Killer Whale Family Features: Meet the T049A’s!!!

Introducing the T49A’s!

I’ll say this quietly because it is a little taboo, but I definitely have a favorite family of whales… and it’s the T49A’s! The T49A’s are just a fun family of orcas to watch! T49A “Nan” is the matriarch and I’m convinced she is one of the fiercest whales in the population. Her hunting success no doubt is a contributing factor to her success as a mother: T49A “Nan” has six living and thriving offspring. Let’s meet the fam! T49A “Nan” was born in 1986 and had her first known calf, male T49A1 “Noah” when she was 15 years old (2001). T49A “Nan” is definitely a “boy-mom” with 5 of her 6 kids being confirmed males: T49A1 “Noah,” T49A2 “Jude,” T49A3 “Nat,” T49A4 “Neptune,” and the newest member T49A6 “Charlie II.” Seven-year-old T49A5 “Nebula” will no doubt be as fierce and successful as her mother when she has calves of her own one day: She has an incredible mom to look up to and she has to help keep all those brothers in line! T49A1 “Noah” and T49A2 “Jude” are somewhat of rogues in the family. They will sometimes travel with their mom and siblings, but often do not. Recently, T49A2 “Jude” got himself into a bit of a pickle with T51 “Roswell” when they got trapped in a tidal “lake” up in Southeast Alaska. A team of researchers and volunteers were able to eventually get the whales out and T49A2 “Jude” has been seen in recent weeks patrolling the Salish Sea with his uncle T49C “Nielson.” The youngest in the family, T49A6 “Charlie II” is a fan favorite whale here in the Salish Sea. He is known for his tenacity and the way he gets himself right into the middle of things in a hunt (when he was just a few months old, he was right in the thick of things during a steller sea lion hunt)! But everyone’s favorite thing about little T49A6 “Charlie II” is his adorable underbite! He was seemingly born with it and as he has grown, he has only gotten cuter because of it! He is called “Charlie II” after another whale in the population T001 “Charlie Chin” who was an adult male that also had a dramatic underbite. The underbite doesn’t seem to bother T49A6 at all and he is a thriving, bouncing bundle of life and joy to all whale enthusiasts here in the Salish Sea!

T049A6, “Charlie II” porpoising
T049A1, “Noah”- the first son of T049A, “Nan”


Our Most Memorable Encounter With the T49A’s

The T49A’s are a fierce group of hunters! On several occasions in the last three years I have been privileged to witness this group of whales hunting sea lions… No meager feat when a fully grown male Steller sea lion can reach 2,500 pounds! On top of that, T49A “Nan” has had a little calf in tow on each of these hunting endeavors, no doubt learning invaluable skills for his future! 

I like to tell people that the T49A’s meet up with the T18’s to hunt Steller sea lions. I say this because on each of the three encounters I’ve watched the T49A’s hunt a Steller sea lion, there have been at least some members of the T18 family there to help (we will tell you more about the T18’s in a future Family Feature). These Steller hunts are always very intense and full of aerial acrobatics. Weighing in between 1000-2500 pounds, a Steller sea lion is a formidable opponent and I’ve never seen a Steller go down without fighting tooth and nail to the last. Hunting is a sobering thing to witness. The orcas are just doing what they need to survive, but I can’t help but feel the desperation of the sea lion in these events, which have lasted hours in some cases. 

T049A6, “Charlie II” showing off his underbite


Our most recent encounter with the T49A’s (April 2024) was for exactly this: A Steller sea lion hunt. On this particular occasion T49A1 “Noah” and T49A2 “Jude” were not with their family. As with the previous Steller hunts we have seen involving the T49A’s, members of the T18 family were present and little T49A6 “Charlie II” was right in the action as he always is, following his mom’s lead while going after prey much larger than himself. We arrived on scene to the hunt just after it had started. Steller hunts tend to be much more “showy” as the orcas breach, tail-slap, and launch their quarry out of the water. The power and strategy employed by the orcas was incredible: They would launch an attack, spread, reform their line, and then go in again. The sea lion really didn’t stand a chance against the power of the 7 orcas that worked seamlessly together to take it down. The hunt lasted for quite some time and it was truly the most brutal hunt I’ve ever witnessed. The sea lion continued to fight even when it should have been dead by all accounts. Finally, at the end, one of the whales delivered the final blow – one that turned the water red. The whales had earned their meal and they would eat like queens today. Little T49A6 “Charlie II” was particularly thrilled – breaching over and over again by his mom’s side. This encounter was a reminder of the balance of the beauty and brutality of nature. Orcas are our oceans’ apex predators. They aren’t cruel, but they are hunters. It’s difficult for us humans to fully process these situations with the emotions that we inevitably feel. But one thing was certain for me: I came out of this hunt feeling extremely privileged to have gotten to witness some of the most raw power in the natural world and I’m grateful for the experience. 


T018 family joining in on the Steller hunt
Matriarch “Nan” at the Steller hunt