Birthday orcas!

***WARNING: Photo-heavy post. It might take a while for all the photos to load but I think it’s probably worth it.***

EVERYONE. I got to see orcas for my birthday. It was amazing.

For those of you who don’t know, I LOVE orcas (also known as killer whales). My love of orcas actually predates my shark love by at least 15 years, if not more. Plus, Washington state is a great place to see orcas in the wild because we have a bunch of different kinds of orcas that live around here. So ever since I was a wee undergrad in Washington, I have wanted to go and see them. But I never got the chance… until this year when I told Cobalt that all I wanted for my birthday was to see the orcas.

So he and my friend Titanium put together a trip for my birthday. And then my sister (Deoxyribolove), my sister in law (she’s going by Strontium now), and our friends M and P decided they wanted to come too! Yay whale-watching party!

So this is the story of our adventure, complete with tons of pictures. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

We got up super early. Like 6 am. Then we picked up Strontium at her hotel and headed north to Anacortes, WA. There we met Titanium and her bf J and M and P at the ferry terminal! We boarded the ferry and headed to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It was a beautiful ferry ride. Not too cold, not rainy, just cloudy and cool with mountains jutting out all around us. We spent the majority of the ride outside catching up.

Strontium on the ferry.

Once at Friday Harbor, we stopped for a bite to eat. Then it was time for whales.

It was raining as we walked to the San Juan Safaris shop but it soon stopped and the rain decided to stay away for the rest of the afternoon. We met our two guides who told us about all the animals we could see on our trip: bald eagles, minke whales, orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and more! As they were talking, a bald eagle flew overhead! It was a sign…

Then we loaded onto the boat and headed out into the Salish Sea.

Titanium on the boat. So it was a little windy…
Deoxyribolove was all bundled up and ready to see some whales!!!

To give you an idea of where we were: we had to turn our cell phones to airplane mode because our they might try to pick up Canadian cell towers. So yeah, we were basically as close to Canada as we could be. At one point, we even passed the most northwest lighthouse in the United States.

Anyway, we weren’t out very long when we discovered another bald eagle. So regal up in the tree!

This seagull wanted to be photographed too. We did see other birds besides bald eagles! But most of them were too fast to be captured with my camera!

Not long after that, someone spotted tall black fins sticking up out of the water. ORCAS! Our guides quickly determined that we had found T101 (a transient/Bigg’s killer whale), her two sons (T101A and T101B), and her adopted son (T102). One way to ID an orca is to look at the dorsal fin (the one on the whale’s back). We could easily tell T101 apart from the boys because female orcas have smaller dorsal fins. But it was harder to figure out who we were looking at when it came to the boys. T102 had the biggest fin because he’s the oldest. His fin was huge and kind of wobbly (no bones in these fins!). But unless they were all in a line, it was hard to tell the other two apart.

Mother and adopted son (I think that’s T102)
I think this is T101A, but I’m not sure. He got super close to the boat so I got an up-close picture!

Time for a short killer whale lesson: there are two types of killer whales in this area: residents and transients (or Bigg’s). Residents were named because they were thought to reside only in this one area while the transients were thought to roam up and down the coast. But it turns out that both kinds can be found anywhere between Alaska and Monterey Bay, California, according to our guides. So the names “transient” and “resident” are kind of misleading. Annnnnnnyway – resident killer whales eat Chinook salmon but Bigg’s killer whales, like T101 and her family, eat everything. Especially seals. Which is what they were hunting when we found them.

So killer whales are super smart. And Bigg’s killer whales are super stealthy so they can sneak up on their prey. It was fun watching their crazy shenanigans. The water was pretty dark though so I think we missed out on most of the plotting.

They were doing all sorts of acrobatics. We kept seeing random tails stick up and slap the water.
Look at that floppy fin!

We followed the orcas at a respectful distance, slowing the boat down and/or turning off the motor when we got closer. I loved when that happened because we were drifting in our boat near these giant creatures. We could hear them breathing. It was incredible to be so close to one of my favorite animals. And I got to coexist with them. I was breathing, they were breathing. I was drifting, they were… doing whatever they were doing… It was beautiful.

At some point, we left the orcas to try to find some other critters. We saw a few porpoises but they weren’t interested in hanging out with our boat so they left. It also turns out there was a HUGE sailboat regatta happening on Saturday though so we found a lot of humans out on the water! It was fun to watch them too.

Then we found our orcas again! So we hung out with them more! By this point, we were starting to get pretty cold…

I like that it looks like this orca is hunting the sailboat.

Then it was time to start heading back to land. So we said goodbye to the orcas and tried to cram into the inside part of the boat to get warm. But the tour wasn’t over! On our way back to Friday Harbor, our guides took us past some of the other islands to look for other wildlife. We found more bald eagles, some sheep, deer, and more!

Not sure what this guy is but he looked pretty awesome standing on top of a ridge…

We arrived back at Friday Harbor tired but content after such an amazing day of hanging out with some of Washington’s finest creatures. The ferry ride back to Anacortes was filled with snacks and laughter as everyone looked over their photographs and recounted their favorite parts of the day. Everyone mostly stayed inside this time, which was good because it was SUPER windy outside. I went outside to watch the last of the sun go down and I loved the feeling of the wind on my back. It made eerie tones as it wrapped around the ferry too. It was such a neat ethereal experience to close out the day.

Well. That definitely became one of my top birthdays ever. Now it’s your turn – what’s your favorite picture? What was one of your favorite birthdays? Why was it so amazing? This bald eagle wants to know.

2 thoughts on “Birthday orcas!

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