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Dozens of killer whales treat lucky spectators to memorable show over Easter weekend

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Killer whale spotted Saturday north of Orcas Island. (Photo: Robert Pollock)

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. (KOMO) — Whale watchers were treated to a memorable show over the Easter weekend, with 56 killer whales spotted throughout the Salish Sea.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association reports four different pods of transient Bigg's killer whales were seen in the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and San Juan Islands. J Pod, part of the salmon-eating southern resident orca population, was also spotted over the weekend.

At one point, naturalists reported pods of Bigg’s killer whales straddling the San Juan Islands in both President’s Channel and Haro Strait cruising north into Canada, Bigg’s killer whales along the south end of Lopez Island cruising east, along with a report of a small pod of the mammal-eating killer whales in south Puget Sound.

In addition to the presence of 32 Bigg’s whales sighted throughout the region Saturday, the southern resident orcas of J Pod meandered slowly up the east coast of San Juan Island, the Pacific Whale Watch Association reports.

“Chainsaw,” a male orca with a distinctive dorsal fin who made his first appearance of the season last weekend in the Salish Sea, was sighted again Saturday traveling with his extended pod up Haro Strait in the boundary waters between the US and Canada.

Also among the pods was another high-profile whale with a distinctive gray-and-white coloring named “Tl’uk,” which translates to “moon” in the language of the indigenous Coast Salish people. He was last sighted in August 2020 along the shoreline of Kuiu and Kupreanof islands in Southeast Alaska.

"It's a pretty fabulous day out there whenever we see whales,” says Val Shore, a professional naturalist and photographer with Eagle Wing Whale & Wildlife Tours of Victoria, “but to have multiple groups, including two ‘celebrities’ (Tl’uk and Chainsaw), in the neighbourhood is an extra special treat. This is an awesome time of year to see Bigg's killer whales. I've been doing this for over 20 years and it never gets old.”

“It was a great first trip of the season for me,” says professional naturalist Rachael Dana Merrett of Orca Spirit Adventures in Victoria. “This is my twelfth season and it was an awesome way to get back out on the water, that’s for sure.”

According to researchers, the coastal Bigg's killer whale population numbered 349 individuals in 2018 and had been growing at roughly 4% per year through most of the 2010s. Over 200 Bigg's individuals are typically documented in the Salish Sea each year.