[Naturalist Erick. D., M/V Seahawk, 7/18/17 2:00PM]
For the whole summer we have been seeing almost all Transient (Bigg’s) Orcas. Those are the mammal-eating ones, and despite their old common name we see them in the Salish Sea just as much as the Southern Residents we just tend to see them more in the winter and spring when the residents are absent and there is an increase in the marine mammal population including Steller Sea Lions, California Sea Lions, and Dall’s Porpoises! We have not seen The Southern Residents hardly at all this summer most likely due to the decline in salmon (their main food source) for the past few decades.
If you want to learn more about and help out with local salmon recovery that helps the whole Pacific Northwest ecosystem (including whales!) check out these organizations that San Juan Outfitters and San Juan Safaris donate to each year:
Long Live the Kings
Save Our Wild Salmon
Center for Whale Research
But today we did see the Southern Residents! Captain Joe and I took a great group of twenty folks south from Roche Harbor along the west and south side of San Juan Island. We soon started to see some blows as we neared the southern side of San Juan Island about a mile off the entrance of False Bay. It was L pod! L pod is the largest of the Southern Resident pods, and their ‘pods’ are sort of like a large extended family made up of smaller families (matrilines). Each pod has several matrilines, which are smaller family groups made up of an older female and her offspring usually, sometimes including multiple generations!
We approached the first and nearest group of orcas and they were the L26’s! This is an old name for these two orcas. L26 is their past matriarch who is no longer alive but these two orcas still travel together. L90 and her nephew L92 are 24 and 22 respectively, so both are full grown adults. L90 (Ballena) is a female and her nephew, L92 (Crewser) is an adult male. It was easy to see the physical differences between an adult male and adult female orca with these two. Adult males have the iconic 6 foot tall dorsal fin and are generally bigger in body size. These differences are called ‘sexual dimorphism’ and many animals (including humans) display some form of this.
These two were amazing to watch. They were performing deep dives to catch salmon! At one point, L90, leapt out of the water with a giant salmon in her mouth! And it only got better from there! L92 gave us some good looks and the water was the right kind of clear that you could see his contrasting black and white through the water as he swam past and looked back at us looking at him. While that happened, L90 just wouldn’t stop spyhopping to look back at us too! (That’s when orcas stick their head above the water to take a peek above the surface.) After that, these two basically circled us we moved to another group of L pod orcas and as we looked into the distance you could see all the other members of L pod simultaneously change direction to swim in a more northerly direction. I think that’s the most fascinating thing about orcas – how complex their communication is and how far they can communicate underwater.
We soon said farewell to L pod and returned back to Roche Harbor. It was great to see the Residents in the Salish Sea and we all hope they have been finding salmon wherever they have been.
Naturalist Erick - San Juan Outfitters