We nearly returned our guests from Friday Harbor back to Anacortes today, as the M/V Sea Lion barreled east on a tip that a pod of orcas was northbound in Rosario Strait.  The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales do not spend as much time around the San Juan Islands during the spring, so we suspected that the whales we were searching for on the east side of Orcas Island would be the transient ecotype.  Transient killer whales form smaller pods than the resident orcas and their movements are less predictable.  Thus, we were nervous that the animals would be difficult to find with the rough texture of the sea state on this grey day.  Thanks to the supportive network of whale watching boats on the Salish Sea, our captain was able to home in on another boat of onlookers and we were enjoying the show in no time.

The transient pod looked to be made up of about seven individuals, which included a couple of juveniles that may have been receiving some on-the-job training.  The gang hunted over a shoal, surfacing again and again to thrash an area of water with high-speed lunges and a mess of flukes.  The orcas would disappear for a few minutes only to return to the surface in a flurry of activity.  I scanned each event with my binoculars looking for clues as to what was on the menu.  Finally, just about when we were preparing to depart the scene, the troop exploded to the surface less than a hundred feet from our starboard rail and I noticed a small head floating in the fray.  It was a harbor seal!  In the quick glimpse, the chubby morsel appeared calm, albeit bewildered.  Before I could finish informing our guests that a harbor seal had been invited to dinner, bang!  An adult female orca surfaced like a torpedo and with a froth of white water, the seal was gone.

Andrew Munson


M/V Sea Lion

San Juan Safaris