The southern Salish Sea seems to be a favourite stomping ground for our next Bigg’s killer whale family to be featured. We introduce you to the T137s—they’re social, playful and prone to misadventure (one of them anyway)!

Let’s meet this family of four and take a deeper look into some of the eventful moments in their lives so far.

The matriarch of the family, Loon (T137), breaching
Loon (T137) / Shorelines Photography for Eagle Wing Tours

Close family ties

Known as T137 by researchers, Loon is the mother and leader of the family. Living in a matriarchal society, Loon has a very important job. Her family relies on her guidance and wisdom to successfully navigate through life. She was born in 1984 and has had four offspring to date, three of which currently travel with her.

There’s eldest son Jack (T137A), born in 2002; daughter Tempest (T137B), born in 2006; and daughter Wright (T137D), born in 2012. Loon had a fourth calf (T137C) which unfortunately died shortly after birth in 2010.

Three killer whales swimming together: Loon in the middle, her son Jack behind her, and her presumed mother Flapjack (T036) in front
Jack, mother Loon and presumed grandmother Flapjack (T036) / Shorelines Photography for Eagle Wing Tours

It’s suspected that Loon’s mother is Flapjack (T036) and her sister is another matriarch known as Bella (T099). Loon is a “breakaway daughter.” She has dispersed from her mother, taken her kids with her, and become the matriarch of her own family. That’s common practice for daughters in the Bigg’s population, as a way to keep group sizes small to match their stealth-hunter lifestyle.

We sometimes see extended family reunions. This might be a quick “Hi…how are you.” It could also be for ceremonial purposes. If there’s a newborn calf in either matriline, a reunion may follow. Stay tuned for future blogs to meet both Flapjack and Bella and their respective families.

Jack swimming with his little sister, Wright
Jack and little sister Wright / Shorelines Photography for Eagle Wing Tours

A social bunch

The T137 family is very sociable . Loon seems to enjoy a good “T-party!—a term we use when multiple Bigg’s families come together to socialize. It looks like she’s passed this trait on to her offspring. Jack and Tempest will occasionally rendezvous with other Bigg’s whales away from the rest of their family. We can only speculate what goes on during these eventful T-parties!

Jack has demonstrated a few quirks over the years. His nickname “Jumping Jack” refers to his boisterous personality and his penchant for aerial behaviours. Jack likes to jump!

Jack doing what he does best—breaching out of the water!
Jack doing what he does best! / Shorelines Photography for Eagle Wing Tours

This outgoing personality has put him in some precarious situations over the years. In 2016, at age 14, he attempted to take on two fully grown grey whales—on his own! Loon had to intervene to herd her naïve son away from the situation. The grey whales were unharmed. Bigg’s killer whales sometimes hunt other species of whale, but for Jack to take on two fully grown baleen whales by himself is a tall order. Nice try, Jack!

The injury

Jack was also a cause for concern in 2019 when he sustained a serious injury to his caudal peduncle. This is the area of a whale’s body between the dorsal fin and the tail fluke. It houses all the muscles that whales use to propel themselves through the water. The injury was severe enough to debilitate Jack from swimming easily or doing normal daily activities.

Eagle Wing Tours was one of the first to witness the effects of this injury. On a tour in August 2019, we encountered the T137 family west of Victoria. We could immediately see that something was off. All members of the family were travelling slowly and seemed to be going in circles.

Jack in August 2019, swimming very lethargically
Jack on the day he was first reported to be acting strangely / Eagle Wing Tours photo

At first, we wondered whether Loon or Tempest might be giving birth. But it soon became clear that Jack was the problem. He couldn’t keep a normal swimming pace and his family kept circling back for him. We reported the situation to authorities, and Jack was monitored over the next several days. A series of photographs finally revealed the cause— a circular chunk of flesh and blubber was missing from his caudal peduncle.

We’ll never know what caused this injury. It may have been a bite from a sea lion during a predation event. It could have been the aftermath an entanglement in discarded fishing gear. We can only speculate. Fortunately, Jack has since fully recovered and is back to his usual flamboyant behaviour!

Loon (background) swimming with her elder daughter, Tempest.
Tempest, with mom Loon in back / Shorelines Photography for Eagle Wing Tours

Join us on a tour!

Join us on a tour for your chance to get a glimpse of the T137 family, and to learn more about the whales and wildlife of the Salish Sea. To book a tour give us a call or book online.

Blog written by Melissa Blake, marine naturalist with Eagle Wing Tours.

Published December 2, 2022