2021 Encounters

Encounter #51 - Aug 12, 2021
T101B, showing some of his interesting rake marks

T101B, showing some of his interesting rake marks

Photo by Michael Weiss

T101A changes direction and heads towards the research vessel

T101A changes direction and heads towards the research vessel

Photo by Charli Grimes

T101A takes a close pass while the vessel is shut down

T101A takes a close pass while the vessel is shut down

Photo by Michael Weiss

T101 and T101A in the kelp

T101 and T101A in the kelp

Photo by Michael Weiss

T101s

T101s

Photo by Michael Weiss

T101 and T101A

T101 and T101A

Photo by Michael Weiss

Brothers T101A and T101B

Brothers T101A and T101B

Photo by Michael Weiss

T101B

T101B

Photo by Charli Grimes

T101

T101

Photo by Charli Grimes

T101 and T101B

T101 and T101B

Photo by Charli Grimes

T77C leaves the group, heading west

T77C leaves the group, heading west

Photo by Charli Grimes

UW research team with fecal sample (likely from T101B)

UW research team with fecal sample (likely from T101B)

Photo by Michael Weiss

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Photos taken under Federal Permits

NMFS PERMIT: 21238/ DFO SARA 388

Date: 12-Aug-21

Sequence: 1

Encounter Number: 51

Enc Start Time: 13:10

Enc End Time: 16:23

Vessel: Orcinus

Observers: Michael Weiss, Charli Grimes, Flora Miles

Pods or ecotype: Transients

Location: Haro Strait

Begin Lat/Long: 48 27.573 N/123 04.559 W

End Lat/Long: 48 33.015 N/123 10.363 W

Encounter Summary:

In the late morning, reports came through on the radio of a large group of killer whales off the south side of San Juan Island, with tentative IDs indicating that the group may contain several Bigg’s matrilines that the CWR hadn’t yet photographed this year. Michael, Charli, and Flora left the harbor at 12:44 to head down island to search for this group, planning to do photo ID passes and drone follows.

At 13:10, the team arrived on scene southwest of False Bay, with a group of 4 whales. The team identified the whales as T101, T101A, and T101B, with a single extra whale, all headed slowly southeast following the San Juan shoreline. After reviewing photos, the team later identified the extra whale as T77C, who had been travelling with his sister T77D and T49A2 for the last few days, but had apparently broken off from these two to visit with the T101s.

As the team tried to get in position for photo ID passes, the whales exhibited dive times of 3 to 5 minutes, and made zig-zagging direction changes, eventually flipping and heading back north towards False Bay. The whales split into two groups, the leaders being T101 and T77C, and the followers being T101A and T101B. The team got into position for a photo ID pass on T101A and T101B. As the team paralleled the whales, the whales made a direction change and headed for the boat. The team shut off the engine to allow the whales to pass by them, before heading for the leading group.
As the team made their way to the leaders, T77C broke off from the group, heading west. Luckily, Charli managed to get a couple frames of him as he left, allowing us to identify him later. After T77C left, the T101s formed back up into a single group, and made their way further inshore. After a few more minutes of paralleling the whales, the University of Washington research vessel Moja arrived on scene to begin looking for fecal samples. The CWR team backed away from the whales to launch their drone to do behavioral observations and search for fecal samples, while Moja followed behind the whales at about 400 hundred yards.

The whales hugged the shoreline tightly, swimming and rolling through kelp forests as they made their way up the San Juan coast. As they approached the Lime Kiln lighthouse at 15:20, the team landed the drone to respect the half mile exclusion zone around the park. After the drone landed, the team learned that Moja had found a fecal sample, a very rare event when studying Bigg’s killer whales.

The team met up with the T101s north of Lime Kiln, as the whales continued to hug the shoreline. After one more research flight, the team ended the encounter at 16:23, waiting for the whales to pass the mouth of Mitchell Bay before tucking in behind them to head towards the dock at Snug.