Bigg's Orcas

[Saturday, 5/26/18 - M/V Seahawk - 3:00PM - Naturalist Erick]


This Memorial Day Weekend we got a little taste of summer. The sun was out it was a little bit warm for May and we have a lot of trips going out. On Saturday afternoon Captain Pete and I took Seahawk out with a great group of folks to go on another search of the Salish Sea for some interesting creatures. We first crossed Spieden Channel and scurried through the skinny Johns Pass and took looks out into Boundary. As we approached Sandy Point on Waldron Island we began to see a few blows in the distance! It was a pretty large groups of Bigg’s (Transient) Orcas travelling along.


It was three separate families traveling together. Usually when there are several families traveling together the orcas are a bit more social and interested in interacting a lot with each other, and this was definitely the case here. The younger ones kept doing chin slams as they came up to breathe exposing their white chins and showing that they were looking back at us as we stared at them. We kept watching them as they swam along and rolled around each other as the three families intermingled. When we talk about families of orcas their structure is a little different than families in many human cultures. All Orcas are matriarchal, so each family is led by an older female and she is usually traveling with her offspring and sometimes her grandchildren too.


These three families were identified as the T100s, T86As, and T124s. As we watched the very large adult, male breached! He jumped fully out of the water and it was so cool! These whales do this, we think, mostly for fun. It’s a social activity and it probably is just fun. I mean if I could do it I would. After that amazing breach we continued up north across Boundary Pass and into Swanson Channel. Up here we saw some more blows up ahead. These blows were caused by two Humpback Whales. These are quite a lot bigger than Orcas but in a different category. While orcas have teeth, Humpbacks have baleen so then filter water to collect their food which consists of krill, small fish, and plankton! These two HUmpbacks were traveling close together maybe because they knew each other and maybe for safety if they heard the BIgg’s Orcas just a bit south of them. The Bigg’s Orcas feed on marine mammals and even though they probably wouldn’t attack even a solo adult Humpback Whale they would attack a baby Humpback and it never hurts to be extra safe.


We watch these for awhile as they travelled north and eventually identified them as Splitfin and Zigzag. We got our final looks as they both fluked up exposing their giant tails before going on a long deep dive. Next we had to head back south towards San Juan Island. We made two more stops at Spieden Island to see some Bald Eagles and another stop at Sentinel Rocks to see a whole pile of Harbor Seals. These Harbor Seals were hauled out and sunning themselves out on the rocks and took a second to blink back up at us as we slowly passed. These seals are the main prey item for the BIgg’s Orcas that we saw earlier so we’re really glad that there are a bunch of them here!


Whale folks after that we headed back into Roche Harbor!


Until next time,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Outfitters