For the first October on record, the Orca Behavior Institute had confirmed reports of Bigg’s killer whales every single day of the month.
With two months still to be tallied in the year, 2023 is already seeing a record number of unique Bigg’s sightings in the waters off Vancouver Island, according to the institute. With October pushing sightings past the 2022 total, 2023 will be yet another record year – the ninth out of the past 10, with only 2020 showing a slight dip.
“We’ve had over 1,200 unique sightings of Bigg’s in the Salish Sea both last year and this year – 10 years ago we were only getting 15 per cent of that,” the institute wrote in a social media post.
The Washington-based Orca Behavior Institute compiles monthly maps of confirmed sightings of orcas seen between Campbell River and Olympia, Wash.
Of note in October, formerly uncommon visitors to the inland waters, the T109A2s spent the entire month here, beginning near the San Juan Islands and then moving down to Puget Sound.
“There were over a dozen sightings of groups of 10-plus whales. Other family groups that spent a lot of time here in October were the T35As and T38As, T36 and the T36Bs, and the T123s.”
The Orca Behavior Institute considers a “unique sighting” as a sighting of a specific individual or individuals on a single day. Numerous reports at different times throughout a day can be made but those additional reports do not count towards the unique sightings tally.
While sightings of Bigg’s killer whales (formerly known as transients) were up during the month, sightings of their southern resident counterparts were minimal with only nine days confirmed in October. That’s below the five-year average of 14 days.
All three pods did make appearances between Oct. 11 and 17.
This year is shaping up to be the second lowest on record for sightings of southern residents, with only 2021 coming in with fewer days.
“Their declining presence in the spring (the new normal) has now clearly extended into the summer, and we’re getting the first glimpses that it may carry over into the fall months, too.”
Whale groups are also on the lookout for missing southern resident K34, who has not been seen since July 7 and is feared dead.
As November shapes up, the Orca Behavior Institute is wondering how long the streak of Bigg’s sightings will continue and if the southern residents will spend their usual approximately 20 days of the month in the Salish Sea.
“We can’t wait to see how it all shapes up.”