When whales sleep, they essentially turn off one side of their brain to allow the other half to get a rest. They are conscious breathers, which is why they sleep in such a unique way. This means that they can still be swimming while they are sleeping! We were all thrilled with the enchanting experiences that we got with these two family pods. We headed south toward Stuart Island, and we were surpirsed to find another orca!

This orca was by itself, which is a bit unusual, but not rare among Bigg's killer whales. Bigg's killer whale males sometimes split off from their family pod and travel on their own. The exact purpose is unknown, but it could be so they can feed and socialize on their own. The lone whale that we were watching is known as T49A3. He is only 8 years old, so it seems like he is quite young to be on his own. However, he was chasing some prey throughout our encounter with him, so he seemed to have an inkling of what to do. We saw a seal trying to get away from him, and then we saw him about 10 minutes later along the shoreline of Stuart Island. He was porpoising, which is a behavior indicative of hunting. He rounded the tip of Stuart Island and continued his behavior in the direction of Canadian waters. We watched him go toward Canada, and then we headed back in the direction of Roche Harbor. 

On our way, we stopped past Spieden Island. We saw some mouflon sheep spread out and grazing along the hillside. We shut our boat off and got to hear them making noise. It was awesome! We also saw harbor seals and harbor porpoises swimming in the water, and we saw some harbor seals hauled out on shore. It was an incredible trip full of great whale and wildlife sightings. We made it back to the harbor with wonderful memories and big smiles! Until next time, folks!

Naturalist Erin