Epic Killer Whale Attack on Steller Sea Lion!


Trip Highlights:
*4 Transient killer whales in the T137 pod attack a Steller sea lion!!
*A Steller sea lion rips up a skate at the surface
*3 humpback whales
*Harbor seals, and harbor porpoise
*Pomerine Jeager, common murres, and lots of gulls

It would turn out to be a Steller day for everyone except the sea lion!  We had one of the very best trips of the year today, without a doubt!  This is another one of those days that we all hope for when we leave the dock!  We hope for whales close to home and lots of action, and we sure got it today.  It started out like any other day with us taking a familiar route southward through Rosario Strait.  While answering some questions from a passenger, I got a tap on the shoulder from another passenger behind me.  That passenger was Steve Skinner and he said he saw some blows.  The remnants of a blow were still lingering in the air when I turned around.  Within seconds a teenage male killer whale came to the surface, and now we had whales within 20 minutes of leaving the dock!  We always tell the passengers what to look for because you never know when one of them will be an unexpected hero!  Great eyes Steve!  The 13 year old male that popped up was one of the most recognizable transient orcas that we see here in the Salish Sea, T137A.  He was traveling with the rest of his immediate family including his mom, T137, and her other offspring T137B, and T137D.  At first they started out spread out 2 and 2, separated by a few hundred yards, but eventually they grouped up together into a tight formation.  That was when they started to zig-zag a bit and gave us our first big thrill of the day.  After a long dive, and a surprise change of direction they swam right toward us, and Capt. Carl turned off the engines.  These 4 killer whales swam right to the front of the boat and swam back and forth at the bow!  It was very obvious that they were checking us out as much as we were checking them out!  One of the whales turned upside down almost as if to play directly with us!!!  That woke everyone up really fast!!

After following the pod all the way to the south end of Rosario Strait we decided to peel off and check out 3 humpback whales that were lingering around not too far south from the killer whales.  We spent most of our time with one of the three that has the temporary ID # MMX0006.  After he showed us his tail flukes a few times we decided to peel off and look at the other two when 0006 decided to do a big breach right behind us!!  Only a handful of passengers got to see it since most of us were beginning to set our sights on the other two whales ahead of us!  You just never know when one of these behemoths is going to burst out of the water!!

Next we spotted a Steller sea lion surrounded by gulls.  The sea lion was ripping up a skate at the surface that he caught and the gulls were hoping for some free scraps!  He threw that skate around again and again to rip off meal sized pieces. After a good show from the sea lion we aimed back toward the T137 pod again since they were slowly heading our way.  We did that just in the nick of time, because we could see the killer whales shooting out of the water in the distance as we approached!  It was obvious that they were on the chase, and it didn’t take long to spot their target prey – a Steller sea lion.  When we arrived at a good viewing distance they were slashing, and lunging out of the water toward the sea lion from every angle possible.  Hunting Steller sea lions can be a very time consuming process for the killer whales because the sea lions are no push overs, being formidable predators themselves.  The sea lion was exhausted at the surface as the killer whales slashed around toward it.  Even little 3 year old T137D got into the action by lunging at the prey from time to time.  On a couple of occasions the transient pod started to linger away slowly, but it was almost like they were tricking the sea lion because they always came back for more attacks!  The biggest wow moment of the day came when one of the orcas, probably T137, rammed the sea lion from underneath with her head, sending the 1,000 plus pound sea lion totally airborne!!  It was an awe inspiring show of just how powerful these top predators of the sea can be!  We watched the drama unfold for a long time before we finally had to head back toward the dock.  When we departed the killer whales appeared to be above the sea lion attempting to keep it from coming up to the surface!  What an unforgettable day!  Naturalist Bart Rulon

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