Surf’s up! Transient Orcas surf and play in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Kestrel, 7/10/17 2:00PM] Yesterday was pretty epic. Captain Mike and I took a full group of folks out on the M/V kestrel to go look for some wildlife. We headed south through San Juan Channel to start out. Before we exited the pass though we stopped by Whale Rocks to ironically only look at Harbor Seals (they’re named that way because they look like whales, not because there are whales there) There were quite a few on the rocks, tanning, a scooching around, and even a few in the water swimming among the kelp forest. After checking on these cute little rock sausages for awhile we headed south again. We headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is the body of water that connects the Salish Sea to the Pacific Ocean, and is also a common spot to see larger whales. We traveled for awhile in the super quick M/V Kestrel till we were about middle of the Strait and then we saw some blows! They were from a fairly large group of Transient (Bigg’s) Orcas. These are the Orcas that still are common in the waters around the islands but feed on marine mammals instead of salmon like the more famous Southern Resident Orcas. I’m not going to lie in the Strait you can sometimes feel the ocean swell come in and with the breeze that day it got a little choppy (or nautical as I like to say) but I think that this choppiness produced one of the coolest experiences I have ever had with orcas. I believe that this group was the T100s or the T101s and there were socializing all over the place. That’s just a scientific term for playing. The three older males and the older female were swimming loops around each other and it was incredible to see three almost 6 feet tall fins rise up one after the other in the swell as the smaller 2 foot dorsal fin of the female quickly follow amidst the forest of larger fins. As these four played the younger ones and another adult orca were playing in the distance about 800 yards away form the ones that we were looking at. Then just as the swell started to pick up. We started to see the males’ fins move at the speed of the wave and just break the surface. They were surfing! The three adult males started turning with the waves and surfing beside us! And a few of them at the end of their rides would jump out of the wave and belly flop back into the water, like they were trying to fly! Then the rest of the orca group came over and started spyhopping from the waves and one of the babied just continuously did rolls over its mother’s face over and over again. We had to leave at that point, but that was both hands down and pectoral fins down the best whale watching experience that I have ever had. Whale folks, until next time.

 

Naturalist Erick


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