Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
June 30, 2011
On today’s whale watching excursion we left on the Pacific Explorer with a great group of interesting and friendly guests. We had a report that resident orcas were off the southern banks of San Juan Island. So we cruised over the American border on our luxurious boat to find the whales. We arrived at the end of the island known as Cattle Point. Here we spotted different members from J-pod. The whales were milling around looking for their morning breakfast. The whales were using a sophisticated form of echolocation to search for fish. The sonar bounces off the fish and the whales receives the sound waves through their lower jaw to their inner ear. The whales see a 3D image of the fish in their brain. It is like having X-ray vision! We saw some tail slapping which sends very loud sound waves through the water, which can stun the fish, giving the whales an extra few seconds to snatch the fish. Orcas are so clever! A few of the whales raised themselves out of the water and flopped backwards into the water! Then we got to see spy-hopping, a behaviour where the whales lift their heads out of the water to get a good look around at the world above the water. It was a great time spent with the orcas this morning, guests and crew spent the ride home checking out all our pictures and discussing more stories about our favourite black and white mammals.
This afternoon we cruised out of the harbour past Ogden Point and out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The latest information about the location of the whales was that they were in Rosario Straight, heading north. Rosario Straight is along the shores of Lopez Island, south of San Juan Island. In other words, the whales were very far away! Guests on board agreed to let us be a little late coming home so that we could get to the whales. Calm waters allowed the Pacific Explorer to go full speed and passengers to enjoy the ride. We found J-pod hugging the rocky shoreline, obviously looking for some juicy salmon! The whales were milling around in a circle, working together to herd salmon. We spotted a large male, several females and a young calf. Our time with the whales was short due to the distance we had to travel to see them, but it was time well spent! We headed back towards Victoria with more calm waters, the sun poking out as we approached the harbour. It was a pleasure to get to know our guests and learn about where they were from while on our trip!
It was a special night tonight for guests as we had a surprise for them. We took them all out on the new Orca Spirit II, our 100 foot catamaran vessel! We normally only use this boat for charters and special events, so this was our first whale watching adventure aboard this boat. We had smooth sailing across the Juan de Fuca Straight as we made our way to the south end of San Juan Island, WA. Here we came across a group of killer whales belonging to J-pod. We can't forget to mention L-87, commonly known as Onyx. This big male belongs to L-pod, but has been temporarily adopted by J-pod. The southern resident population has three pods: J, K, L, who do not interbreed within their own pod, so Onyx must have met some females in J-pod that he just can't leave! The whales were milling around the waters in search of food, Chinook salmon to be precise. These high energy whales need between 200 and 300 pounds of fish a day, so foraging is a top priority! We had a great view of J-26 or Mike as he cruised after some salmon. Some guests on our return trip helped us confirm his identification with some great snapshots of his dorsal fin and saddle patch. We also had some guests find egg shells that blew down from the top of the boat. The shell was very thick, as well as the inner membrane. A crew consensus was that the egg may have belonged to a Great Blue Heron and was dropped on the boat by a seagull. A neat find non-the-less! A new adventure was complete for guests and crew aboard the Orca Spirit II!