About the Whales

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Orca Whale

Orcas are highly intelligent and social animals, traveling in groups called pods. Their fierce predatory style won them the nickname of “killer whale” in spite of the fact that Orcas, both in the wild and in captivity, show incredible curiosity, awareness and gentleness toward people. Orcas have no natural predators except for humans.

Whaling, aquarium capture, pollution and the reduction of food supply have taken a toll on these majestic animals. Although orcas are found in all oceans and most seas they prefer colder waters and are more predominant in the Pacific Basin.

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Puget Sound Orca Whale

In the waters of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands there are two different types of killer whales known as transient and resident Orcas. Transient Orcas travel a much broader range than residents.

The transient Orcas we see here travel between Alaska and the mid-Californian coast and travel in small pods, usually between one and seven whales. They feed primarily on marine mammals such as seals and sea lions but will also form large temporary pods in order to attack other species of whales like the Gray or Minke. There is no socializing, interaction or breeding between transient and resident Orcas.

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Blue Whale

The Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whale. Blue whales are long and slender and are a blue-grey color with a tapered body, small dorsal fin and flat head.

Three distinct species of Blue whale can be found in the North Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Blue Whales primarily feed on crusteceans, krill and occasionally small squid. They feed at a depth of about 330 feet and usually only surface-feed at night. Most Whales live their lives as individuals or they may travel with one other partner. They typically live to 34 years of age and their only natural predator is the orca.

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Minke Whale

Minke whales fall into two different species, the Northern and Southern or Antarctic variety. They are relatively abundant and can be found in all oceans and seas across the world. Minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales. To feed, the Minke takes in huge mouthfuls of water then uses its mouth to catch small fish and plankton in its bristly baleen.

They are normally difficult to approach but some are curious and will come close to boats for a better look. They are not as acrobatic as Orcas but they will breach, usually three times in a row. To spot a Minke whale look for a low, bushy blow at the water line as well as watching for the broad black back and small dorsal fin.

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Gray Whale

Gray whales are the most coastal of the baleen whales (whales lacking teeth) and are often found within a few miles of shore as they migrate from Alaska to Baja.

To feed, they fill their vast mouths with mud from the sea bottom and filter it through their baleen to capture amphipods and other small animals. This is the only type of whale to feed in this manner. On average, Gray whales are 36 feet long; however, they can grow to be as long as 40 feet and weigh up to 35 tons. They have robust bodies that are mottled gray, marked with orange patches that are caused by parasitic whale lice. Their heads often have areas encrusted by barnacles.

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Humpback Whale

The Humpback whale is a Baleen whale ranging in size from about 40–50 ft, weighing approximately 79,000 lbs and are greyish in color.

The Humpback is characterized by its tapered head and unusually long pectoral fins. The Humpback Whale is found in oceans around the world but tends to stay in polar waters in the summer where they feed, and then migrate to more tropical waters in the winter. In winter months, the whales survive off of their fat supplies.

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Sperm Whale

With adults reaching near 67 feet in length, the Sperm whale is the largest toothed whale, the largest living toothed animal, and has the largest brain of any animal. Sperm whales are characterized by their light grey color, white waxy film that covers their heads, a thick body that tapers at the tail and their lack of a dorsal fin.

They can be found in all oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Sperm whales feed primarily on squid but also octopus, a diverse range of fish and the mega-mouth shark. Little is known about how the animals mate, but a female Sperm whale’s gestation period is about 12-14 months and they give birth about every 6 years.

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Pacific White-Sided Dolphin

The Pacific White-Sided dolphin can be found in the North Pacific Ocean between North American and Asia. The dolphin is characterized for it’s white underside, dark grey back and light grey stripe running along its sides from its eye to its tail. The Pacific White-Sided dolphin feeds on hake, anchovies, squid, herring, salmon and cod.

It’s also known for it’s curious and active personality and often approaches boats. The dolphin usually travel in large groups of 90 individuals or more and occasionally in super groups of over 1000. They have a complex social structure and will often stay beside an injured individual.

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Dall's Porpoise

Found along the west coast, the Dall’s porpoises are large animals, reaching six feet or more in length and weighing up to 500 pounds. The black and white coloring of their belly and flanks superficially resembles baby orcas. They typically travel in pods of 10-20 but may gather in the hundreds at exceptionally good feeding grounds.

Dall’s can swim over 35 mph and are often seen darting to and fro and then suddenly disappearing. At those high speeds, their small black dorsal fins create a spray of water called a “rooster tail”, caused by water moving off of the animal’s head when they surface to breathe. The spray is a good way to spot the Dall’s porpoise.