This week has been beyond stellar in the Salish Sea for whale watching. The residents are all finally back, baleen whales are having a field day in our productive waters, and seals and porpoises are abound! Today was no exception for our streak of amazing encounters.

We left the dock to head to the southwest corner of San Juan Island, where the southern residents have been continuously hanging out since they arrived in our waters about a week ago. They were more spread out than usual today, with small groups and individuals perusing the area, most likely feeding on salmon as they socialized with each other from a distance. We observed many southern residents during our time off the coast of the island, including Granny, the oldest known killer whale at 105 years old this year!

As we started turning back, we received a surprising report of transient killer whales passing Friday Harbor heading south. It’s very rare to see both ecotypes of killer whales in the same day, let alone less than 10 miles apart from each other! Generally, residents and transients avoid each other if possible. We’ve never observed them attacking or threatening each other, and, being different ecotypes, they don’t interbreed and exhibit different behaviors. The biggest difference between transients and residents is their food source. Whereas residents are exclusively fish eaters, and more specifically Chinook salmon, transients are mammal eaters and therefore have much different foraging techniques. Due to the perceptive nature of their prey, transients tend to be quieter and have less splashy behaviors. Transients also don’t travel in pods like residents do, but they tend to stay in their smaller family groups, as most killer whales are known to do.

After following the transient killer whales for a while, we turned northwards to finish our trip back to Friday Harbor and count our blessings for seeing both ecotypes in the same day!

Naturalist Sarah C.

M/V Kittiwake

San Juan Safaris