Jim cut the engines to a crawl and we approached slowly to avoid disturbing the killer whales. They were fishing for king salmon. And, the adult whales were teaching a couple of small calves their fishing techniques as they did.
Killer Whales, or orcas, can be divided into two subspecies, fish eaters and mammal eaters. The year-round resident orcas of the Resurrection Bay ecosystem are all fish eaters, primarily feeding on salmon, but also targeting steelhead, herring, and even halibut from time to time. The transient pods of orca are the mammal eaters. They specialize in hunting harbor seals, Dall’s porpoise, sea lions, and will even take sea otters occasionally. And what’s even more interesting is that the local sea mammals can distinguish between the two types of killer whales. Amongst this resident pod of orca, a couple of sea otters floated lazily, clinging to floating kelp balloons as the killer whales’ dorsal fins dashed amongst them, chasing down king salmon. If this had been a transient pod of orca, these otters wouldn’t have dared to float amongst them, even if sea otters aren’t at the top of the menu for transient killer whales.
On the top of our group’s list of desired photographs was, of course, a breaching orca. This is clearly a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and as we approached, we witnessed a large female killer whale fully breach. But, none of us were ready. And, though we would spend at least of a portion of each of our four days photographing orcas, this would be the only full breach we would witness. But, the killer whales presented plenty of other great photo opportunities as they surfaced to breathe, spy hopped, and tail slapped all around our boat.
We spent at least an hour with this pod of orcas before Jim said it was time to move on and leave the killer whales to fish without the disturbance or distraction of a boat present. So, we grabbed a seat on our 42 foot Delta and motored across Resurrection Bay to a series of inlets filled with harbor seals lounging on the sea rocks.
As we headed towards a small inlet of calm water to take our lunch, we encountered bald eagles, common murres, and horned puffins.