Orca Whales in the San Juan and Gulf Islands

August 10 & 11, 2013
with Elston and Jackie
There are three pods of resident orcas in the San Juans. These three pods number between 80 and 90 Orcas and
feed on salmon. There is also a transient pod that comes to feed on warm blooded mammals such as seals, elephant
seals, and sea lions.

A week ago I was prepared for the worst. Salmon were so unplentiful that the Orcas had gone out to the Pacific Ocean.

Our first afternoon on the San Juans was not that promising. Just the L pod of resident Orcas and our photos were
nothing to brag about.
Sunday morning did not look promising. When we awoke it was raining. Our guide for this trip was Aaron Baggenstos, a
northwest wildlife photographer that we contacted after seeing him featured on a PBS wildlife photography show. Aaron
called our captain and came back elated.  All three Orca pods had congregated for the first time this season. Soon we
were on our small six passenger vessel headed up into Canadian waters to see this phenomena--all three pods, more
than eighty orcas at one time!

Orcas do not sleep like people.  Apparently they sleep half of their brain at one time, leaving the other half to pay attention
to where they are going.  When orcas sleep, they keep moving, and, of course, coming to the surface at regular intervals
to breath all at once.  They move in a synchronized group swimming side by side with one bull on the outside edge of the
formation who is fully awake and acts as navigator.  He communicates with the sleeping pod or sub-pod directing them to
avoid driftwood logs, rocks, boats, etc That is what we observed on Sunday morning.
There were Orcas around us in multiple directions.
The Orcas with big tails are mature males.
Did you know that an Orca eats between two to three hundred pounds a day?
As we got to the tip of one of the Canadian gulf islands, there were several
dozen people waiting to watch the orcas pass by.
It was now time for the Orcas to wake up. One of the Orcas slapped his tail to wake up the group. It was time for the Orcas
to get active. There would probably be more tail flapping, spy hopping, and breaching. Unfortunately, it was about time to
go, but Jackie did get this photo of an Orca spy hopping--a maneuver where they look around above the water.
Coming back, we encountered two members of the transient orca pod. Note then notch in the tail--maybe the result of
catching prey such as a shark. Orcas fear nothing else in the sea. They even kill blue whales, the biggest of all mammals.  
Finally we capped off the morning by seeing two humpback whales.
Our thanks to Aaron for leading us on this trip. If you like good photo instruction, book a trip with him for whales and
much else at www.AaronsTours.com.  If you just want to go with what may be the best whale watching group there is,
contact Legacy Charters at 360-378-3744. Only six people on their boats and no funny suits to wear like you do with
most of those outfitters out of Victoria.

This blue heron was there to greet us as we came and went on our boat tours.