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Originally published July 19, 2013 at 10:37 PM | Page modified July 20, 2013 at 7:46 AM

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Visiting orcas thrill crowds as they fearlessly hunt seals

A family of transient killer whales leapt and hunted Thursday, thrilling ferry riders and shoreline crowds in Kitsap County.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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If you’re anywhere on or near the waters of the Puget Sound this weekend, keep your eyes peeled — there’s a chance you could spot a group of transient killer whales frolicking about as they hunt prey.

On Thursday, a family of five orcas created quite a buzz after the whales were spotted first by Bremerton ferry riders in the morning and later drew crowds as they leapt into the air in jaw-dropping fashion just yards from the shores of Liberty Bay in Keyport.

“They don’t avoid congested areas,” said Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, which tracks the whales’ movements throughout the Northwest. If seals are there, that’s all they need ... they’ll go right into busy places sometimes.”

Whale watchers posted dozens of photos and videos on a Facebook page dedicated to orca sightings.

Brad Hanson, biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said: “It’s like having a grizzly wandering through town.”

The family of transient orcas spotted Thursday is believed to be part of a pod of up to 19 transients sighted a week ago in Saratoga Passage between Camino and Whidbey islands.

Able to travel between 75 and 100 miles in a 24-hour period, transient orcas move in smaller groups than their resident cousins that call Puget Sound home. And while transients hunt marine mammals such as harbor seals and sea lions, resident orcas prey on fish.

Hanson said there has been no interbreeding between the two types in 700,000 years, and very few documented interactions between them.

The transient killer whales roam between the waters of central California and those of southeast Alaska.

And Hanson said whale watchers, whale lovers and the simply curious should expect more sightings because their numbers have multiplied in recent years and the population of marine mammals upon which they prey has grown substantially.

Just where those sighted recently might appear next is really anyone’s guess, Garrett said.

By late Friday, the Orca Network had gotten no reports of new sightings — transient or otherwise.

“That’s the mystery of them,” Garrett said. “You can’t predict their movements.

“They could show up on the South Sound, near Tacoma or Olympia. This was the first time for them in Liberty Bay, to my recollection. They seldom show up in the same place twice.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or On Twitter @turnbullL.

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