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.