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Monday, June 17, 2013

The T65As and T75Bs

For several days there's been a group of seven transient (Bigg's) killer whales roaming the area; on Friday they went right into downtown Vancouver and were seen off Stanley Park! Sunday morning I was excited to hear that they were seen right outside of Friday Harbor. They made their way south down San Juan Channel, and we headed down to Cattle Point to try and see them. As we reached the south end of the island, I was surprised to see whale-watching boats very deep in Griffin Bay, practically along the shoreline! Instead of waiting at Cattle Point we went to Third Lagoon, where we saw the whales from shore - never thought I'd see killer whales from there!

The group of whales was made up of the T65As (female T65A and her three living offspring) as well as T75B, her offspring T75B1, and her sibling T75C. Originally called transients because they roamed more widely, there's an effort under way to get them commonly referenced as Bigg's killer whales after pioneering killer whale researcher Mike Bigg. They're marine mammal eating whales as opposed to J, K, and L Pods who eat exclusively fish. Below is the family tree of the seven whales (T75 and T75A were not present) taken from the 2012 Bigg's killer whale ID guide available for download here.
After the whales rounded Cape San Juan, we headed back to Cattle Point, hoping they would stay close to shore. Instead, they veered out to go around Goose Island, but it's always pretty special to be able to see transients from shore. They also often do different sorts of behaviors than resident killer whales - I've seen them swimming backwards, for instance, and this one did the slowest cartwheel I've ever seen. That black line that looks like a log to the bottom left of the whale was actually a seal, hoping the whales moved on before the tide got too much higher:

There were a lot of seals in Cattle Pass, but the whales didn't seem to interested. Word was they had made a kill, maybe a harbor porpoise, shortly before we saw them. Here was another seal more concerned with looking at us than looking at the seal-eating whales out beyond him:

As the whales headed out the pass into the choppy waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we turned our attention to all the birds that were around feeding along the shoreline and in the water. It's not the best picture, but look at this black oystercatcher whose beak curves to his right:

We got a few closer looks when the oystercatchers took flight, coming right by where we stood on the rocks:

Also, we see harlequin ducks all the time, but I usually don't get too close to them. This is probably the best picture I've ever been able to get of them when they, too, passed right by where we were:

While walking back to the car, I saw a huge orange moth. When it landed it quickly hid under some leaves, but I'm pretty sure it's a banded woollybear (Pyrrharctia isabella), which we see much more commonly as the black and orange caterpillars in the spring and fall.

Today, after a week without resident killer whale sightings, word was that L-Pod returned, so hopefully I'll get to see them sometime later this week. I will of course report back here :)

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