Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
September 23, 2011
This morning started out cloudy, but it did not take long for the sun to burst through the clouds, warming us up as we set out in search of marine life. We made our way southeast of Victoria Harbour. With resident orcas last seen off San Juan Island, and no new reports this morning, we felt it was our best option to head to San Juan Island. We neared the shores where we stopped to scan for whales up and down the coastline. With no blows or dorsal fins on the horizon, we made our way to Salmon Bank, an area where large bait balls (groups of small fish) were evident from the hundreds of birds gathered on the surface. Sometimes all the fish attract larger fish, porpoises or whales. But not this morning. So we kept moving, trying to cover as much area as possible to look for animals. We stopped at another nutrient-rich area, known for lots of bait ball activity. We searched the waters for animals and just when we were about to move on, a minke whale surfaced! Soon another in the distance surfaced as well. Minke whales are the smallest species of balleen whale that comes into our area, and the 3rd rarest of the 4 species we can see. It appeared that there was an adult and a young whale, likely a mother and calf. Minkes can be a challenge to watch as they can take long dives and change directions underwater a lot. None-the-less, it is a privilege to see them in their natural habitat. On our way home we stopped at Chain Islands to see the Harbour Seals that were relaxing on the small islands. Harbour Seals sun themselves on the rocks to conserve precious energy, that they would otherwise burn quickly in the cold waters that surround us here. They are fascinating creatures that can delay the implantation of their embryos to give the females more time to gain back the weight she lost from having and nursing her previous pup. This is an evolutionary adaptation that they share with bears and kangaroos. Sunny skies took us back to the dock. It was a great morning to be on the waters of the Salish Sea.
A great tour was in store for our guests this afternoon, something indescribable and awesome! We left the dock in Victoria and headed east. We coasted along the shoreline, peering out to find marine wildlife. We were only out a few miles when a tall, black, shiny triangle appeared out of nowhere along the shoreline! It was T-31, a transient orca that roams the BC coastline in search of Harbour Seals to fill his belly! T-31 is a male orca that has no living family members left. Typically transient orcas live in a family group consisting of one matriline. Different groups meet up to socialize and mate. T-31 has a tall dorsal fin, measuring around 6 feet, and has no nicks or scars. We followed T-31 as he made his way amongst the islands of Race Rocks. We had to keep out of this marine reserve while T-31 was there, as it is a protected area where orcas like hunt. We do not want to disrupt his hunting, so we give him lots of space to chase seals.
After admiring the power and beauty of this orca, we headed south to see if more marine mammals could be found. Well we hit the jackpot because we found not one, not two, but THREE humpbacks! At first we were enjoying watching a mother and her calf, when we were surprised by the sound of another humpback exhaling on the other side of the boat! Such drama! The humpbacks were making shallow dives, rising to the surface where we could see their blow holes and even the tubercles that line their jaw. The most beautiful sight is when a humpback raises its tail flukes above the surface, slowly sinking below the surface for a longer dive. Cameras were clicking like mad as everyone on board got many opportunities to snap photos of these gracious whales.
As our trip neared its end, we headed through the islands at Race Rocks Lighthouse. We were greeted by the sights and sounds of Steller and California Sea Lions basking on the rocky shores. All these animals are males, and they like to compete with each other over who gets the best lounging spots on the rocks. Everyone enjoyed the constant barking and growling coming from the sea lions. The question on everyone's mind was, "How on earth does the lighthouse keeper get any sleep?!" As we headed back to Victoria, we all enjoyed the sunshine and further discussion about the amazing animals we were so lucky to see today.