• Encounter #43 - May 12, 2016 •
Photo by Dave Ellifrit
Photo by Dave Ellifrit
Photo by Ken Balcomb
Photo by Dave Ellifrit
Photos taken under Federal Permits
NMFS PERMIT: 15569/ DFO SARA 288
Begin Lat/Long: End Lat/Long:
1 & 2
Orcinus and Tonto
Dave Ellifrit in Orcinus, Ken Balcomb in Tonto
T68, T68A, T68B2, T73B
southeastern Juan de Fuca Strait
48 10.82/123 05.88
48 10.90/123 05.72
There had been a morning report of two groups of transients heading east a little west of Race Rocks. Some of these whales were re-found later in the morning southeast of Race Rocks. As the whales got closer to Dungeness Spit and no positive ID on the whales had yet been made, Dave finally decided to go take a look to see who they were. Tom and Jane Cogan left aboard their boat Morning Star about thirty minutes ahead of Dave. Dave headed down to Snug Harbor and left aboard Orcinus at 1300. After a quick trip to Roche Harbor to top the boat off with fuel, Dave headed south in the general direction of where the boats were with the transients and finally made it on scene at 1455.
The whales were a couple of miles west of Dungeness Spit and were heading slowly but steadily east. The whales turned out to be T68, T68A, T68B2, and T73B. While all four have visited the central Salish Sea before, none of them are particularly regular visitors to the area. That could change in the future. About ten minutes after Orcinus arrived, the group of four split into two groups of two with T68 and T73B traveling together up to a half mile north of T68A and T68B2. The two pairs paralleled each others course for the next twenty minutes before they started to join up again about a half mile north of the east tip of Dungeness Spit. The whales milled a bit as they came together and then all of them went down on a very long dive. They came up over six minutes later just on the inside of the spit heading southwest. The whales went on another long dive and came up just off the lighthouse. T68, T68A, and T68B2 were in the midst of a kill while T73B was a couple hundred yards away heading slowly in the direction of others. While Dave never saw exactly what the whales killed, it was probably a harbor seal although there is a slight possibility that it was a harbor porpoise. They definitely made a kill, though, as blubber oil could be smelled on the rising breeze and T68A was photographed diving into a plume of blood. The whales milled around in the same spot for a few minutes and T68A spy hopped once before all four whales continued slowly east. Since Tom kept mentioning an impending rising wind with a small craft advisory attached, Dave ended the encounter soon after at 1612 a little east of the tip of Dungeness Spit before beginning an over hour long bumpy boat ride home. Ken was coming out in Tonto from the John Wayne Marina and arrived on scene a short time later with help from 4-Ever-Wild and another boat or two who stayed with the whales.
Dave responded in “Orcinus” to a report of Transient killer whales heading East in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in mid-day and encountered them near Dungeness Spit around 1500 where they consumed at least one harbor seal. Meanwhile, Ken was hauling “Chimo” at John Wayne Marina and delivering it to Port Townshend for routine service. Fortuitously, the whales came around inside the tip of the Spit to the vicinity of the lighthouse, foraging and lingering before moving back into the Strait of Juan de Fuca; and, they had delayed long enough for Ken to return to John Wayne Marina and set out in “Tonto” for delivery back to Snug Harbor, with a brief stopover to have a second encounter sequence with the whales. By the time “Tonto” arrived on scene the whales were about three miles east of the Spit and still foraging. The sea conditions had deteriorated and small craft warnings were issued for the Eastern Strait for winds 15-25 knots, making things quite sloppy. One hapless harbor seal was in the process of learning its position in the food chain, and “Tonto” was bouncing around wildly as the lessons progressed to culmination. It is quite remarkable that all of the pinniped foraging events we have observed with Transient killer whales follow roughly the same theme: beat up the prey with ramming, fluke thrashing, and body slamming for awhile, but usually do not actually bite it until it is completely worn out, unconscious, or drowned. They seem to be well aware that the prey can bite back, and perhaps they would prefer the prey item not be able to bite their eyes or head. Deep scratches on the body from tooth-bites from both the prey and other killer whales are common, and they happen to be convenient for our photo-identification studies; but, our ID catalogues must be up-dated as the scratches accumulate and heal, and the whales mature. For example, T73B looks much larger and his fin even more wobbly than when we last saw him in 2011, but we can still see some of the scars that distinguished him when he was younger. He is now 25 years old, but has rarely been photo-documented. We also encountered him in 2008 and 2010, and I first saw him as a youngster in Hood Canal in 2002 when a group of seven T’s spent a month there cropping the harbor seal population. With such a long interval between sightings, he is one of those whales we are happy to see filling in our data sheets on this remarkable species with many ecotypes. Somebody should write a book.