Sprouting male killer whale

[Sarah M – 06/13/2018 – M/V Seahawk – 12:00pm]


Captain Gabe and I took passengers aboard the M/V Seahawk on a whirlwind adventure North into the Canadian Gulf Islands on the search for killer whales. Captain Gabe steered the boat out of the North entrance of Roche Harbor and we turned left.


We had a lovely cruise up the shoreline of Stuart Island to Turn Point lighthouse towards Swanson Channel. The water movement we caught glimpses of was spectacular. There was so much upwelling going on as we cruised across some of the deepest areas in the San Juan Islands, in some places deeper than 1000 feet! We continued north, catching views of harbor porpoise on the way. As we cruised we talked about some of the threats to the ecosystem, highlighted by the huge containership in our path.


Passing by Moresby Island we headed deeper and deeper into the Canadian Gulf islands towards Prevost Island. Beautiful steep cliffs and dense forest surrounded us in the narrow channels. We started to see the blows and dorsal fins of killer whales in the distance! After a long trip north, our patience was rewarded with great views of the T037 family group, including the T037As and the T037Bs, travelling with the T077 family of Bigg’s orcas. We stayed with the whales as they athletically travelled north, right along the Prevost shoreline. The whales were kelping and rolling around in the shallow water. We were fortunate enough to witness several surface active and percussive behaviors as the families socialized. Killer whales live in tight matriarchal family groups, and these relationships are strengthened by these social behaviors.


After a great encounter with the orcas we started to mosey back towards San Juan Island, enjoying the beautiful smooth water conditions and wonderful June sunshine. As we cruised south, we got a call from another boat… more orcas! These whale turned out to be members of the Southern Resident killer whale population! More specifically L Pod! These whales have been absent from our waters for the last nine weeks up until the last three days, due to the lack of salmon that we have recently had in our ecosystem. We got a number of great looks at the whales including a huge breach from a juvenile, as well as at L105 “Fluke” a sprouting male who is growing like a weed these days. The whales effectively walked us home to Roche Harbor, capping off a wonderful day.