I love picking out the morphological differences between killer whale ecotypes. While type 1 North Atlantic killer whales are slightly smaller than Pacific residents, they make up for it in their bulk. They are very stocky whales! Check out the difference in head shape between these two types; type 1s in particular have very pronounced rostrums!
One of the most exciting parts of this season was recording a new Gulf of Alaska transient calf!
Our first encounter of the summer was on June 2nd with a group of GOA transients, including the adult female AT163. She did not have a calf with her at this time.
We didn’t see AT163 again until around 2 months later in late August. She was with a group of about 7-8 other individuals, some of which she had been traveling with in our June encounter, and some were whales I had never seen before. Most surprisingly, she had a brand new baby with her, indicating she had been pregnant when we last saw her. The calf was quite small and could not have been older than 2.5 months, though I suspect it was probably only a few weeks to a month old at most based on the size.
This may be AT163′s first calf, though it is difficult to know due to the infrequency of GOA transient encounters.
Hello! I am still here! Apologies for the long absence–I’ve been very busy and simply haven’t had the time to update this account.
Our season wrapped up in early September. It was an interesting summer. Alaska was hit with an unprecedented heat wave, with temperatures regularly reaching 70-80 degrees F over the course of July. We also had terrible wildfires that made the air quality quite horrible. There were several days where it was nearly impossible to be outside without inhaling smoke. Climate change certainly made its presence felt this year.
It was also a fairly odd year for whale sightings. Our main sightings for the last two summers have been resident killer whales, though we only encountered them three times from May to early September. AP pod did not show up at all (however, I do have at least one confirmed sighting of them on the outskirts of the bay in July). Instead, Gulf of Alaska transients made up the bulk of our killer whale sightings. They were present all summer long inside Kachemak Bay and were recorded hunting seals and harbor porpoises. The humpback whales also had bizarre timing this year. We saw a few lone individuals in June and early July but they were always leaving the bay when we encountered them and did not stay more than a few hours at most. In July, we went 27 days without encountering a single whale of any species, the longest stretch in the four years I’ve worked this job. But when August rolled around, it was like a switch flipped! Humpbacks began showing up in the bay and stayed for over two months, consistently feeding in key areas of the bay. They even showed up in numbers higher than in the last two years. All in all, a strange year.
I’ll share some more photos from key encounters a little later, but these are some highlights from this summer.
On June 2nd, I had my very first encounter with Gulf of Alaska transient killer whales! This population of transients is not well known and many aspects of their lives are shrouded in mystery. We know they prefer Steller sea lions as a main source of prey and tagging studies show they will range as far as 60 miles offshore from Kodiak to Prince William Sound, and on rare occasions, Southeast Alaska and even British Columbia.
I recorded 7 of these transients, including: AT131 (the male), AT163, AT132, AT186, and AT193. They were foraging just off the beach near Land’s End Resort on the Homer Spit.
To the untrained eye, the differences between residents and transients are subtle. However, there are a few traits you can look at to tell if the whales you saw are residents or transients! A sloping eye patch is a common feature of transients, while the eye patches of residents tend to be more straight across. The saddle patches of transients tend to be very wide and broad—when you draw an imaginary line down from the dorsal fin, the saddle will almost always extend far past that midline, whereas a resident’s saddle patch will only peek over the midline.