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.
We sure had a great opening month for whale watching this year. We’ve had higher than normal numbers of gray whales returning so far and we’ve been blessed with a fair share of orca sightings too! So far we’ve seen 13 different gray whales on our trips including CRC 21, 44, 53, 56, 185, 383, 531, 723, 2249, 2255, 2259, 2261, and 2356. A few other gray whales have also been reported in the area too. It is especially exciting that many of these gray whales are relative newcomers that have decided to come back again after their initial visits to our area in 2019 and 2020. Now that some of these “newbie” whales have come back more than one time we are hopeful that they will become part of our regular “Sounder” group that visits every spring. April tends to be the peak of gray whale watching for us so its possible that we could have even more gray whales returning this month, but we will see. This is an important feeding stop for these gray whales during their migration northward. They arrive very skinny from having not eaten much while they are in the protected lagoons in Baha California, Mexico, where they are focused on mating and calving. Recent research using drone photography has shown that these gray whale’s body condition can improve significantly in the manner of only a few weeks time. Ghost shrimp, or sand shrimp are believed to be the primary target for these hungry gray whales while they are here and they feed mostly around high tide when the intertidal zone is accessible to them.
Besides having larger numbers of gray whales we’ve also had plenty of transient killer whale sightings too. Since our spring gray whale trips are only 2 1/2 hours long the orcas have to be relatively close to the prime gray whale habitat for us to be able to “double up” with two species in one trip. Luckily transient killer whales also like some of the same waterways as our grays and they have been close by on several occasions for our trips. So far this year we’ve seen the T46 pod, T65A pod, T77 pod, and the T137 pod. All of those pods are frequent visitors to Puget Sound except for the T77 pod which accompanied the veteran T65A pod when they visited us in March. Enjoy some photos here from our first month of trips.