Lauren Fritz, M/V Sea Lion, 07/21/17, 1:30 pm Tour

It’s no secret that the Salish Sea is an incredibly diverse area. We’re lucky enough to have over four species of large whale that frequent this area (grays, humpbacks, orcas, minkes) and the smaller whales (like our harbor porpoises and dolphins). On a 3-4 hour tour, we have pretty good chances of seeing a couple of different species. But there are of course magical days where we see more than three! Yesterday on our M/V Kestrel trip we were lucky enough to come across Transient killer whales and a humpback whale in Rosario Strait, right after we had sighted a big pod of harbor porpoises!

Now, all of these critters can coexist in this region because they each have their own niche. The Transient killer whales are the top of the food chain out here. They’re the marine mammal hunters that will feast on porpoise, seal, sea lion, even other whales…you name it! The humpbacks are here for a much smaller type of food, mainly krill, although they capitalize on herring, mackerel and other small schooling fish when it’s available. Harbor porpoises also feed on other small fish, and we often see them smack in the middle of many of our inter-island channels taking advantage of the nutrient cycling (and plentiful fish) that occur in this area. They love small fatty fish, but they do need to be careful of any wandering Transients in the area!

The Transient killer whales we encountered today were the T46’s. I absolutely love the two big males in this family – they have some very identifiable nicks in their dorsal fins. Their mother, T46, was actually part of one of the last live captures of orcas in the wild here in the Northwest, but she was re-released and is now a great-grandmother! How cool is that?

We also saw a humpback whale on our way home – a much bigger, more solitary animal. It was cruising around on the other side of Rosario, maintaining a respectful distance from the Transients while it commenced its search for food. We ID these animals using photos of their tail flukes – check this out below!

The diversity of what we saw today is something that is so unique to the Salish Sea. You can come out on fifty tours here and never have the same trip! We’d love to have you out – book today! Or, if you were already out with us, thank you again, it was a pleasure having you on board.

Naturalist Lauren Fritz, San Juan Safaris