I've seen it happen three times, and photographed it once. Two times I saw it with Dall porpoise in Prince William Sound, and once (the one I photographed) also a Dall porpoise, in Frederick Sound (SE Alaska)
You can see that kind of thing here in Washington when the transient orcas are around. Our southern residents do not eat mammals, they feed only on fish, preferably king salmon They have good taste! The transients will go after harbor seals. The harbor seals will swim alongside the southern residents
Thousands of people come to the state of Washington every year to fulfill the dream of seeing killer whales in the wild. Most of them think that all killer whales are the same. This is not true.
What are killer whales?
Their proper name is Orcinus Orca. They were given the name killer whale by Spanish sailors who observed them attacking and eating other whales. They named them Matador de Ballenas, which translates into killer of whales. They became known as killer whales through a mistake in the Spanish to English translation that reversed the words. The preferred name is orca.
Orcas are actually not whales at all. They are the largest members of the dolphin family (Delphinidae).
Three Types of Orcas
There are three types of orcas in the Pacific Northwest area: Residents (Northern and Southern), Transients, and Offshores. The Northern Residents are found in the Johnstone Strait and northern British Columbia. The Transients can be found anywhere between the Bering Sea and Mexico and they feed on marine mammals. The Offshores live miles out in the Pacific Ocean, and are rarely seen in Pacific Northwest waters.
The orcas that people come here to see are our Southern Resident Orcas (SRO). They can be seen from June through September in the inland waters of the Salish Sea, most frequently in Haro Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The SRO's are 100,000 years genetically different from other orcas. Their diet consists of fish and their preference is for Chinook salmon. They do not eat other marine mammals. People who visit often think they will see the orcas go up on the beaches to feed on a harbor seal, as that is what they have seen on TV. They are quite surprised when they see harbor seals gingerly swimming in the same waters as the resident orcas.
Three Pods of Resident Orcas
Our SRO’s live in groups called pods. There are three pods of orcas in Washington: J, K, and L. According to the Center for Whale Research, there are presently a total 84: 26 in J pod, 19 in K pod, and 39 in L pod. They have a distinct social structure and a language that is different from other orcas. Their society is matrilineal. The offspring, both males and females, stay with their mothers for life. Grandmothers and great-grandmothers are often known to babysit the youngsters when the mother goes off to feed. As far as scientists know, the fathers play little or no part in their offspring’s life.
When photographing orcas, the goal is to get a photo that will allow you to identify which orca it is. To do that, you need the dorsal fin and saddle patch, as they are as distinctive as finger prints.
Right now we are waiting for them to return from their winter travels. They usually come back some time in May.
The best places to see them are:
From the shore - Lime Kiln Park on San Juan Island. Bring a lunch and snacks as they generally show up once a day - time is never known You have to be patient for this one.
Best bet - There are orca whale watch boats out of Anacortes, Bellingham, Orcas Island and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Let me know your preference as to where you would like to go from and I can make some recommendations. The larger boats (about 80-100 people go out of Bellingham and Anacortes), but there is plenty of room on deck so everyone gets to see. The smaller boats (some taking 5-12 people) go out from Friday Harbor or Orcas Island.
If you want to go from Orcas or Friday Harbor, you can park your car at Anacortes and take the ferry to either place. All boats are just a short walk from the dock. Anacortes has a couple of boats that go out, there is a large parking lot there.
Most whale watch boats guarantee you will see whales - either the orcas, minkes, greys, or an occasional humpback. There is a humpback around right now. They use a spotter plane to find them so they know where to take you. Most of the large ones have a certified marine naturalist on board who can tell you a lot about what you are seeing and the good ones can ID the orcas, which makes it more fun
Whichever choice you make, pack a good picnic type lunch and snacks as food on the boats tends to be pricey and not that nutritious