Killer Whale Family Features: Meet the T123’s!

Introducing the T123’s!

     If I rolled the dice last season on what matriline of killer whales we would see, the T123’s would definitely come up many times. Perhaps they have a “frequent cruising pass” for the Salish Sea. Though this is all completely by chance, I definitely was fortunate enough to spend a lot of visits with this delightful family. T123 “Sidney,” is one of the assumed daughters of the remarkable T046, “Wake.” Learn all about the incredible story of the T046’s in this previous blog! Sidney is the mother of T123A “Stanley,” T123C “Lucky,” and T123D “Darcy.” Her second calf T123B “Thrasher” was no longer seen with the family after 2011.

      Sidney leads a strong family and at the age of 39, could possibly add another calf to the family before surpassing her prime time for reproducing. She is also recorded as the largest measured female Bigg’s Killer Whale at 23.3-feet long!

     Her eldest, Stanley, is quite a sight to see with his exceptionally tall dorsal fin that includes a very distinct little “notch” towards the top. Stanley actually has a doppelganger here in the Salish Sea who is part of the T060 clan and has subsequently been nicknamed “Yelnats” (Stanley spelled backwards) as a nod to the Louis Sachar novel “Holes.” Check out the side by side shots of each whale below and see if you can tell their dorsal fins apart!

T123A “Stanley”
T060C “Yelnats”

A Scary Scenario

     Back in the Summer of 2011, after Thrasher had already been missing, Sidney and Stanley got themselves into quite a pickle that almost caused this young, growing family to lose everything. While presumably chasing harbor seals along the coast of Prince Rupert Island, BC, the two whales found themselves stranded and beached during an extremely low tide. Without water to cool them, they had to wait helplessly exposed to the heat and unable to move.

     Locals, Doug and Debbie Davis from Prince Rupert Adventure Tours rushed to the scene after hearing of a couple of stranded whales. They were able to walk onto the sandbar where the whales were trapped, but the only resolution to save the whales was simply time in waiting for the tide to come back in. Thankfully, both Sidney and Stanley were able to push through and found themselves swimming free from the sandbar once the tide started to rise again. View the video from the Davis’ to witness this frightening predicament, yet eventual relief of the whales survival!

     It is a wonder that Sidney and Stanley escaped unscathed. Their upright position prevented them from drowning, whereas a whale stuck on its side might be unable to breath if their blowhole is submerged before they are able to swim. However, the gravitational pressure can also be detrimental and cause crushing of their internal organs. None of the whales exhibited any negative effects as a result of the stranding. And when I say none– I mean none of the THREE whales because… What is even more astounding with this joyful ending is that it was later discovered that Sidney was actually pregnant at the time with…. “LUCKY!” Also named after Lucky Creek, the nickname couldn’t be more fitting.

T123A “Stanley” and T123D “Darcy”

Most Memorable Moment with the T123’s

     I mentioned that we saw the T123’s quite a bit last season (2023), yet we’re just starting to have a couple of encounters with them actually this past week! This family is thriving as stealthy hunters. During the  tour on May 27th they partied with the T124A’s just off of  Sucia Island. It was quite a show of tail slaps and “moonwalks” (swimming backwards) while they prey-shared. “Lucky” even popped up just beside us with a surprise spyhop. It was the perfect little “goodbye” from her as we headed home for the evening!

T123C “Lucky” spyhopping