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Monday, March 12, 2018

Part 2: An Epic Encounter With the T2Cs

Now that you've met the T2Cs in my previous post, the stage is set for the amazing encounter we had with them from shore at Reuben Tarte County Park!

Perhaps in part because they travel slow on account of Tumbo, when the T2Cs show up they seem to hang around for many days at a time. I actually got to see them three times over the course of five days. First, on March 7th, as they passed Reuben Tarte:

Second, on March 9th as they headed north past San Juan County Park:

But the real encounter for the ages was on the morning of Sunday, March 11th when word came in from a friend of a small group of orcas heading north from near Friday Harbor. When we got out to Reuben Tarte County Park, we were one of the first ones there, but more and more "orcaholics" gathered on the shoreline over the next hour. Blows were visible well to the south and it was clear they were heading in our direction, but very slowly. Before they were anywhere near close enough to ID, I just had the feeling it was the T2Cs again, and that it would be worth the wait.

Watching through binoculars, it was at first the mom and three offspring traveling together with Tumbo trailing behind. As they approached O'Neal Island, however, T2C1 Rocky split off to travel with Tumbo, and they headed out into San Juan Channel while T2C Tasu and her two youngest offspring went inside of O'Neal. The three whales were closer to shore and reached us first, but when they surfaced right in front of us they stalled out. My guess is they either corralled a seal or perhaps pinned one to the bottom, because the two brothers immediately reacted. Both Rocky and Tumbo picked up speed and became surface active on their way towards the others. 

Inverted tail slap from T2C1 Rocky

Rocky reached the group first and my somewhat educated but still wild guess is that he and the others were taking turns pinning the seal to the bottom. Mom and the two youngsters would surface while Rocky disappeared on a long dive, and then vice versa. Meanwhile, as he so often does, Tumbo held back, nearby, but not part of the action. Then, I don't know if the seal bolted or if they already had it, but all of them veered towards shore right where we were all gathered on the rocks.

Heading right for us!

Baby T2C4 did a series of dolphin leaps - always such a cool thing to see from an orca!

They all came in for an ultra-close pass - here are some zoomed out photos to give a little perspective.

And some zoomed in shots of whales, up close and personal!

T2C Tasu

Love it when you can see them underwater!

Underside of a tail fluke
T2C3 Lucy and T2C4 - an amazing perspective to get, especially from shore!
T2C1 Rocky
If we had any doubts about whether their hunt had been successful, our questions were soon answered. Gulls started coming down to the surface to look for scraps, and a bald eagle even swooped down and grabbed a piece of meat from the surface!

Gulls coming in to enjoy the spoils
But the most compelling proof was when one whale surfaced with intestines draped over their back - kinda gives a new meaning to "playing with your food"!

I'm not sure if they made more than one kill or were just enjoying the celebration, but it was clear they weren't in any hurry to go anywhere, and as they drifted a little ways off the rocks, the whole group got more surface active with tail slaps, spy hops, and breaches.

Tail slap from T2C2 Rocky

Just when it looked like they were going to go north, they turned and started coming back towards us. In the end, they were "milling and killing" right off Reuben Tarte for just over an hour!

Big size difference: 16 year-old Rocky and 1.5 year old T2C4

Mama T2C Tasu

They eventually did make their way back south down San Juan Channel, leaving all the human observers breathless on the shoreline. There were smiles all around!

1 comment:

Vera said...

WOW!!!! I am thrilled that you had such an encounter and also really enjoyed the last blog about their history. Amazing creatures!