Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
August 3, 2011
This morning the sun was shining and the waters of the Juan de Fuca Straight were flat. We cruised east to look for marine mammals, especially the killer whales. Guests were first to spot orcas surfacing in the distance. As we approached the whales we could see that the whales were traveling very close to each other towards San Juan Island. It did not take long to realize we were with members of J-pod, the most frequently seen pod belonging to the southern resident killer whale population. Most noticeable was Blackberry (J-27), with his tall dorsal fin and open saddle patch. Blackberry has 2 siblings, his sister Tsuchi (J-31) and Mako (J-39). Their mother passed away in 2008, so big brother and big sister keep a close eye on little Mako, who was born in 2003. We got to see a great spy-hop, which is when a whale lifts their head above the water to look at their surroundings above the surface. Some of the whales were porpoising or high speed swimming, implying that they were trying to get somewhere.
After spending time with J-pod, we headed towards Kellett Bluff, where we came across one of our favourite males, Cappuccino! He is known as K-21, and has become the most iconic whale of the K-pod family. Cappuccino has a new nick in his dorsal fin this year, and a scar from a wound behind his saddle patch. As to the cause of these new identifying characteristics, one can only guess, as orcas do not have any natural predators. Cappuccino is often accompanied by his only living immediate relative, his sister Raggedy (K-40), but she was not present this morning. Raggedy and Cappuccino are very close siblings, they had 2 other siblings who passed away in 1981 and 1994, so they are best friends, almost always swimming side-by-side. After a wonderful morning with the resident orcas, we stopped at Trial Island, where we were treated to the sight of 3 Great Blue Herons taking off from the island. We also saw lots of Harbour Seals taking a break on the shores before they head into the water to fish at high tide. It was an awesome whale watching adventure with the bonus of several other marine animals along the way!
This afternoon's whale watching trip had us motoring along on the Orca Spirit, all on board enjoyed the sunny skies and still seas. We headed east towards the San Juan Islands, and then turned north to reach the shores of Stuart Island, where we encountered a plethora of orcas! Members of J-pod and K-pod were spread out from north to south, traveling in many tight-knit groups. We first seen a group of K-pod members, including K-21 or Cappuccino and this time, his sister K-40 or Raggedy. Raggedy was not in her usual spot this morning, right next to her brother, but she was this afternoon! Raggedy was a jagged back-edge to her dorsal fin, thus the name Raggedy. She has never been known to have any offspring, and no in her fifties, she is post-reproductive. We don't exactly know why Raggedy has never been a mother, but we suspect she has reproductive problems. That doesn't stop her from baby-sitting the little ones of other family members! Guests and crew were overjoyed to see 3 spyhops on this trip, along with some back-flops. The whales became a bit active, with tail slaps and rolls.
We soon came to another group, which we could identify as J-pod. J-pod has adopted an L-pod male named Onyx (L-87). He never seems to want to go home to his own pod, which we have never seen amongst these whales before. Onyx is the only surviving member of his matriline and he is now a sexually mature male. This may be why he likes to hang out with J-pod so much....he is a lady's man! Orcas do not mate within their own family, so they must court a mate from another pod. Moving in with J-pod seems to be Onyx's solution to winning over all the females! We enjoyed another spyhop from J-pod before heading back to Victoria to finish our trip. It was another beautiful day on the water, with happy guests, most seeing orcas for the first time! It is truly an unforgettable experience!
Beautiful photos from today's tours: