[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Kestrel, 8/1/17, 2:00PM]
On our second trip of the day, Captain Gabe and I took a group of folks out from Friday Harbor north. All of us aboard the M/V Kestrel started looking for exciting wildlife. We first found so many Harbor Seals and Harbor Seal Pups along the shoreline of Flattop Island. The Harbor Seals are normally cute, but the pups are so cute that they make you want to explode. Also here we found a few Bald Eagles perched looking down at us from the high rocky shoreline.
Next we continued north to the southern shoreline of Saltspring Island up in the Canadian Gulf Islands, and this is where we found orcas on our second trip. It was a group of Transient (Bigg’s) Orcas! These are the marine mammal-eating ones. This was the family called the T37s. They were eating and hunting and catching the whole time we were there. We saw so much activity. A bunch of them were porpoising through the water to catch a seal, others were breaching, there was a ton of tail slaps. It was amazing! It was amazing to watch this family group coordinate a hunt together, execute it, and socialize afterwards. They have to work together very closely because they drown their prey and most of their prey can hold their breath longer than an orca can.
For this group you could actively see them working together to capture and eat this seal. There was a lot of porpoising as they quickly moved to block the seal from the surface (in the process moving a lot of water too). There was also a lot of movement just under the surface, so you could see the tips of their fins just scarping the surface.
They do all of this cooperative hunting through using their communication system. Each ecotype (e.g. Transients, Resident, etc.) have their own unique set of distinct calls that they can make, and there is usually not a lot of overlap between the ecotypes regarding to the sounds they make. It’s kind of like different languages in humans. They use those calls to talk to one another and become a highly coordinated group while hunting. They even have signature whistles for each other (i.e. names)!
Whale, I could nerd out about orcas all day but we eventually had to head back, but not before stopping by Turn Point to look at the lighthouse there and the cliffs surrounding it, as well as stopping by Spieden Island to look at the strange leftover game from when this island used to be a sport hunting reserve – weird huh?
Whale, folks, until next time,
San Juan Safaris