Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
August 11, 2011
A crisp morning with great visibility saw us out past Ogden Point first thing. One of our boats cruised south while the other went east, spreading out to cover the most territory. Our east-bound vessel went out to San Juan, scanning the calm seas for telltale signs of whales. On the way we crossed over several underwater mountains, called sea mounds or banks. These mounds are the best place to find baleen whales because fish tend to congregate around them. Middle Bank found us little activity so we headed to Salmon Bank off of Cattle Point, the southern most tip of San Juan Island in Washington State. A flock of Seagulls there alerted one of our passengers to the presence of a small Minke whale, (if you can call 20 feet and 6 tons small); it was a shy whale however, so we carried on to Whale Rocks to look at Seal pups and Cormorants. Somewhere between Hein Bank, Salmon Bank and McArthur Bank we found Minkes again, this time there were two and they were not so shy. It was a mother and her calf and they seemed to find the boat a curiosity, swimming circles around us. We watched the two little baleen whales cruising around, side by side, rising and falling in tandem before eventually heading back toward Victoria. Finding Minkes is a rare treat and social Minkes is even more rare! Today we excelled with a curious pair, a mother and her calf giving us a look into the mysterious world of these Cetaceans.
Meanwhile, our south-bound boat cruised out towards Constance bank and was rewarded with Humpbacks. These whales are larger than the Minkes, though they share the baleen plates used for feeding. The humpbacks are known for taking several breaths, their blow spray and long dark backs skimming the surface before one final breath and the dive. For the dive these whales arch their back and raise their flukes high in the air, allowing ample time to prepare a camera before they head straight down into the abyss. Humpbacks are known for being notoriously difficult to follow, they can dive for several minutes, travel great distances, and tend to swim in large circles. Luckily it was a clear day with calm seas making the whales instantly visible when they surfaced.
It didn't seem to matter which direction we took, today was a day for Baleen whales!
This afternoon we had guests aboard both the Orca Spirit and the Pacific Explorer. We headed southwest of Victoria to search for marine mammals. We had reports that there were humpback whales in the area. We came across two humpbacks, appearing enormous at approximately 40 tons! The whales would surface 3 to 4 times in a row before arching their backs and lifting their 18-foot wide tail fluke high above the water. Once the tail fluke is seen, it usually means that the whale is going on a longer dive, using the force of the tail fluke to propel them deep into the darkness of the ocean. After a great visit with these two humpbacks we headed further west where boats were congregating to watch a mother humpback and her calf. The calf was feeling rather frisky as he breached over and over again for almost half of an hour! It is common among many whale species for the young to engage in playful social behaviour, much like human children. After exercising his or her fins, the calf calmed down and swam along side his mother.
To ensure that our guests got to see as much wildlife as possible, we headed over to Race Rocks Lighthouse, a marine reserve just west of Victoria. Here we were greeted by the massive Steller's Sea Lions, all packed on the rocks, holding their noses to the air as an act of dominance. If you asked the people on board, it was more like a desperate attempt to escape the foul smell that the sea lions create in the area!! We wear also fortunate to spot the chocolate brown coats of the California Sea Lions, hanging out on the docks of the lighthouse. And if it wasn't enough to see two members of the pinniped family, we found some Harbour Seals as well. They were lying near the water, easily seen with their silver fur with black spots. The ride back in was calm, guests were sharing their best pictures and chatting about their new experience.
On the evening trip, passengers aboard the Pacific Explorer and the Orca Spirit II headed south into Juan de Fuca Strait. It had been an amazing trip for humpback whales in the afternoon. Five humpback whales were spotted in the area earlier today, so we set out to look for them. We eventually encountered two humpback whales several miles south of Victoria. The return of the humpback whale has been a good news story, as they continue to increase in number in the north Pacific after being decimated by whaling. Today, our guests witnessed a wonderful display as we were able to see the massive tail flukes of both humpback whales, probably the first pair of humpback whales we visited with in the afternoon. We travelled with them, before heading to Race Rocks. The sea lions are starting to return in large numbers, as we saw several California and Steller sea lions. Passengers aboard the Pacific Explorer this evening were even able to see a Steller sea lion consuming a skate, a rare and exciting event for our guests and crew alike!