‘A pea soup of whales’: 56 orcas spotted near Puget Sound

Special Reports

It wasn't just orcas. People also spotted gray whales and a humpback.

Tl’uk, a young white orca, spotted on April 3, 2021. Photo by
Val Shore, Eagle Wing Tours/Shoreline Photography/PWWA

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Easter weekend 2021 is not one Puget Sound whale watchers will soon forget. From Tacoma, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia, 56 killer whales were spotted. 

In the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, and San Juan Islands, people reported four different pods of Bigg’s killer whales. 

Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, communications director for the Pacific Whale Watch Association, says he was one of the lucky ones who saw the J Pod, a pod of southern resident orcas, working their way up the east side of San Juan Island. 

He said he was among 50 people standing on the shoreline who spotted them. 

“The whales went by. It was beautiful and they were right there off the rocks just feet from our feet,” he said. 

Once he saw the pod, Balcomb-Bartok opened the Pacific Whale Watch Association’s internal app, which allows him to see where whales are in the area. 

This map drawn by Kelly Balcomb-Bartok from the Pacific Whale Watch Association shows where whales were spotted on April 3, 2021. Courtesy Kelley Balcomb-Bartok

“I was absolutely dumbfounded. There were Bigg’s killer whales going up North Rosario toward Vancouver. There were Bigg’s killer whales on the west side of San Juan Island, just the other side of the island, going up Harrow Strait toward Canada,” he said. 

The pod of Bigg’s killer whales that includes the high-profile whale Tl’uk, a young white orca, was swimming off Lopez Island, cruising east. Bigg’s killer whales were also spotted near Tacoma; gray whales were seen near Whidbey Island, and a humpback whale was seen in the Gulf Islands. 

“It was a pea soup of whales! It was just whale soup all around!” Balcomb-Bartok described. 

He said at any time, up to 200 Bigg’s killer whales can be in the area. Easter weekend, several pods converged near Puget Sound and with the nice weather, there were several people on boats who spotted them. 

Balcomb-Bartok said people reported seeing another high-profile whale called Chainsaw. He was spotted with his extended pod Saturday swimming up the Haro Strait. 

Balcomb-Bartok said April is a great time to get out and look for whales, especially gray whales because they’re currently on their migration north. He said there will also be more humpback whales passing through the Puget Sound area in the next month. 

The J Pod has been in the area for about two months and people have been spotting them around the islands almost every week. 

Balcomb-Bartok said seeing this many whales in one weekend is a great sign. It’s also helping whale-watching boat tours recover after the pandemic shutdown dealt them a blow in 2020. 

“Everyone that was out there enjoyed an encounter with them and wherever they were, whether they saw Chainsaw or Tl’uk or J Pod, yeah, it was a real good Easter weekend. It was a perfect time for it,” he said.

While Easter weekend in Puget Sound may have been popping with pods, Balcomb-Bartok said it’s also a great time to watch for whales off the Oregon or Southwest Washington coast. He said southern resident killer whales feed off Chinook salmon as they enter the Columbia River and it’s also possible to spot gray whales or even blue whales off the coast in April. 

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