The joys of watching Mukilteo’s winter orcas

By Janet Carroll | Jan 30, 2013
Courtesy of: Mark Malleson Mukilteo residents recently spotted some "transient" orcas in Puget Sound, likely those known as Bigg's Killer Whales.

We live in a wonderful place.

I have that sentiment often, but especially on days that I have successfully spotted orcas from the bluff above Possession Sound (and not necessarily on days where it is dark and pouring rain or foggy and freezing).

What I see from my observation site is a wonderful view of the southern tip of Whidbey Island, the south end of Admiralty Inlet, part of Puget Sound, ferries going back and forth between Mukilteo and Clinton, Saratoga Passage, Gedney Island (and sometimes my neighbor who standup paddles from Whidbey Island to Mukilteo).

I became interested in whale spotting after reading an article in The Beacon about orcas in Puget Sound. It said they were out there even in the winter. I never knew that. I expected to see them only in the summer around the San Juan Islands.

Curious, I got in touch with the Orca Network (http://orcanetwork.org). I read about the sightings that were being made by people all around the Salish Sea, including those riding our ferry.

I contacted Susan at the Network to see how observers figure out where to watch for orcas and to get information on these amazing animals.

I found out that I could be on an email list to receive recent sightings, as well as being on a telephone tree to receive calls about recent sightings.

I looked for a good observation site and found one right down the street from my house.

My first day out was in late December, and with the help of my spotting scope and binoculars, I saw two orcas swimming along the shoreline. The next day I saw three. I can tell you, I was one excited whale spotter!

That first day the two orcas breached, jumping straight up and out of the water, side by side. Amazing!

Then the holidays interrupted my observations, but on New Year’s Day I observed three orcas in the same location and a few days later, some residents of Marine View Drive, also nearby, saw three from their front window. I saw them again about a week later.

Susan said that the orcas I was spotting were most likely “transients,” called Bigg’s Killer Whales.

These whales were named for Dr. Mike Biggs, who many years ago had been hired by the Canadian government to determine if orca populations could sustain the removal of 10 to15 whales a year to be taken to marine parks.

Biggs not only determined that the orcas could not sustain the removal, but that there was another type of orca in our region.

The Bigg’s Killer Whales differ from our resident orcas in that they feed on seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals – not salmon and squid as our resident orcas do.

What a privilege it is to be able to watch orcas right along the Mukilteo shoreline!

After talking to my neighbors whose homes look out over the Sound or who go for walks in the area, I found that they didn’t realize orcas were out there.

The Bigg’s Killer Whales aren’t so easy to see, but they are around all year, most frequently in the spring and fall, and they like to hang around our rocky shoreline near seal and sea lion haul-out sites.

Want to learn about the Salish Sea Orcas and other interesting whale related information? Check out the Orca Network website – it’s a great resource.

Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project. The group is committed to wildlife by creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in Mukilteo and connecting residents with nature. For more information, go to www.mukilteowildlife.org, email mukilteowildlife@gmail.com or phone 425-514-5979.

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