Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
September 7, 2011
This morning with a very small, yet very wonderful group, we set out once again on the Orca Spirit in search of our black and white buddies. As we cruised East through the Juan De Fuca straight towards the San Juan Islands of Washington state, the guests were lucky to get amazing views of the Olympic mountains to the south of us and gorgeous Mt Baker shining to the East of us in the spectacular morning sunshine! After we made our way past Discovery and Chatham Island and crossed the Haro Straight, we slowed for our first scan of the area. Not long after we stopped, our captain Brad saw some "blows" in the distance! We started up the boat again and made our way there! As we approached the whales we noticed that there had to be more than one pod. We have 3 resident pods that live around the southern tip of the island every summer ranging from 20 to 40 members depending on the pod, but we estimated that there was approximately 50 with us today! It turned out being J-pod, joined with members of K AND L pod!
Because it was such a calm and beautiful day, we put our hydrophone into the water right away to see if the whales were chatting with each other... and wow! They definitely were! We heard non-stop vocalizations from what seemed to be a very happy gathering of friends and family. All resident orca speak the same language, but have different accents so they know who is part of a different pod. They use a series of calls and clicks to communicate and to help them find their way in darker places. As the viewing went on, a young calf popped its head out of the water displaying what is called a "spyhop"! and then not long after, it threw its little body out of the water and breeched for us! So cute! :) But it wasn't just the young calf that seemed to be in high spirits, many others began to slap their tails, roll around and display backflops and cartwheels! I thought I had seen a whale known as Spieden or J-8 go by but wasn't quite sure, but a photo taken by one of our guests confirmed it was her! We could tell by the shape of her saddle patch and a small little knick out of the base of her dorsal fin. Unfortunately, after an amazing morning with the orcas, we had to turn around and make our way back to Victoria. But on our way, we stopped at the beautiful Discovery and Chatham Islands which had some very cute little Harbour Seals (or as we like to call them, "rock sausages") basking in the warm sun. This morning was such a wonderful trip, shared with wonderful guests and of course the wonderful whales!
This afternoon we boarded our silver vessel once again and made our way out of Victoria Harbour in hopes of catching up with the group of orca we were with during the morning tour. As we made our way East towards the San Juan Island, the day continued to be a glorious one! The water was so calm which makes viewing fantastic and the sun had continued to warm us as we traveled. Just after we passed Discovery and Chatham Island, we noticed a lone male orca. It was T-30! T-30 is transient orca which means he and his family only hunt mammals such as seals, sea lions and porpoise. We knew that this particular transient whale usually travels with his mother and 2 of his siblings but we couldn't seem to spot them. After about 10 minutes of following along side the lone ranger, a female popped up not far, and then a few minutes later 2 more whales showed up as well! This would have been T-30's family. After watching this group for a little while, we decided to move on to find the resident orca.
We managed to find our fish eating friends near the San Juan Island where we had left them this morning. They were quite spread out but we managed to get a good look at some tight family groups. Resident orca can spread out many miles from one another, yet still be in communication with each other. We once again dropped in the hydrophone to listen to the fascinating vocalizations of these most fascinating creatures. We could see that as we were viewing them, the whales began to get into more and more groups, then meet up with other groups. As we were about to leave it looked as if the orca were getting ready to go into resting mode. When orca need to rest, they line up in a tight group side by side with one another. Because they need to remember to breathe, they only shut off one hemisphere of their brain and leave the other side awake just enough to allow them to remember that they need to take a breath. This afternoon, our guests were lucky to see both transient and resident orca in one trip! If resident orcas are around, the transients don't tend to be around as well. They are not aggressive towards each other but prefer to keep out of each other’s way. After an orca filled afternoon, we set out back to Victoria to conclude yet another amazing trip!