Transient Orcas in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Port Angeles

Trip Highlights:
*Transient Orcas heading west.
*Harbor Porpoise easily spotted thanks to the flat calm waters.
*Elephant Seal shows off its “worm dance” movements as it manuevers down the Race Rocks boat ramp.
*California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals cover the rocks near Race Rocks lighthouse

*photo credit to Lee Leddy

Trip Log:
The warm sun and calm seas made this Memorial Day a great day to be out on the water. As we boarded the Island Explorer 4, Pigeon Guillemots greeted us with their cheerful songs, bringing everyone much delight. We departed from the marina and enjoyed the sights of Ediz Hook. Once we entered open waters, we were all amazed and pleased to see the Juan de Fuca Strait had flat waters. The glass-looking water surface allowed wildlife spotted to happen quite easily. Within minutes, the round heads of Harbor Seals were seen swimming along. We headed in the Northwest direction towards Race Rocks Lighthouse. However, before we could make it to the Lighthouse, dorsal fins were spotted. It was the tall, dark dorsal fin of transient orca T77B who first caught our attention, and no surprise. As a male orca, its dorsal fin has the ability to be 6 feet tall. T77B was not alone. We quickly spotted shorter dorsal fins, including one that belonged to his mother T77. As we enjoyed the sights of the Orcas, we noticed some small orcas swimming in the pod. Looks like a couple of young ones swimming along. One of the young orcas still had some yellowish coloring on its white patches – this is common among the young calfs and typically fades away after a couple of years. We stayed with the whales for about an hour when suddenly they turned towards the boat. The family group came right over and swam under the boat’s stern. Getting the close up views were jaw-dropping! Really doesn’t get much better than that. We continued watching them for a little bit longer, but eventually let them continue their way west. We made a turn and explored the Race Rocks area (one of our favorite wildlife spots). On a typical day, the water races through the rocks – sometimes at very high speeds- hence its name Race Rocks. But today, the water was so calm, we simply inched our way through allowing for plenty of time to enjoy the sights of the Harbor Seals, California Sea Lions, and even some huge Elephant Seals. One Elephant Seal was on the move. Since Elephant Seals are not able to walk on their hind flippers like sea lions, we got to enjoy the “worm-like” movement of the large Elephant Seal as it made its way down the Race Rocks boat ramp. After the great views at Race Rocks, we explored more areas of the Juan de Fuca Strait. As we crossed the strait, Harbor Porpoise began being spotted all around the boat. The flat calm waters made it very easy to see the small dark body and the triangle dorsal fin of the normally shy porpoise.
What an amazing day to be out on the water.

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Humpback! Minke! Tufted puffin!


-black-tail deer 
-humpback whale 
-minke whale
-Steller sea lions
-tufted puffin
-harbor seals

A special thank you goes out to Sara for her account of today’s trip!

We departed Cap Sante under sunny skies and within minutes we were seeing harbor porpoise swimming in the calm waters of Guemes Channel and we continued to see more as we headed south in Rosario Strait.

As we pushed west Captain Michael slowed down and took us through Castle Rock and Swirl Rocks where we found pigeon guillemots, cormorants, and even a black-tailed deer looking down on us from the Lopez Island side.

As we pulled away we were briefly visited by the Halcyon and the Aggergaard family! Nice to see them out enjoying the Salish Sea! We waved, they waved, photos were snapped and then we pulled away to go in search of some large critters out west.

After crossing into Canadian waters we found our first whale of the day, a humpback whale! This whale was on long downtimes but soon after we got on scene it turned and came straight toward us showing off its flukes as it dove under the boat. Wow!

As we were watching the humpback whale another boat found a minke whale and we were able to find it as it circled in among some congregated birds. After getting some great looks at it we headed back to see the humpback a couple more times before we had to start home. On the very last surfacing it arched its back and lifted its flukes high out of the water as if to wave goodbye.

With that we pushed back east and got in another slowdown at Whale Rocks where we saw two mature bald eagles and a large gathering of Steller sea lions. Two juveniles were even mock sparring in the water.

As we skirted the south side of Lopez Island we were in for yet another treat—a tufted puffin! What a cool bird to see!

Next stop was Colville Island where a bunch of harbor seals were hauled out warming up.

The rest of our trip played out the way it started, with sunny skies and calm seas. Mount Baker revealed her summit through the clouds and we got a beautiful lineup of one of the Washington State Ferries beneath her as we cruised back to port. What a gorgeous day out on the Salish Sea!

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A Rocking and Rolling day on the water brings us Transient Orcas on both trips!



-Transient Orcas families T77’s and T75B’s swim under the boat!
-A Steller sea lion feeding on a Skate!
-Cloudy skies turning into sunny skies

We left the dock today with high hopes of visiting with whales and our adventure sure did not  disappoint! We cruised south in a hurry as our sister ship, the Island Explorer 4 found orcas near Port Angeles! We traveled a long distance in some pretty nasty seas, and were rewarded with some incredible looks at killer whales! We caught up with seven orcas total, T75B and her calf T75B2, a one-year-old made up one family. Also, a family of five was present, the T77’s, with T77, T77B(16 year old male), T77C, T77D, and the newest calf, T77E! Almost instantly after getting on scene the whales turned right at us, and passed right by the boat. A few of them swam under us as we drifted in the large wind waves, and we watched as three surfed the big swells right next to us! Cool! The one year old and newborn calves were having a blast the whole time we watched them, playing and goofing around. We saw tail-lobs from multiple animals and one orca breached fully out of the water upside down! Wow! After saying goodbye Capt. Carl spotted a Steller sea lion feeding on a large skate as the birds swooped in to pick up scaps! What a trip!


-Another visit with the T75B’s and T77’s
-A Steller sea lion on the “RA” buoy
-A nice slowdown at Minor Island and Castle Rock

We left on the afternoon trip with the thought of searching to the south again for whales. The whales we had seen earlier in the day had not been spotted for almost four hours, and we knew it was pretty bumpy down there, but no other reports had come in, so we put out a huge search pattern to show our guests whales. Carl spotted a Steller sea lion hauled out on a marker in the middle of the Strait and lined us up for some nice photos. We passed by Smith and Minor Islands to watch over a hundred harbor seals hauled out on the spit and an immature bald eagle. We searched back to the west when one of our regulars, Marcie, let us know that she had smelled the awful aroma of a whale nearby. We slowed and then two passengers spotted what was likely a minke whale in the wind waves. This whale never showed itself again, and we were about to start heading back out on the search when Carl called out that we had a report to the west and we were going to be home late! Great news! Another boat had found the same orcas we had seen earlier in the day in a totally different location. We were on it! Finding whales for our folks was the goal and we were about to deliver! These guys were making circles west of Hein Bank for our entire visit and we had some really nice looks at the youngest calf especially at the end of our encounter. We slowed down at Castle Rock toward the end of the trip and enjoyed the sunset as we made our way home.

-Michael Colahan

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Orcas Close to Home in Port Angeles!

Port Angeles AM:


Transients at Ediz Hook

New killer whale calf

Sunny skies

It was another great day for whale-watching in the Pacific Northwest!  The rains from yesterday have passed making way for blue skies.  Just like yesterday morning’s trip, we were able to find whales very early into the trip just off Ediz Hook.   This was a group of six transient killer whales including an adult male and what appeared to be a very young calf!  Seabirds and harbor seals were in no short supply either, but most of our time was spent observing the orcas, the top predators in the ocean.

Stay tuned for a more detailed report with photos and animal ID’s soon!

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Port Angeles

Highlights PM trip

5 Transient Orcas
Harbor Seals
Rhinocerous Auklets, Common Murres
1 very unlucky Harbor Porpoise calf

    The rain held off as we headed out for our evening trip. The Harbor Seals  were still hauled out on the log floats seemingly unmoving from the morning. We toured the harbor on the way out with a mission to catch up with our transient orcas still westward bound from our morning trip.Everyone was game  for the trip and what a trip it would be. The seas lay flat and visibility was good but we had a long way to go to catch orcas moving at a good 6 knot clip. We passes the Elwha Valley, Freshwater Bay. Crescent Bay and Agate Beach and still we kept on going. The further west we went the more the weather looked ominous and we did run into some showers but on we pressed until we finally had them in sight … 5 transient orcas. wanting to spend as much time as we could with them after coming all this we we continued westward watching them  as they surfaced on one side then the other  heading to a destination only they would know.
    Suddenly things took a turn and it looked like a hunting party had formed with the two males  together and the mom, calf and other youngster forming a second group.Thr group of three dove then the two males circled  and dove and a chase was on. From out of nowhere a small baby porpoise appeared running for his life  with two giant male orcas in pursuit yet they seemed to be toying with him  letting him run then getting  right up behind him. This went on and on  the little porpoise surfacing just out of range until one male was swimmming upside down at our stern  underwater while the other male made a sharp turn right towards our port side. The huge male sliced down the side of our boat trapping the harbor porpoise up against the boat and then making a huge lunge grabbed him and then they were both gone. The two males surface on the other side of the boat beelining it to the Northwest presumably to meet up with the other three orcas whom we never saw again. In a heartbeat the chase was over and no ore was seen of our little porpoise. It was an amazing experience of a lifetime for our guests and crew in a close encounter with apex predators that we won’t soon forget.

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T77 and T75B Transient Pods

Anacortes AM:

Trip Highlights:
*7 Transient Killer Whales from the T77s, and T75B pods
*Harbor seals
*Bald eagles, and turkey vultures feast on a kill
*Fallow deer

Naturalist’s Log:
      We had quite the journey today into Canada.  After a windy start to the trip we cruised in to look at some harbor seals at Pointer Island, and then we slipped into Thatcher Pass to avoid the wind and waves to the south.  We exited the San Juan Islands on the northwest corner and crossed Haro Strait to reach a pod of transient (Bigg’s) killer whales.  As soon as we arrived I recognized T77B, a 16 year old male, that was traveling with the rest of his family, the T77s, and the T75Bs.  We had T75B, T75B2, T77, T77B, T77C, T77D, and T77’s newest calf T77E!  We had them just at the north end of Sidney Island in Canada.
     These 7 whales swam in a pretty straight line at first, but then they decided to make a turn during a long dive, and they swam right up toward us.  We had a great view of the whales as we let them cross over from one side of the boat to the other.  We had some great views of little T77E at that point.  These whales continued to zig-zag while we watched them swim close together.  Eventually we had to say goodbye, but on our way back home we found more bald eagles, and some fallow deer at Spieden Island!  What a day!  Naturalist Bart Rulon

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