Today was one of those days that only happens once in a season- sunny September skies, flat calm ocean water, wildlife everywhere, great guests… oh, and did I mention orca whales that seemed to be breaching out of the water every thirty seconds?!
Let’s start at the beginning! Today the M/V Sea Lion left Friday Harbor and headed north into Canadian waters once again. Today however, we were in search of the mammal hunting orcas known as transients, or Biggs Killer Whales. We really couldn’t have had better timing! When we got on seen with the orcas, they surfaced once and stayed submerged for a very long time. I surmised that they were probably hunting something underwater. My suspicions were confirmed when they surfaced in a tight circle trying to kill the harbor seal that they had found. It was incredible to watch the hole thing unfold before our eyes!
Suddenly, the whales took off and were seen far in the distance porpoising out of the water, a behavior they do to conserve energy when they are traveling at high speeds. The chase was on. Next, they came right back to where they were. The large male in the group, T12a then displayed some very aggressive behavior, flipping though the water and cartwheeling repeatedly. After that, all was silent above water. Below water, there were probably many vocalizations going on and sharing of the food. It is likely that the large male finished off the seal and then shared with the two mothers and three calf’s in the group!
After that, then the fun began! It seemed like just when you thought the orcas would be done celebrating, another would jump out of the water, or do a head stand, or cartwheel, or spyhop! Even the babies were getting in on the action! At one point, many people, myself included, snapped a picture of two orcas breaching at the very same time- one going one way, and the other the opposite direction. That’s something everyone will remember their entire life. It really was an incredible display of orca behavior. I can’t wait to get back out there tomorrow!
Heather, Naturalist, M/V Sea Lion
San Juan Safaris