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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Transients in Thatcher Pass and Off Decatur

Today, no fewer than four separate groups of transient orcas were found in the region. It seems we always get a lot of "Ts" in the area in August, in theory because harbor seal pups are now weaned and make easy targets for these marine mammal feeders. We saw the same group of five Ts on both trips I worked today: in the morning in Thatcher Pass off Lopez Island, and in the afternoon off Decatur Island.

There were three females and two juveniles in the group, but I'm still not sure which specific whales they are. We don't see transients as often so I'm not very familiar with them (I don't think I've ever seen this group), plus we didn't have an up-to-date ID guide with us at the time. I'm going to hazard a guess and say the T60s were at least part of the group, but I've sent some photos to the Center for Whale Research in hopes of an ID confirmation.

Seeing the whales in Thatcher Pass was a little bit chaotic since its a narrow channel heavily trafficked by private boaters. It was beautiful, however, to see the whales along the shoreline with their blows contrasting against the dark cliffs behind:

Transients are known for zigging and zagging rather than swimming in a straight line, which means you never really know where they are going to surface after they come up from a long dive. We got a special treat as one female passed right alongside the boat, the others not far away from her off our port side. Here she is approaching:

Then, she swam alongside the boat and we could see her underwater. I love this artsy shot of her dorsal fin and saddle patch under the surface:

In an amazingly rare moment of what I can only call mutual curiosity, when she was right off the bow she actually rolled and turned her head to look up at us looking down at her. It's captured only as a still frame in my mind, but it's a split second I'll never forget, where you could see her whole head as she momentarily paused to, I assume, look at us. She then continued on her way, and surfaced again swimming away:

While they were traveling all over the place unpredictably this morning, this afternoon they were in slow travel mode which allowed us to parallel nicely alongside of the whole group. That made for a chance to get some better ID shots. Here's the younger calf in the group, surfacing right behind mom:

Here's the other, slightly larger/older juvenile, surfacing in the foreground with the other two females behind it. Both these females have notches in their fins - one distinct, one almost imperceptible - which should make identification easier. The one on the right looks like it could be T60C, and I heard some others talking about these possibly being the T60s, so I'll report back if that is confirmed.

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