Bigg’s Orcas in the Salish Sea… with the Candlestick? This Whodunnit’s been Solved!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 – M/V Sea Lion – 12:00 Noon

Leaving Friday Harbor on Wednesday with a great little group of folks, Captain Mike and I turned our sights northward towards whispers of orcas. As we traveled up San Juan Channel we found ourselves face-to-face with a large group of Steller sea lions resting on Spieden Island. Most of these animals were just soaking in the sun but a couple younger individuals were practicing their sparring for when it comes time to defend breeding territory in Alaska. Even younger Stellers are massive, powerful animals, but this was probably one of the cutest acts of aggression I’ve ever seen. Leaving these two to duke it out we continued our search for orcas up into Boundary Pass where we headed east along Waldron Island.

It was here that we met up with a group of about 10 transient orcas traveling northeast, directly toward a small group of harbor porpoises! Lucky for them, though, the orcas just kept swimming. Because transient orcas are marine mammal eaters they’re usually quite calm at the surface and don’t often vocalize when they’re on the hunt as they don’t want those mammals to hear them coming and swim away, and that’s just what these orcas were doing… until they weren’t.

Little did we know, the orcas passed up that group of harbor porpoises because it was actually harbor seal on the menu today! Suddenly these massive dolphins began their pursuit and a short while later we got our sights on the wide-eyed harbor seal who’d seen its last day… Can you spot him in Sarah’s photo?

The orcas were successful and they spent the next few minutes sharing the meal and socializing with one another, tail-slapping, rolling, leaping from the water, and even making surface vocalizations!! It was magnificent.

Orcas are particular about the bits of an animal they’ll eat; they’re mainly after muscle and fat, leaving behind internal organs, bone, and skin, which a flock of hungry seabirds, including a bald eagle were happy to clean up!

After drifting for a while, letting the orcas swim out of sight we picked up speed and headed back toward Spieden Island. On the way we spotted a haul-out of tons of luckier harbor seals resting under bald eagle-line trees as well as another group of harbor porpoises! Once we reached the western tip of Spieden we cruised along its south side and were treated with amazing views of the cutest baby Mouflon sheep running between their parents along the slope. Another quick view of those Steller sea lions and we headed south for one more stop. On a small island off San Juan, an eagles nest towers over the shore line. Bringing out the binoculars, we were able to get a great view of this natural architectural feat before cruising back into the harbor. Wow!

 

Naturalist Piper


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