We got to view lots of predator-prey interactions on our 12:30 whale watch and wildlife tour today on the Sea Lion! We started out our trip with an exciting report of transient killer whales moving north up the west side of San Juan Island. En route to this group of orcas, we happened upon lots of other wildlife – all of which happened to be the main food source for transient killer whales!
Transient killer whales are the marine mammal eating ecotype of orca in the Salish Sea. They’re big fans of blubber and seek out animals with lots of it. Typical items on their menu include seals, sea lions, porpoises, and even larger whales like humpbacks! As we turned into Spieden Channel to meet up with these ruthless hunters, we spotted the majority of these tasty creatures. First, a small group of harbor porpoises surfaced off the right hand side of our boat. As we slowed to observe them, we noticed half a dozen Steller Sea Lions rafting amongst the bull kelp just off of Spieden Island. Suddenly, just to the left of our bow, a harbor seal popped its head up and gave us a curious glance. It was killer whale prey central!
We moved on in search of those orcas, heading out of Spieden Channel and into Haro Strait. Before long, we were watching 6 killer whales perusing the waters along the small islands dotting the coastline of Vancouver Island. Naturalist Erick identified them as the T60’s, a family of five including matriarch T60 and her 15 year old son, T60C. We followed them for a little while before turning back home, but not before getting an amazing look at a member of the group doing a backwards cartwheel through the water! This exciting behavior was quickly followed by a long dive by all members, probably indicating an exciting meal below the surface. We left them to their feast and started heading back to Friday Harbor.
On our way back, we got one final look at a direct predator-prey interaction. A harbor seal was splashing near the surface of the water in Spieden Channel, drawing out attention. When we pulled up closer, we noticed it was struggling to tear apart a salmon that was just larger than the ambitious animal’s head! A small flock of gulls had also gathered on scene, hoping to snatch a bit of the salmon straight from the seal’s mouth. With this amusing sighting to leave with, we headed back to Friday Harbor to catch the last of a beautiful early fall day in the San Juans!
Naturalist Sarah C.
M/V Sea Lion