Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
July 20, 2011
A small group of fantastic guests joined us for this morning's whale watching excursion. The seas were flat calm and the sun was peeking out, making for a perfect morning on the water. Things just got better and better after we left the harbour...We found resting resident orcas 15 minutes from take-off! How lucky we were! The whales were lined up very close as they slowly moved east towards San Juan Island. Orcas line up close to each other when they are sleeping. Because they are not auto-breathers like ourselves, they must sleep by shutting down one hemisphere of their brain, while the awake side controls their movements and breathing. We saw many females, a few adult males, young whales, and possibly L-pod's newest calf, L-117, born about 6 weeks ago! Listening to the strong blows from the whales and seeing them all surface together was breathtaking. If any of our guests got good photos of the whales' dorsal fins and saddle patches, you can match your photos to the ID pictures of the L-pod whales found on the Centre for Whale Research's website: www.whaleresearch.com
After spending the maximum allowable time with the whales (one third of the trip), we headed out west to look for more marine wildlife. We stopped a couple of times to scan for any blows above the calm waters coming from baleen whales. Guests and crew enjoyed spotting the many tiny jellyfish as they pulsed through the water. In the past month there has been a bloom of jellyfish, including moon jellies and water jellies. None of these species will sting you if you touch them. Their clear bodies and white edges look stunning against the green-blue background of the ocean. We didn't have luck finding any other species of whales, but the creatures that awaited us at Race Rocks Lighthouse did not disappoint!
We cruised slowly up to the small rocky islands that surround the lighthouse, spotting the many Harbour Seals that were resting along the water's edge. We saw several pups, one in particular was very small and very cute! As we were passing by the lighthouse, we spotted a HUGE bull elephant seal! What a find! In two seasons of whale watching I have never seen a male elephant seal! At first glance, you could swear he was a hippo! Male elephant seals have a proboscis, a trunk-like nose that can be inflated several feet long. They will inflate their proboscis and make a loud sound to attract females and ward off competing males. Male elephant seals can reach over 5000 pounds in size and only come ashore twice a year, once to mate and once to molt or shed their fur layer. They are the only seals in the world who do this. It was an absolutely fantastic trip this morning as we were treated to some of the most interesting marine mammals in the area. Sunny skies faded into a fog bank on the way home, but the sun reappeared as we entered the harbour. All on board were excited about our amazing trip!
Our whale watching trip this afternoon left the Victoria Harbour aboard the Pacific Explorer, our comfy 70 passenger boat. We headed east, hoping to find the resident orcas that we saw earlier this morning. We were offshore of San Juan Island when we saw the first dorsal fins rise above the surface. As we scanned the area, we soon realized that there were whales spread out in almost all directions, from the shoreline to more out in the open where we cruised along. We saw several males with their distinctly tall dorsal fins, that can reach 6 feet when the animals are fully mature. We picked out several females and calves amongst the group as well. We believe we were watching members of the southern residents' largest pod, L-pod, with approximately 42 members. The whales seemed to be traveling, likely using their powerful sonar to look for Chinook salmon to eat.
We were excited to see a spy-hop by one of the whales. Orcas will lift their head above the surface to 'spy' on whatever is above the surface. Eventually one of the young whales got frisky and started breaching out of the water to the delight of all the guests. Following the breaches we saw several tail slaps and tail lobs, where the whales hold their tail straight out of the water for a brief moment. The chase was on, as tail slaps and sharp turns while swimming signify hunting behaviour. These whales need to catch 28 to 34 fish a day to meet their high energy requirements. Our Captain dropped the hydrophone down into the water so that we could hear the vocalizations and sonar clicks from the whales. They were chatting to each other, one can only wonder what they were saying! On our way back to Victoria, we stopped by Seabird Point and Trial Island to check out the picturesque lighthouses that stand tall amongst the islands. It was a great day to be on the water and spend time looking at some of the coasts most iconic and loved animals, the orca whales!