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‘Astounding’ number of Bigg’s killer whales spotted in Salish Sea on Thursday

UPDATED: Mon., April 4, 2022

Whale watchers in Washington state and British Columbia spotted a Salish Sea-record 72 Bigg’s killer whales Thursday. Brothers T101A “Rush” and T101B “Lagoon” were spotted by Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching.  (Courtesy of Ellie Sawyer)
Whale watchers in Washington state and British Columbia spotted a Salish Sea-record 72 Bigg’s killer whales Thursday. Brothers T101A “Rush” and T101B “Lagoon” were spotted by Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching. (Courtesy of Ellie Sawyer)
By David Rasbach Bellingham Herald

Whale watchers in Washington state and British Columbia spotted a Salish Sea-record 72 different Bigg’s killer whales Thursday.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association announced the single-day record number of documented sightings of transient orca in a release Friday.

“The number might sound unbelievable,” Pacific Whale Watch Association Executive Director Erin Gless said in a release Friday, “but it’s no April Fools’ joke.”

The Bigg’s killer whales were spotted throughout the Salish Sea, ranging from the Hood Canal in Washington to Vancouver Island’s Campbell River region in British Columbia, according to the release, with the largest group (18 orcas) seen near the northern San Juan Islands.

“We were watching a group of four whales when, out of nowhere, 14 more materialized,” Island Adventures Whale Watching naturalist Sam Murphy said in the release. “It was magical.”

The Center for Whale Research’s Mark Malleson was the researcher who confirmed the new record, according to the release, and he added that 50 of 60 Bigg’s killer whales had been spotted in a day during the past decade, “but Thursday was certainly the most so far.”

T63 “Chainsaw,” an adult male born in 1978 and is known for his jagged dorsal fin, was one of the most recognizable Bigg’s killer whales spotted Thursday in the Haro Straight west of San Juan Island, along with his mother, T65 “Whidbey.”

Unlike the Southern Resident orcas, who feed on salmon, the Bigg’s killer whales hunt marine animals, and according to the release, they are thriving in the region because of an abundance of seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea.

“This was an awesome community effort with watchers from Campbell River to Puget Sound contributing sightings and photos”, Orca Behavior Institute Director Monika Wieland Shields said in the release. “We wonder how long this increase in Bigg’s killer whales will continue, but they keep setting records. More than 70 in the region in one day is astounding.”

For comparison, the Center for Whale Research on Dec. 31, 2021, listed 73 Southern Resident orcas, though the center reported last month that a new calf was born into the J Pod – the first in more than two years.

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