Bigg's Orcas

[Sunday, 6/17/18 - M/V Seahawk - 12:00 - Naturalist Erick]


This Sunday we had a lovely time taking a great group of folks out aboard M/V Seahawk to search for some marine wildlife in the Salish Sea. Captain Brian and myself left Roche Harbor and wound our way through Mosquito Pass until we exited into Haro Strait. We started south along the western shore of San Juan Island. We cruised by the big cliffs on the northern part of the shoreline and once we reached Lime Kiln State Park we bumped out a little and pointed more towards Hein Bank. Once we were just northwest of Hein Bank we started to see some blows in the distance. As we approached this group we started to see more blows, and dark fins popping out of the water. It was a group of orcas! This was one family of the marine mammal - eating orcas. They are referred to as Transient or Bigg’s Orcas and they are one ecotype out of the many found around the planet. Here, in the Salish Sea, their preferred food is Harbor Seals. They also will hunt Steller Sea Lions, Harbor Porpoises, and occasionally Minke Whales. This family was one of the ones that we often see around the San Juan Islands - the T65A’s! They are a family with an older matriarch that has one teenage son, T65A2, three juveniles, and one new baby! They seem unafraid of any challenge even though the matriarch is currently the only full adult in the group. I’ve seen them eat everything from Steller Sea Lions to Minke Whales to sometimes a birdy snack. They also seem to be unperturbed by any human activity. I’ve seen this family swim in between the large pylons at the ferry terminals, and right by the marina in Roche Harbor. Today, they seemed to not be able to make up their mind on which way they were going so they were zigging and zagging across the strait and finally seemed to decide to go towards False Bay on the southern coast of San Juan Island. These guys were traveling very close together and a few times you could see the younger ones jump up a little and the baby would follow suit. This is part of the normal learning process. Like Humans most of the orcas behaviors are learned so they spend a lot of time learning by copying their older siblings and mothers as they grow. We watched them for around 30 minutes as they travelled and played and eventually reached San Juan Island then we had to start heading back. We left the orcas and plyed the calm green waters of the Salish Sea with Bald Eagles soaring above.


Whales folks, that’s it for today,

Naturalist Erick