[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Seahawk, 7/16/17, 2:00PM]
Captain Joe and I left from Roche Harbor yesterday with a smaller group to go search for some super wildlife and whales. We took an interisland route. This means for most of the voyage we stayed in the smaller passes and in the midst of most of the islands instead of traveling in the larger bodies of water that surround them. If you look at a map of the San Juan Islands, they are surrounded by four larger bodies of water: Haro Strait to the west, Boundary Pass to the north, Rosario Strait to the east, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the south. Today though we went east, this year with the Southern Resident Orcas not being present very often we have been voyaging more in between the islands since the Transients spend more time there than the Residents. Why you might ask? Because their main food source lives there – the Harbor Seal. The Southern Residents that feed predominantly on Chinook Salmon tend to stay in the large aforementioned straits where the schools of salmon swim to reach their natal rivers and streams, but this day we were searching for Transient (Bigg’s) Orcas.
We passed through many of the tiny interisland passes whose widths are often smaller than their unseen depths. As we navigated close by the many shorelines and lonely rocks we saw many Bald Eagles perched and a few flying most likely to find an even better perch. We eventually passed by Shaw and Orcas Island and motored through tiny Peavine Pass that separates Obstruction and Blakely Islands and exited into the calm edges of Rosario Strait just south of Lawrence Point.
We soon saw blows in the distance near the Peapod Islands. These are a series of large grass covered rocks off the shore of Orcas Island. Once we approached closer it was easy to see why these mammal-eating orcas were here. There was a ton of Harbor Seals lining the shoreline. This group of orcas was working really well together to trying to find an unsuspecting seal to kill and eat. They were splitting up and moving to different areas around the islands, going on longer dives, and getting really close to the islands. These orcas were two transient orca families (matrilines) that we often see in the Salish Sea. They were the T37s and the T34s. The T37s are actually a pretty big family of transient orcas, so this was only half of them: T37 the matriarch/grandmother, T37B, here adult offspring, and T37Bs two calves. The T34s are T34, the matriarch, and here two young ones, one of which is around 3 months old…adorable.
We watched them hunt for awhile which is super cool since most of the time we witness them traveling. They did soon catch something (most of the hunting happens below the surface so it’s hard to see the action, but sometimes you see some blood!) devour it, and completely changed directions and swam off north back into Rosario Strait all within 10 minutes…talk about fast food.
We headed back via our beautiful interisland passages and even saw a Harbor Seal splashing to stun fish at the entrance to Roche Harbor to welcome us home! What another juanderful day in the San Juans.