Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
The long winter months have come and gone and a new exciting season of amazing encounters with West Coast wildlife begins! April marks the start of our season with growing numbers of encounters with all kinds of amazing marine species. The boats are tuned up and our captains and naturalists are excited to be back on the water showing guests from near and far the amazing beauty of Victoriaʼs coastline and the wildlife that call it home.
We have had our first sightings of the famous Southern Resident Orcas on several of our trips already. J and K-pods have been patrolling Juan de Fuca Straight looking for spring salmon to fill their bellies. We anxiously wait for the return of L-pod who tend to be fashionably late season after season. As the summer months approach the runs of salmon grow heavy and the orcas can not resist the bountiful supply of food, let alone all the good-looking whale watchers!
The newest addition to the Southern Residents was born on December 17th, 2011. He or she belongs to J-pod and has been assigned the alphanumeric name of J-48. This little whale will likely be given a common name this fall. We canʼt wait to get to know him or her as every whale has their own unique personality, and like all youngsters, this one is bound to be active and comical like the rest. New babies are always exciting, entertaining, adorable and of course vital to the population. We hope that we will see more new calves as the pods return and we can pick out any unfamiliar faces- or we should say unfamiliar saddlepatches!
Transient orcas who travel in smaller groups and hunt marine mammals have frequented our local waters many times already this spring. They have been seen gathering together in groups as large as 19 whales to cooperatively hunt, socialize and mate. Soon the Harbour Seals will be giving birth to this yearʼs pups, attracting the transient orcas to the area to feed themselves and their new young too. The good news has spread that there have been several births in the transient population as well, with photos of the new bundles of joy popping up all over the place!
Other gentle giants have come to visit on several different days already this spring including grey whales and humpbacks. Both of these baleen species are traveling north to the rich waters of northern British Columbia and Alaska to feed on the massive blooms of plankton and herring eggs. But a few have graciously traveled the 95 mile long Straight of Juan de Fuca to give a courteous hello before continuing on the last leg of their long journey. We are happy to see them return and greet them with a heartfelt ʻWelcome Homeʼ! We have yet to spot a minke whale, which is the last of the four whale species that use the Salish Sea for feeding and socializing. I am sure a few visits to Hein Bank and Salmon Bank in the near future will result in some great minke whale sightings!
Other fascinating marine mammals have been spotted this season, like the quick as a whip Harbour Porpoises and the loud and obnoxious Stellarʼs Sea Lions. The sea lions have been spotted from the mouth of the harbour to the islands of Race Rocks. Their numbers (and volume!) will continue to increase as the season progresses. Before the end of May we will start to see the return of the California Sea Lions, as they bark their way around Race Rocks, vying for a prime spot on the crowded islands. One
of the most interesting sightings has been the presence of Elephant Seals at Race Rocks. This species tends to live further north and spend very little time on land, making it very rare to see them here at all. We have been fortunate to spot at least 4 females basking on the islands at Race Rocks on several trips this season already. And we cannot forget the melt-your-heart with those big puppy-dog eyes, Harbour Seals! Many of the Harbour Seals spotted this month look rather plump, most likely they are mothers nearing the end of a 10 month pregnancy. We look forward to seeing the new generation in June and July, little lumps beside their moms staring out at us as much as we are staring out at them!
Bald Eagles, Turkey Vultures and marine birds of many species have also filled our trips with exciting encounters so far this season. We have seen eagles soaring, vultures riding thermals and Brandtʼs Cormorants drying their feathers at Chain Islands. Pigeon Guillemots and Common Mures are numerous on the water, diving down for small fish and racing through the air faster than our boat can go! We canʼt wait to see if a few Tufted Puffins visit the area as they did last year for the first time in many seasons.
All in all it has been a great start to a busy season. Everyone at Orca Spirit looks forward to showing new and returning guests what makes British Columbiaʼs coast so unique and wild. We want to introduce you to the wildlife that instills our passion to be on the water, knowing that every encounter is unique, awe-inspiring and a moment that you will never forget. So come and join us and prepare to be amazed!