2022 has been a great year for new Bigg’s killer whale calves being born. Here is another little one that we saw numerous times this year. T49A6 was born early in 2022 and the mom is T49A (Nan). This is Nan’s 6th offspring, and so far she’s had 4 boys, and one girl. We don’t know the gender of the new calf yet. Enjoy some photos of T49A6 with the family from our last sighting of the pod on Oct 29!
We often tell passengers that you never know when one of those National Geographic moments might happen. April 9 we had one of those extraordinary moments just outside of Edmonds. The day started out with lots of promise when Captain Trevor spotted transient killer whales circling around at Possession Point about an hour before our trip even started. Once underway we found the T65A pod, and part of the T77 pod within 5 minutes and noticed they hadn’t moved at all since Trevor’s first spotting.
It was obvious, by all the birds circling above them they were eating a meal. They continued to eat their meal for our entire visit and towards the end a few of the orcas started punting large pieces of their prey 20-30 feet into the air! Killer whales punt stuff by turning upside down and swiping their tail flukes at their target. This is a tactic they often use to stun and injure their prey while it’s still alive, but they are also known to do this as a potential form of sport. There were plenty of “swing and a miss” moments, but the black and whites also hit their target on a handful of occasions, sending the skin/blubber flying high.
At that point we started to speculate what the prey might have been and the evidence pointed towards a very large animal such as a small minke whale or an elephant seal. The tremendous size of the oil slick on the surface of the water was one clue, as it was much larger than normal. The color of the skin on the prey remnants they were kicking into the air did not match harbor seal, Steller sea lion, California sea lion, or harbor porpoise (their most common prey items). The best color matches seemed to be for a minke whale or an elephant seal. Elephant seals are rare but we definitely see them in that area of Puget Sound from time to time. Minke whales are also rare in that area, but two of them were spotted nearby just the day before. Perhaps we will never know what they did kill on that day but its always fun to speculate and lean on past experiences to try and come up with an answer. Enjoy some pictures from the punt-fest.
On July 11 we witnessed the T37A pod attack a pod of harbor porpoise just north of Greenbank on the eastern side of Whidbey Island. The hunt started out like many other killer whale hunts do with the black and white predators spreading out and swimming very stealthily along. We could see a pod of harbor porpoise surfacing about a quarter mile in front of them. The anticipation built with each minute of their next 2-3 minute dive. The silence was finally broken when the 6 killer whales started bursting out of the water, speed swimming, towards the porpoise! The Chase was on!
It only took a few minutes before the T37A pod had the porpoise surrounded (possibly 2 of them) and they were circling around it trying to injure the animal/s for the final kill. They did knock the porpoise airborne on a couple of occasions using their powerful tail flukes. T37A, the mom, seemed to linger off to the side while she let her offspring do much of the finishing work on their prospective meal. Even the youngest members of the pod tried to be an active part of the hunt.
Towards the end of the hunt, when it was all but obvious that the porpoise would become lunch, T37A3 came launching out of the water 3 times in a row revealing that he is a boy! Up to this point researchers didn’t know the sex of this 7 year old animal, but this encounter made it pretty obvious! I sent copies of the pictures to researchers in Washington and Canada so that they could update their ID catalogs with the sex of this growing boy for future reference. As always these photos are available for purchase in print form or digitally