A Whale of A Tale: Exotic Orcas Spotted in Pac NW Inland Waters

According to whale researchers, a number of “exotic orcas” (a.k.a. outer-coastal orcas) have been spotted in the Pacific Northwest’s inland waterways in higher numbers than ever before. Thus far, most exotic orca sightings have taken place near Vancouver Island off of British Columbia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in Warshington’s Puget Sound.

Non-Native Whale Group

The outer-coastal orcas being spotted in the area are mammal-eaters (a characteristic that is at least partially responsible for the species’ other name, killer whales) from a subgroup usually found in the waters of the California coast. The non-exotic orcas generally found in Puget Sound feed almost exclusively on salmon. Clearly, the local orcas have more refined palates.

Wildlife biologist Brad Hanson of Seattle’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center says that experts are not sure what has drawn the exotic orcas to our region. “Frankly, we don’t know a lot about the movement of these whales on the outer coast,” he told the Seattle Times recently.

The most likely culprit is the growth of the local seal and sea lion populations—both creatures are frequently enjoyed with seasonal vegetables and a nice vintage red wine by mammal-eating orcas. Researchers also point to an overall increase in the number of “transient orcas” as a potential driving force.

So... whales, right?

So… whales, right?

“Fatter & Sassier”

Since September of this year, Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales Whale Watching has spotted exotic orcas in the waters off Victoria, BC, five times, far more than he’s ever seen them in a single year. With nearly 20 years of professional whale watching under his belt, as well as a gig conducting whale surveys for the Canadian government, Malleson might know a thing or two about the area’s whale population.

Malleson says he know most of the region’s “local orcas” by sight, making it easy to spot the influx of new blubber. “They have a little bit of a different look to them,” he said. “They’re […] fatter and sassier.” No further explanation of potential whale sassiness was provided at press time.

Unfortunately, though transient whales and the outer-coastal orcas are growing in number in the area, the local orca population is shrinking. A 2014 census turned up just 78 of the mighty sea dwellers, the lowest overall population in 30 years.

Photo credit: chasedekker / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA