Spanish naval officer Francisco de Eliza led several expeditions through the Pacific Northwest in the late 1700s to explore the area’s rich ecosystems, and visited the San Juan island chain in 1791. The Viceroy of Mexico commissioned this particular expedition, and his full name was Senor Don Juan Vicente de Guemes Pacheco y Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo Conde de Revilla Gigedo. Captain Eliza utilized various parts of the Viceroy’s name to identify features around the islands, most of which have been renamed. Griffin Bay, off San Juan Island, was originally called “Boca de Horcasitas” and the H was occasionally omitted.
Captain Kellett, a British naval officer, stuck with the name Orcas Island upon his arrival in 1847. Orcas Island was retained on the British Admiralty chart Number 1917 and has been documented on all charts ever since. The island having the same name as the orca whale (killer whale) is just a coincidence, despite a resident group of orcas that frequent the San Juan Islands.