Killer whales are accustomed to seeing people on boats, and sometimes express mild interest in their human admirers.
But they don't often see dogs, which might explain the extremely curious approach of Southern Resident killer whales Sunday after they spotted a yellow lab aboard a 22-foot boat at the San Juan Islands off Washington.
The lab is Sailor, whose owners, Kate and Jaycee Butler, said they have not experienced this type of intimate encounter in 40 years of whale watching in the Pacific Northwest.
The orca turning on her back to look at the people, and especially the dog, is K13, or Skagit, a female born in 1972 (an estimate), who travels with her four kids and two grand kids. (Skagit was identified for this story, based on her distinctive white eyepatch, by Melisa Pinnow of the Center for Whale Research.)
While Kate can be heard expressing her disbelief during the close encounter–"Are you flipping kidding me?!"–Sailor, who is vigorously wagging his tail, is speechless.
“He didn’t even bark throughout this whole encounter, and Sailor barks at just about everything,” Kate said. “He was so excited that when we got off the boat he peed for 10 minutes.”
There were dozens of Southern Resident killer whales in the area at the time.
The bottom three images accompanying this post, captured by James Gresham from aboard a much larger vessel, the Island Explorer 3, show the Butlers’ encounter from a different perspective.
Skagit's eye is above water as she swims to just a few feet from the vessel’s bow.
“The orca is looking at the dog and the people, there is no question,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a killer whale researcher. “She is definitely checking them out.”
This is the second video in the past week showing an apparent connection between whale and dog, the other occurring at Whale Point in British Columbia, involving a humpback whale swimming to within yards of a dog watching from shore.
The “Orcas visit Sailor” footage was captured via iPhone by Kate Butler, who was captain and videotaped from the cabin, while Jaycee was taking photos while holding Sailor’s collar.
"He's been out dozens and dozens of times and has never jumped in, but this time he might have because he was so excited,” Jaycee explained.
There was no such concern about Sailor’s brother, Finnegan. Throughout this entire encounter, the Butlers said, he was asleep in the cabin.
–Images are courtesy of ©James Gresham