Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
August 24, 2011
Our passengers clambered aboard the Pacific Explorer this morning ready to find some whales. It was flat calm and sunny so we headed straight out and did a big loop around Constance Bank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We didn't spot anything besides the occasional Harbour Porpoise so we continued on to Race Rocks to look at some Sea Lions and Seals. There were Stellar and California Sea Lions barking and growling from the rocks, some were splashing in the water amongst the Bull kelp, looking for that perfect fish. We had just made it past Helicopter Rock when some ominous black dorsal fins were spotted to the North. We weaved our way through the rocks towards them and discovered a group of 6 Transient Orcas resting as they swam south/west towards the lighthouse, including individuals T20 and T21. It was strange that these mammal hunters would be so calm when there was so much food to be had, seals swimming just yards away and sea lions rolling and splashing not more than 100 meters south. We eventually figured they had already eaten and were sleeping off a big breakfast. It was the only reasonable explanation for them ignoring such a buffet. We enjoyed the drowsy Killer Whales until some other boats arrived and it became a good idea to find something less crowded. We headed east back to Constance bank and this time we were rewarded by 4 Humpbacks feeding in the shallower waters there. We wandered over to a pair and turned off the engines. The massive whales were feeding along the surface, opening their mouths and scooping gallon after gallon of water through their baleen. They did a behaviour called lunge feeding where they skimmed the surface while lying on one side, a huge pectoral fin waving at us as they passed. It was fabulous; the whales continued to feed, swimming circles around us. Our first attempts to leave were thwarted by the Humpbacks as they manoeuvred in front of our exit path, we patiently waited for them to finally clear off to a safe distance before being able to leave. We were admittedly a little late arriving back; however, I don't think a single passenger cared as it was really the fault of those two sneaky Humpbacks!
This afternoon was once again spent in the calm waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait and it was spent with Orcas a plenty! First we found ourselves the Transient Orcas from the morning trip. They had traveled a pretty good distance over lunch and were almost to the Washington coast, along the Olympic Peninsula. We followed the group for a bit, they had woken up considerably since this morning, and were displaying some fun behaviour like rolling on their sides. The large male T20 was easily distinguishable with his mother, T21, and we got excellent views of the other females and calves as well. Before we ended up in the United States we decided to cruise back north and see what else was swimming the straits. We were half way back towards Rack Rocks when we happened upon a group of Resident Orcas. The behaviors between the previous group and this one were like day and night. These Orcas were staying close to the surface, close together and trundling along at a pretty good pace; whereas the Transients had been grouped but doing slow, long dives, remaining out of sight for minutes at a time. The Residents were in a good mood so we followed them for a while as well. We were able to identify Crewser (L92) a big male with a curved dorsal fin, who was likely with his aunt Ballena (L90) and grandmother Baba (L26). There were others with them but they proved to quick to identify. For the final stretch of our journey we looped over to Race Rocks lighthouse and had a look at the Seals and Seal Lions there. They were as noisy as ever and smelled just as pungent as earlier today. It was another great trip, and for all the Orca enthusiasts we had on board, a perfect adventure!