See up to 5 Types of Whales from 4 Departure Locations!
The area’s salmon-eating orca population.
Resident orcas have called the waters of the Salish Sea home for generations. They live in very tight knit family groups which range from the youngest baby to the eldest female. These orcas spend much of their time in the waters around Washington and British Columbia throughout the year on the search for the favorite food – Chinook salmon. This group of killer whales can be very playful and acrobatic, especially after a successful hunt. They are also extremely social, often seen interacting with other members of the pod.
Southern resident killer whales are some of the most researched whales in the world.
The resident orcas eat different types of fish, depending on the time of year. Their favorite food is Chinook salmon, but their diet has been known to include all five types of salmon, as well as steelhead, halibut and lingcod. There are three different pods in the Southern Resident community: J, K, and L. The immediate family groups (mother and offspring) are referred it to as a subpod. Multiple subpods make up the larger pods. It's like traveling with all your extended family! Sometimes, more than one pod will hang out together. When this happens, it is called a superpod – and it may total more than 80 animals. The older whales are the keepers of the knowledge – from hunting techniques to their highly-complex language – that’s been passed down through generations.
Orcas (both resident and transient) utilize echolocation, which is similar to sonar used in bat species, for “seeing” under the water. “Sound Pictures” are formed when the nasal passage of the orca produces a high-frequency, extremely fast series of clicks that are projected out from the melon and sent out into their environment. the sound vibrations that bounce back from objects are returned to the lower jaw which is then directed to the inner ear where an acoustical image is created. Orcas are able to perceive distance, speed, shape, texture, and composition from these images which help them navigate and search for prey. It is so finite that they’re able to detect fishing line from 100 meters away!
The early 1970s, Dr.Michael Bigg, a scientist with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, began studying the orcas of the region, mainly to determine the population and its dynamics in light of orcas being captured for captivity. He developed a technique using photographs to ID individual whales. Currently, the Center for whale research conducts an annual census of the southern resident orcas. Located just behind the dorsal fin on each side of the whale is a white pigmented area called a saddle patch. The saddle patch is like a fingerprint. Unique encroachments of black and sometime scars within the patch make each one distinctive. Characteristics of the dorsal fin itself – such as scars, nicks and overall shape – are also helpful in identifying individual whales.
Each day and every experience is completely unique and unpredictable! The beauty of seeing these magnificent orcas in the wild is that they are doing what they want and what they need to be doing in order to survive and no two encounters are ever the same. These are just a few of the many behaviors that orcas do throughout their day.
Breaching is an acrobatic display that seems contagious. In order to propel their bodies (up to 11 tons) out of the water they have to reach speeds up to 23 mph! There are many thoughts to why orcas breach. Along with just being fun, researchers think breaching might help slough dead skin or maybe take care of an itch. Or, maybe the orcas just want to feel the effect of gravity. It may also serve as communication through body language or be an effective way to move prey.
A spy hop is just the orcas’ way of checking out what is going on at the surface! Raising their rostrum up through the water, at times past their pectoral flippers, allows an elevated look at the world above the water. This is one of the rare times that a whale engages in human watching!
Even orcas need sleep! When sleeping, members of the pod rest in one close grouping known as logging. The orcas move as if they are synchronized swimming while taking short, shallow dives. Because they are cognitive breathers, half of their brain remains awake while the other half sleeps. This “sleep swimming” activity typically lasts two to six hours and can take place day or night.
Learn more about the area’s wildlife and scenery.
The waters surrounding our four departure locations offer some of the most diverse whale and wildlife viewing on the west coast. Onboard each of our tours, an experienced naturalist helps identify all of the whales, wildlife, and rich history that this area holds
$30 for 30
Big savings for booking in advance!
Adults save $20 when you book 30+ days in advance and an additional $10 with military ID, AAA, AARP, seniors 65+, or college student ID. This deal cannot be combined with promotion codes or other discounts.
Save $20 for booking 30+ days in advance + Save $10 with adult discount = $30 Savings