Beauty of the Beast

Killer whales put on a show displaying the brutal beauty of "nature being nature"


Watching over a cliff-side nest of black oystercatchers, hoping to film an imminent hatch, I was tracking with binoculars one of the parents-to-be as it flew low over the water toward a favorite shoal of mussels when suddenly — magnified vividly in the binocs — I saw a whale spout directly underneath the bird and thought, “What a great shot that would have made!”

With the second spout, my jaw dropped as I realized I wasn’t looking at the gray whale I was expecting to see, but an orca, flashing black-and-white in the morning sun as it surfaced and dove again. Also called “killer whales,” the first was soon joined by another, and then another, and another … and then a harbor seal appeared in their midst … and then … oh my.

With that brief introduction, the video pretty much speaks for itself. The orcas were a couple hundred yards away, so to compensate for the distance and some wind shake, I enlarged and slowed down and repeated some key parts of the action that couldn’t clearly be seen in real time at true scale with unaided eyesight. These caveats notwithstanding, the video reflects precisely what “nature being nature” on Nature’s Coast sometimes looks like. Very exciting for me … not so much, of course, for the hapless harbor seal … but hey, everybody’s gotta eat. The ultimate view I enjoyed (though sadly my camera missed) was of the largest male rocketing his six-ton girth completely up-and-out of the water to waggle his tail like a trout before falling with huge splash back into the sea. And then, just a dozen short minutes after they appeared, the whales swam out of sight.

I reported the sighting to the Orca Network, which from the photos I provided was able to identify the pod as the T68Cs, which according to the Internet is more commonly found cruising among the San Juan Islands off the northwest coast of Washington State and up into the waters of British Columbia. The “T” designates “transient” whales, which are happy to dine (as the video above attests) on other sea mammals. By contrast, so-called “resident” orcas are said to prefer a diet of fish. I am amazed at how much information regarding these whales is available — female T68C in the video above, for instance, is reported to have been born in 1992 — and hope to add more details here once the experts at Orca Network have had a chance to see and study this video.

What a fascinating encounter! From “being there” in the moment, to later reviewing the video frame-by-frame to watch again what really happened, to learning more about the history of orca pod T68C, and now, being able to share it all with you — sometimes I just have to pinch myself.


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