Transient orcas visiting northwest waters in record number

May 18, 2016

Transient off Morsby Island, BC. Photo by Capt. and Naturalist Heather MacIntyre, Maya's Legacy Whale Watching, Friday Harbor, WA.

Now deemed “resident transients,” mammal-eating orcas are becoming familiar visitors to northwest waters.

“I remember Dr. John Ford (head of the Cetacean Research Program at the Pacific Biological Station) telling me at least 10 years ago that by this time we’d start seeing an influx of transient killer whales in the Salish Sea, and he was right,” explained Capt. Mark Malleson, of Prince of Whales Whale Watching.

Scientists and whale watchers report that a boom in the pinniped population — seals and sea lions –means a set table for the orcas.

And it’s not just pinnipeds they prey on.

In early April, a Pacific Whale Watching Association crew even reported a young transient killer whale attacking two 40-ton gray whales in Puget Sound.

PWWA reports the orcas, also called Bigg’s killer whale T60D, are all business at mealtime, coming onto the scene swiftly, in small groups and without a sound.

About 320 individually identified transient killer whales swim along the West Coast of North America.

The seeming increase of prey resources for the “resident transient” orcas are a contrast to 84 endangered wild Southern Resident orcas, who face declining salmon supplies as they rebuild their ranks.

“As we say, if you’ve got fish, you’ve got blackfish — the rezzies (Southern Resident orcas) — and since we’ve got lots of seals and sea lions now, we’ve got the Bigg’s,” Harris said.

“And even though the transient killer whales carry the highest load of toxins of any marine mammal on the planet, even higher than the resident orcas, they seem to be doing pretty well.  Fat whales, lots of babies, no gender imbalance in the calves, behavior that indicates the population is thriving. It’s proof that if we get food in the water for these orcas, we can buy some time to deal with these other threats.”



Evidence points to orca attack in whale that washed ashore on Sonoma Coast

May 17, 2016

A dead gray whale calf that washed ashore Monday on the Sonoma Coast appears to have been the victim of a violent orca attack that was caught on video by local fishermen two days earlier.

That’s the conclusion of experts at the California Academy of Science, who said photos of the juvenile male whale show a distinctively notched flipper, as well as a whitish patch, that appears to match one seen on video of the attack.

The finding, reported Tuesday, gave no solace to Petaluma resident Dane Monell, who, with friend Kevin Loughman, filmed the remarkable marine encounter Saturday, when a mother gray whale and her calf were attacked again and again by killer whales off the central Sonoma Coast.

“To watch the event was so, kind of, horrific,” Monell said Tuesday.

Such incidents are not rare, and many West Coast orca attacks have been caught on camera. But few have been recorded at such close proximity, especially on the Sonoma Coast.

“It gave me a whole new understanding of orcas,” Loughman said. “They’re relentless. When they were on the surface, and the mother was getting her body between them and the baby, they’d go underwater and come up from below. And when she would go under to protect her baby, they would come over the top, and press it down.”

A screen grab from their video and other stills of the young male whale that came ashore at South Salmon Creek Beach on Monday appeared to resolve the short-lived mystery. It could have been otherwise, however, as the calf’s body was pulled back out by the waves Monday before an expert could examine it.

Killer Whales Hunting Gray Whales, Video

April 23, 2016

There’s a reason they’re called “killer whales.”

A video posted to YouTube shows a group of at least seven killer whales chasing and attacking two gray whales – a mother and her calf. Onlookers said that the mother put up a brave fight, but unfortunately she was unable to save her baby.

The hunt lasted hours and covered several miles, just off the shore in Monterey. According to Monterey Bay Whale Watch, who shot the video, footage showing killer whales in predatory action so close to people is rare.

In the last month, however, the giant whales have been flocking to hunt on  ammals in the Monterey Bay. It’s likely they were tracing the migration patterns of gray whale calves and mothers from Baja, Mexico.

Those who recorded the video say that the mother gray whale, who survived the attack, circled the area and charged the whales after baby perished.


Spectacular footage shows dolphins fleeing orca ambush

April 19, 2016

Dolphins flee an orca attack in waters off California.

Michael Sack, co-owner of Sanctuary Cruises, said there had been an “almost unprecedented” run of daily orca sightings in April.

He said he “just happened to be in the right spot at the right time” to witness the ambush by a group of eight to 10 orcas, who usually attack gray whale mother and calf pairs.

“They’re right under here waiting to ambush these common dolphins coming our way. So in a second you’re going to see all of these common dolphins take off like you’ve never seen before,” he says in the video.

One dolphin is then killed by an orca, sparking what Mr Sack calls a “stampede”.

“Look at them all! They’re running right now. This is a pretty epic encounter I just had,” he says.

Mr Sack later wrote on YouTube that it was “very rare that everything comes together and we’re able to document these types of encounters”.

“We know it happens regularly with the common dolphins. But there’s rarely someone there with their video camera focused and waiting for it to happen. Incredible morning on The Monterey Bay for me,” he said.


Orca sightings spike in Monterey Bay

April 15, 2016

Monterey Bay Whale Watching companies are reporting record sightings of orcas in the bay this spring.

“We’ve had record sightings of killer whales over last few weeks, and they attacked and fed on the second gray whale of season this week,” said Nancy Black with Monterey Bay Whale Watch in a message to Action News.

Black said she has been studying them for 30 years and this is the best year so far.

“It is one of the best years I’ve seen as far as orcas,” said Keith Stemler with Chris’ Fishing and Whale Watching.

Stemler and others have been capturing incredible photographs and videos of the animals and he said the whales have been out every day for the past five days.

“I have seen more orcas in the past month, month and a half, then I have in the past number of years,” Stemler said.

Naturalists with Princess Monterey Whale Watching said spring is the time when Orcas are in the Monterey Bay, because they hunt baby gray whale migrating through our waters this time of year.

“They are usually moving through here in the spring time, over our deep water canyon, and the canyon makes for a great place for the orcas to ambush the gray whales,” said Kelsey Haynes a naturalist with Princess Monterey Whale Watching.

Haynes said she and other biologists don’t know what is behind the big numbers we are seeing this spring.

“It could have something to do with the El Nino, because we did have some pretty significant changes in the water temperatures, and even in our small schooling fish counts,” Haynes said.

Stemler thinks there are more krill out in the bay helping the food chain from the bottom up, but no one has a definite answer yet.

One thing Stemler did know for sure, if you are a killer whale fan, now may be your best shot at seeing them in the Monterey Bay.

“They are the top of the food chain here, they are incredibly intelligent, you know I’ve never witnessed anything like it until I came out here and saw it,” he said.

Chris’ Fishing and Whale Watching  and Princess Monterey Whale Watching didn’t boats going out on Friday because of the high surf advisory, but it is likely Saturday and Sunday will be busy with calm warm weather predicted.