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UAV Encounter #3 - June 22, 2023
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ObservBegin:01:05 PM

ObservEnd:03:06 PM


UAV ID:Columbia

Pilot:Michael Weiss

Operators:Michael Weiss

Other Staff:Dave Ellifrit

Other Observers:Alyssa Kelley, Federica Spina


LocationDescr:southern haro Strait, eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca

Start Latitude:48 23.22

Start Longitude:122 55.68

End Latitude:48 15.71

End Longitude:122 59.79



The team was working in the office when we heard about a group of Bigg’s killer whales coming down Rosario Strait and around the bottom of Lopez Island. Since it was a nice day, and at least some of the whales present were not regular visitors (the T85s) to the area this time of year, we decided to go out to get some ID photos and drone footage. We gathered our gear, met at Snug Harbor, and left in the boat at 1222. We arrived on scene at 1305 off the western edge of MacArthur Bank.

The whales were loosely spread out and traveling quickly south-southwest. A single easternmost whale, or possibly a pair, sped past us and away. A chance photo revealed it to be T137D. T137B had also been reported to have been present earlier. T85 and T85D were the next easternmost whales and they also sped past. This pair soon came back to the rest of the group and all the whales tightened up some. The other whales were the T46B1s, T46C2, and T85B and everyone pointed westerly for a little while before they stopped to mill for a couple of minutes. The team took the opportunity to launch the drone and start recording video for behavioral analysis.

After the whales finished milling they began heading quickly southwest for another ten or so minutes before stopping again to mill. After another five minutes of intense milling, the whales began traveling quickly again, this time to the south-southwest. Shortly thereafter, the whales started a short breaching extravaganza with many belly flops, cartwheels, and breaches.

We had the drone in the air at the time and post encounter analysis revealed that someone (it appeared to be T85 since she was observed with the seal firs) had caught a seal, probably during the last milling session. T85 passed the seal to T85B, who passed it back to her, and then the group started breaking their prey up into pieces to eat.

There was one more brief episode of milling before the whales commenced traveling again, doing some zig-zags between southwest and south-south west. We ended the encounter at 1506 near Eastern Bank. On the way home we found a single humpback whale off False Bay. It was pointed north towards Pile Point but was not surfacing much or fluking so we soon left it and headed home.

Photos taken under Federal Permits


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