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Record number of Bigg’s killer whale sightings in Salish Sea this year

In 2021, there have been 793 unique sightings of Bigg's whales in the Salish Sea.

SEATTLE — Following nearly 30 unique Bigg's killer whale sightings in the Salish Sea over Labor Day weekend, the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) announced this year has set a new annual record for the number of Bigg's whale sightings for the region. 

As of Monday, there have been 793 unique sightings of Bigg’s killer whales so far this year, beating the previous record set in 2019 of 747. Bigg’s killer whales have also been referred to as transient killer whales.

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Additionally, more than 70 Bigg’s whales were documented last month in the Salish Sea, which is comprised of Puget Sound, Strait of Georgia, Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands.

A “sighting,” according to PWWA, is a report of a unique group of whales on a given day. All orcas are identified using specific markings on their dorsal fins and backs.

On Saturday, one sea captain based out of Sooke, BC said that he came across seven different Bigg’s whale families on Saturday alone. 

“I’ve never seen so many Bigg’s at once," said Captain Paul Pudwell. “It was a special day.”

Bigg’s whales feed on other mammals like seals, sea lions and porpoises. The abundance of these species has led to the births of more than 130 calves in the last 10 years, according to PWWA.

While the Bigg’s whales are thriving, Southern Resident orcas have been dealing with a decline of Chinook salmon populations, their primary food source.

“Bigg’s prove that killer whales can thrive in this region, so long as there is food. If we can restore local salmon populations, we have hope that Southern Residents can recover. The priority has to be getting them more food,” said PWWA Executive Director Erin Gless.

On Tuesday, Southern Residents and Bigg’s orca whales were spotted in Puget Sound.