It might sound unbelievable, but "it's no April Fools' joke," the Pacific Whale Watch Association said on Friday, announcing that whale watchers in Western Washington and British Columbia spotted a new single-day record of at least 72 Bigg's killer whales throughout the Salish Sea.
Ten distinct groups of the transient orcas were documented on Thursday, as far south as Hood Canal in Puget Sound, and as far north as B.C.'s Vancouver Island's Campbell River region, according to PWWA. The largest group, 19 whales, was seen near the northern San Juan Islands.
The group shared photos Friday, including an image that captured T63 "Chainsaw" — an adult male killer whale known for his jagged dorsal fin — spotted in Haro Strait near the U.S.-Canada border.
"This was an awesome community effort with watchers from Campbell River to Puget Sound contributing sightings and photos", Monika Wieland Shields, director of Orca Behavior Institute on San Juan Island said in news release "We wonder how long this increase in Bigg's killer whales will continue, but they keep setting records. More than 70 in the region in one day is astounding."
Mark Malleson, researcher for the Center for Whale Research, confirmed the number as a new record for the Salish Sea. "There have been days in the last decade with around 50 different Bigg's killer whales reported, maybe 60," Malleson said in the release, "but Thursday was certainly the most so far."
While sightings of endangered southern resident killer whales are few and far between, sightings of Bigg's killer whales have reached unprecedented numbers — thanks to an abundance of seals and sea lions in the region.
Transient orcas eat marine mammals, while northern residents and southern residents primarily eat Chinook salmon.