On December 31st, we were incredibly fortunate to have two transient orca encounters on the last day of 2017. During our first encounter, we got to spend some time with the T49As, T75Bs, and T75Cs as they slowly traveled up Boundary Pass together. In tow were three newish calves. All three of the adult females (T49A, T75B, and T75C) had given birth to a calf in late 2017! Then the T18s (one of my favorite transient matrilines) were found along the west side of San Juan Island. We left the T49As, T75Bs, and T75Cs in rough seas off of East Point, Saturna Island and headed for the T18s.
We joined up with the T18s a little north of Lime Kiln State Park. T18 and T19B were hunting close to shore while T19 and T19C were paralleling them slightly offshore. As they neared Open Bay, T18 and T19B searched for prey deep into the bay while T19 and T19C may have made a quick kill offshore. All four then joined up, took us past Henry Island, and into Spieden Channel. Once in the channel, T19 and T19C dropped back and poked around out Sentinel Island while T18 and T19B continued on, hugging the San Juan Island shoreline. Near Davison Head, it appeared that they made short work of a harbor seal but they did not celebrate their kill. Instead, they quietly traveled toward Green Point, Spieden Island. We still could not spot T19 and T19C behind us. As T18 and T19B approached Green Point, many Steller sea lions could be seen both in the water and resting on the rocky point. I wondered if T18 and T19B were going to attempt an attack but they just casually passed by the nervous sea lions and aimed for Flattop Island. This could have been a distraction.
We finally spotted T19 and T19C behind us. The two moved in toward the point and found a sea lion in the water. T19 started ramming the sea lion while T19C took a swipe occasionally. Suddenly, T18 and T19B rushed past us and immediately joined in the hunt. T18 started ramming the sea lion and T19B joined in a few times as well. The sea lion ever so slowly started making its way toward the Spieden Island shoreline while trying to dodge the swipes by the hungry orcas.
Amazingly, he made it to shore and climbed onto a rock to rest. However, there were still many sea lions in the water and the T18s turned their attention to them. The sea lions gathered tightly together in the water and held their heads high into the air in an attempt to keep track of the orcas. With the sun about to set, we had to leave but not before a sea lion stampede erupted in the water as they fled in fear of the orcas. We are not sure if the T18s successfully killed a sea lion after we left. This was my second time ever seeing transients attack a sea lion, the first time being back in 2013.
My first orca encounter for 2018 was with the T100s, some of the T124As, and T124C in Haro Strait on January 3rd. This encounter can also be viewed on the Center for Whale Research’s encounters 2018 page here.
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