Where Can You See The Resident Orcas Now?

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Recent orca sightings, courtesy Orca Network (map by Advanced Satellite Productions, Inc)

Throughout the year, Orca Network keeps track of sightings of all types of whales and dolphins, as well as orcas. Based out of Whidbey Island, they are in a perfect place to monitor the whales as they come and go into Puget Sound, and their extensive network of contacts keeps them informed wherever the animals are seen in the Salish Sea.

There were many sightings in November, and the orcas have been seen most days this month as they focus their hunt on the relatively abundant fall/winter run of chum salmon, which make extensive use of Puget Sound tributaries for spawning.

The chum salmon prefer to spawn in the lower reaches of rivers and streams, and because of this they are well on their way to changing from the ocean form (called “bright”) to the colorful breeding stage, and consequently the quality of their flesh changes quickly as they approach their natal streams.

What this all means in terms of hoping to spot the orcas is that they are probably concentrating their effort on getting the fish when they first enter the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, while the quality is highest and the numbers of fish are more condensed. The recent sightings near the sills (underwater shallow areas) of Admiralty Inlet (off of Whidbey Island and Port Townsend) as well as by the entrance to Hood Canal would seem to confirm this. The orcas may begin to hunt the chum where the fish gather at the entrances to the tributaries as time goes on, but these are just educated guesses on my part.

However, the orcas’ strong preference for Chinook salmon will also drive where they hunt, and the best strategy overall is to check the recent sightings listings at Orca Network, and be sure to visit their interactive map.

The resident orcas may not be around as much this time of the year as they are during the spring and summer, but because they come down to Puget Sound near Seattle more often, those of us who can’t get up to the San Juan Islands have a great chance to see them, and may even be lucky enough to see one of this year’s calves (and don’t forget to let Orca Network know if you do!).

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