Hanging Out w/ Transients~

Here they are coming over to say, “Hello!”

These orcas are part of a transient pod that hunt mammals in the waters off the coast of northern Washington.

This area used to be the territory of healthy pods of resident, salmon eating orcas. Many of these resident whales are now starving because their principal food source, salmon, have declined dramatically.

Their territorial waters are being taken over by transient whales who hunt local seals and seal lions.

Resident salmon eating orcas, and transient mammal eating orcas have evolved separately, speak different languages (yes, whales have languages), and have different behaviors and social structures.

The starvation of the resident orcas of the pacific northwest is yet another environmental tragedy endangering the lives of wild species.

Above you see a mother and calf kissing each other.

Then Mama and baby both decide to do a upside-down-under-boat-swim, so close to the hull , you could almost lean over the boat rails and touch their glowing blue bellies. They did this twice!

Why do you think?

And the most amazing thing? A grey whale did the exact same thing on our next trip.

We took two reasonably priced trips out of different parts of Washington, one for a full day, and another for a half day. On both trips we were allowed to spend about twenty minutes watching the orcas from a distance of about two football fields away, usually in fog, rain and rough seas. It is quite difficult to get decent orca photos in these conditions, but these rules are important because they protect orcas from harassment. Despite the limitations, we thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend both trips.

There are a variety of other tours available which allow you to spend more up-close time with pacific northwest orcas, but they can be very expensive, and maybe more intrusive. One three day trip for photographers for example cost $2500.00 per person. You can also book tours out of British Columbia, which we did years ago. On the Canadian tours we were accompanied by a orca biologist and were able to spend more up close time with the more plentiful Canadian orcas for a reasonable fee.

If you want to see wild orcas, do your research, and select a company that will best meet your expectations.

Cheers to you from the gorgeous orcas of the pacific northwest~

171 thoughts on “Hanging Out w/ Transients~

  1. How beautiful, they certainly posed for you and your blog to get some attention in the world. Super pictures , I can imagine it was a great experience.

    1. We loved spending time with these amazing creatures! It saddens me immensely that the matriarchal resident Washington pods are starving. We spent so much time with orcas off Vancouver Island years ago and fell fully under their spell.

  2. What a friendly group! Thanks for taking us along and giving advice for tours. They remind me of the dolphins we see around here in that they seem friendly. You got some good shots!

  3. They are so beautiful!! 😍 and all your pics looked so fab despite the limitations you mentioned (honestly I wouldnt have even noticed had you not mentioned)….the mother-child pic was truly adorable….i think they did the under belly thing to impress you to take more pictures 😀…
    sad to hear about the starvation though …we humans have really messed things up! Over fishing and over exploitation and plastic pollution…recently there was a news of a diver doing to the deepest known part of the ocean in marina trench and guess what he found there?? Plastic trash!!! Even deepest part of the oceans are not left untouched by us!!

    1. I read and saw about his dive. Down in the deepest depths of The Marianas Trench, a new species is found, and…….plastic. Disgusting and disheartening.

  4. What a break for me. I managed to get in here before there were a few hundred comments. 😉 I do love the orcas and saw them a few times when in Vancouver. Your photos are always wonderful. So often, like today’s post, I must apologize for my offerings. 🙁 However, what I wanted to share won out and I did the post anyway. 😉 xx

  5. Beautiful photos, Cindy. 🙂 Have you seen Wayne’s latest orca pictures? Also beautiful. I am dismayed to hear about the starvation. We humans could be doing so much better with respecting other species.

    1. It is appalling how much damage we are doing to the planet, her creatures and ourselves. I have seen so many awesome orca photos. They have tours with the orcas in the US where you get very closer and spend days with them in much better photographic conditions, but they start at $2500.00 per person. The photos would be phenomenal, but the price is excessive and it might rain the whole time! In our first Canada orca trip fifteen years ago, we were able to get much closer and stay with the orcas much longer as they have much larger populations. But in our most recent Canada trip a few years ago, all the orca tours were cancelled as the orcas weren’t there. I need to move to Canada if I want optimal orca photos. Canada is just an unfair advantage for photography!!! 😉 😉

    1. The difference between the transient and resident orcas remind me a bit of the difference between inland and coastal grizzly bears. It is the difference between mammal and fish eaters.

      1. I cried when we saw whales while on a boat tour off the coast of Maine. Felt a bit foolish and then I realized my husband was teary eyed, as well. We can’t afford to lose these magnificent creatures!

  6. Spectacular! Your photos reminded me of a quote by D.H. Lawrence (Whales Weep Not): “They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blog of all.”

  7. They seem to be very playful and intelligent beings. I know what you mean about their food sources are getting less and less. That is a little sad and I think part of that is us too.

  8. I love Orcas. Hubby worked as a captain of a whale watching boat in Vancouver one summer and I was able to go out with him once. The orcas (the resident J pod) circled the boat and entertained us for about 30 minutes. There were moms, dads and kids. It was so amazing. So sad to hear they no longer have enough food. What are we doing to this planet?

    1. You picked a good hubby! What an amazing experience that must have been! I know so many people like you and I care about our planet and all her inhabitants, but far too many other people do not, and they appear to be winning. It is very sad.

  9. A remarkable series, Cindy. I love the capture of a mother and calf kissing each other. <3
    Thank you for the tour info. A three-day trip for photographers would be so cool. 🙂 🙂

    1. It would be very cool (and not just from the weather!) Also though, very pricey. The tour I looked at was $2500.00 per person for three days and you stay on hotels on land.

      1. I think it’s cool to be out there to take photos of these majestic creatures for three days, but is very pricey, not for me. 🙂

  10. Seeing whales in the wild is such an amazing experience. Although it may make viewing harder, I am glad to hear that they have now regulated distance to reduce harassment. Seeing the free-for-all of competing whale charter boats makes me ill!

    1. Agreed. The rules are needed as these creatures are now quite vulnerable. I have never seen the crowding you describe but it does sound awful. It would be best for whale welfare to enforce the regulations across the board and not overlook charters that charge guests exorbitant fees, or private boaters, who ignore the rules and go too close.

  11. Incredible photos, but sad, too. A domino effect on the entire ecosystem. Poor unsuspecting mammals have another threat to deal with thanks to climate change.

  12. Spectacular. Reminded of the time we were in Alaska (Seward) where we took a day cruise … wonderful …. and in the midst of a superpod of Orcas … actually close enough that one could touch them leaning from the boat.

    1. WOW!!! A superpod of orcas!! I have been in a superpod of dolphins and was absolutely thrilled. I cannot even imagine being amidst such numbers of orcas.

  13. What a thrill to see these magnificent large creatures so close, Cindy. I’m totally envious of your experience, but viewing the images on your blog at least gives me half a thrill. 🙂

    Seeing other photos on the internet is not half as good as seeing them through your eyes.

    Thankyou for sharing.

    1. Awww, you are very kind Vicki and so appreciated. Thank you. You make me very happy I posted. This was not the best conditions for photos of orcas by a long shot, but anytime spent among orcas is a thrill that must be shared. Thank you for appreciating these stunning creatures <3 <3

  14. I’ve seen pods of orcas a couple of times on the BC ferries between Vancouver Island and the mainland. When orcas are sighted the ferry slows down almost to nothing so as not to disturb them, and everyone on the ferry gets a really good look! Amazing beings. You got some great shots despite the limitations.

    1. Canada is, well Canada. The scenic beauty, coupled with the more protected wildlife make being there a visual feast. We are heading to Churchill next, to hopefully see the polar bears and the belugas you can dry suit swim with. It is good to see wildlife thriving.

  15. Orcas have always been some of my favorite animals, they just seem so intelligent and full of life. It sucks to hear that resident orcas are declining off the coast of Washington though 🙁 Leave it to humans to decimate one of the most abundant food sources along the Pacific coast: salmon.

    1. Incredibly sad isn’t it. Those massive schools of huge chinooks declining. The world is becoming increasingly divided between those who care about our planet and creatures and those who don’t, and it seems the wrong side is continuing to dominate. What will the profit seekers do with their money when they start declining and dying like the salmon.

      1. I like to delude myself into thinking that this current rough patch is part of our larger cultural evolution, which will eventually turn out for the best – even if you and I aren’t around to see it. Fantasy perhaps, but how else can you keep trying?

        1. Yes. It is difficult emotionally and cognitively to cope with. If humans create our own extinction, it would be novel. Most extinctions that we know of were caused by natural events, not a species stupidity.

    1. One option I guess, or increase salmon farming, but that has its own environmental problems. Orcas are beset with multiple problems, declining chinook salmon stocks, chemical pollution concentrating in their tissues, noise from shipping and the new Canadian pipeline interfering with their ability to locate prey, and virus and bacteria contamination, including distemper. I was struck repeatedly in The Hood Canal by the scarcity of bird life. Bald Eagles in the region are experiencing declining birth rates thought to be linked to PCB pollution. We are excellent at messing things up aren’t we.

  16. A couple of years ago my husband and I saw orcas in Alaska. A couple of them swam right up to the boat. It was scary but so exciting. Your pictures are great! 😀 xo

  17. We humans are destroying everything!
    There are new whaling laws in Canada. The laws hurt not just the whaling industry, (FOR F SAKE, who makes an industry out of killing whales????? BAD IDEA) it also hurts the fishing industry. While the whales are mating in the mouth of the St. Laurence River … NO FISHING!!!!!!
    Who needs to eat fish anyway? Fish are filled with plastic, that we gave them to eat. Talk about reaping just rewards!

    1. I know, it is absolutely stupid. Orcas are infected with a host of carcinogens, viruses and bacteria, fish are dying off, orcas are bombarded by mechanical noise from boats and industry foiling their hunting abilities, a new pipeline is going to be built from Canada in their already beleaguered territory. The madness just escalates. We were stuck on a road for many hours on The Hood Canal due to a tragic fatal accident. A truck carrying timber pulp refuse from a paper factory and a car collided. They had to clean up the pulp and were concerned about toxicity. What I really don’t understand about the people making these decisions is why they don’t get that what is happening to the salmon, the orcas, the wildlife, is also happening to them. Afterall, we are biological animals too. I wonder if they imagine they are immune to the carcinogens and pathogens and pollution they are creating. The profits they make won’t help them run from this. They can’t run far enough away. The damage is everywhere.

      1. Somehow… they (the rich) have the comfort of knowing that they will have the last of best of everything.
        Greed is not rational. It is international.
        “The evil that men do lives after them;
        The good is oft interred with their bones;” -William Shakespeare

  18. It’s very tragic…
    Thankfully there are some measures in the works to hopefully make a positive impact.
    For example, some restaurants have eliminated salmon from the menu and whale watching boats will likely have more restrictions.
    I hope it’s not too late 😢💔

  19. I have watched a documentary about how these amazing animals hunt in a pack.
    Their team skills and strategising are phenomenal.
    Very impressive creatures.
    They are on my, “Some Day” List

    1. Their intelligent cooperation is incredible to see isn’t it. They often use a decoy orca who distracts the prey until the whole pod moves in with devastating effect. They celebrate after a successful hunt. I watched them in Antarctica shake penguins out of their skins. I look forward to seeing your photos and hearing your impressions when your someday becomes your day!

      1. True that, incredible creatures. Their skill astounding.
        In the documentary I watched them dive in formation, flip their fins and dislodge a baby seal that was safely perched on a block of ice as the lead orca snatched the poor seal as soon as it hit the water.

  20. Great pictures! Mum and baby! Thank you for the information about orca tours and sharing about looking into safe ones for the orcas as well as costs, etc. It’s an important ethical, ecological, and economical consideration for photographers. 💗

    1. Yes, it is important. I am trained as a psychotherapist where ethics are critical, and a hobbyist photographer, but I see the ethical aspects of photography as something that needs more dialogue, issues of personal privacy in street photography, ecology and animal protection in wildlife photography, environmental respect in fragile ecosystem photography, and with endangered and threatened species, the stakes are even more important. Some excellent wildlife photography is wildlife invasive which I am not comfortable with.

      1. Interesting.i knew about the personal privacy issue, but the rest is new information. It seems that we need more singing or shouting about ethical concerns related to human presence in nature. I was a student when I first heard these lines* about cutting down trees

          O if we but knew what we do 
        When we delve or hew — 
        Hack and rack the growing green! 

        But I never forgot them. I think poets and song writers could help educate us today about environmental problems that go way beyond aesthetics, which was this author’s concern. Getting, and holding, people’s attention is an important first step.

        *(from “Binsey Poplars” by G.M. Hopkins)

  21. The only Orca I have ever seen was at Sea World in Orlando in 1977. I got very wet.

    I feel sad about the resident Orcas starving and about captured Orcas stuck in tanks. 😫😭💔

    1. I feel sad too. I took photos of puffins on the sea which I will post, but there were not very many of them, and I learned thousands are dying off. It is heartbreaking. We are contaminated by the same chemicals that are harming wildlife.

  22. Anonymous

    Super, and thanks for the hints.
    Its obvious, that more attention shall be paid to the pollution.

  23. Looked like an amazing experience Cindy ! Lucky you, they got so close too. I’m sad to hear they’re another victim of the changing tides on this planet we are trashing. We’ve not done any whale watching in Canada or the USA, such a shame. We often go in Maui and it’s brilliant to see how big these creatures really are. Photo’s can’t capture the excitement or butterflies of the day but you captured them well ! x K

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