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Friday, September 7, 2012

Transients Near Trial

After a crispness in the air earlier this week that definitely felt like fall, we were back to summer-like weather today. With a half day at work, I decided to go out on the Western Prince this afternoon. The resident whales, who made a quick appearance in inland waters yesterday, were already on their way back out the Strait this morning (not a good sign for local fish numbers). We left the dock without a whale report, but as is always the case, you never know what you're going to see until you see it!

In San Juan Channel we came across a nice bait ball of fish that were actually visible under the water. Glaucous-winged, California, and Heermann's gulls were in the vicinity, as were three harbor seals. Seals tend to be skittish on land, but in the water they can be quite curious, as these three were today.

We headed out through Cattle Pass into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where there were lots of seabirds hanging out in the glassy calm waters, including lots of rhinoceros auklets and common murres. Here's one murre out a little further in the Strait, where the waters weren't quite that flat but still pleasant to be boating on:

The view back towards Mt. Baker from out there was a stunning one: 

We also saw both harbor porpoise and Dall's porpoise out there, and were just starting to look for minke whales when we got a report of transients over near Victoria, BC. Off we went! We cruised out west, passing Trial Island and the Trial Island Lighthouse along the way:

 We caught up with the T10s right off the coastline. This family group is made up of three whales. The mom, T10 Langara, was estimated to be born before 1963. Her two living sons are T10B Siwash (age 29) and T10C Bones (age 13). Not all transient orcas have names like residents do, but some of the commonly seen groups have been named by the Vancouver Aquarium for their wild killer whale adoption program. When we got on scene, the whales were really close to shore, wowing viewers who had pulled over to watch. It's almost hard to see the dorsal fins against the rocks:

Although these whales are regularly (for transients) seen in the area, this is the first time I've met this group of whales. It's always cool to see new whales and get to know their distinguishing features. It was an impressive sight to see the two brothers surfacing together. T10B is a good looking adult male with a huge dorsal fin.

Mama T10 has a huge notch in the back of dorsal fin near the base, making her unmistakable here on the left:

It's kind of odd to watch wild killer whales in such an urban setting, with so many houses in the background!

In typical transient fashion, the whales would go together on longer dives all together, and being more difficult to track, it wasn't always clear right where they were going to come up. A couple of times they surprised us by picking up speed and surfacing way up ahead. They also ducked in behind Trial Island, popping up in a bay right along off the rocks:

A couple of times we saw a bit of splashing at the surface and some non-directional swimming, so maybe they were after something. If they were, they didn't make any theatric kills as transients will sometime do. There were some harbor seals nearby in the water, and transients can be pretty efficient predators when they want to be.

We were about 25 miles from Friday Harbor at this point and had a long trek home, so all too soon it was time to leave. As we pulled away we could see the blows of the T10s lit up against Trial Island, and we got another nice view of the lighthouse with the Olympic Mountains behind it:

All in all, it was another beautiful day in the Salish Sea!


Vera said...

I'm so happy you got to experience that today. Sounds like an amazing afternoon!

Julie said...

Just read this blog... hey, i was with the T10s while up on Gil Island off the northern B.C. coast. We traveled in the boat, taking photos. Cool that they're down this way now.