New sightings record set after nearly 30 orca whales seen over Labor Day weekend

Biggs killer whale

Nearly 30 different Bigg’s orca whales were spotted over the Labor Day weekend in the Salish Sea, which includes the Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the San Juan Islands, The Pacific Whale Watch Association reported.

According to the Orca Behavior Institute, Bigg’s killer whales have set a new sightings record in the region, with 793 unique sightings as of Monday with more than four months left in 2021. The previous record of 747 unique sightings was set in 2019.

Killer whales are identified using markings on their dorsal fins and backs.

“Unlike endangered Southern Resident killer whales that feed primarily on declining populations of Chinook salmon, Bigg’s killer whales hunt seals, sea lions, and porpoises,” a news release from PWWA said.

Due to an abundance of prey, more than 130 Bigg’s calves were born over the last decade, for a population growth rate of more than 4% a year.

Meanwhile, because of dwindling salmon populations, endangered Southern Resident killer whales have been mostly absent in 2021 and have only been spotted a handful of times since April.

“The contrast in health between these two orca populations is striking,” says Erin Gless, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. “Bigg’s prove that killer whales can thrive in this region, so long as there is food. If we can restore local salmon populations, we have hope that Southern Residents can recover. The priority has to be getting them more food.”

Southern Resident orcas of the J Pod were spotted in Puget Sound on Tuesday. Bigg’s killer whales were also spotted in Puget Sound on Tuesday as well as near Victoria and the San Juan Islands.