Coastal transient orcas make their way to Salish Sea

The past month has been an outstanding time to see transient orcas in the Salish Sea, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Crews from the association are reporting an unprecedented number of sightings of “exotic” orcas, mysterious transient killer whales rarely seen in these waters.

The orcas are part of the Pacific coastal community that spends most of its time along the continental shelf break between Southern California and Southeast Alaska.

“These orcas really are fairly unknown, but all that’s changing fast,” Michael Harris, executive director of the association, said in a prepared statement.

The Seattle-based association represents 32 operators in Washington and British Columbia.

“Every one of these encounters with the exotics helps us understand more about them and unravel some of that mystery,” Harris said in the statement. “They spend so much of their lives out to sea and out of sight of people, but then they come in like this into the Sound and Straits, right into the most intensively studied area for marine mammals in the world.”

Harris said photographs whale watching crews and researchers have been capturing the last couple of months have advanced the knowledge of these creatures exponentially.

Capt. Mark Malleson of Prince of Whales Whale Watching tracks killer whales throughout the winter months. He runs tours year-round for Prince of Whales out of Victoria, British Columbia, but he is also as a research assistant for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and The Center for Whale Research.

“This fall we’ve had a record number of encounters,” he said in an association news release.