Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
September 8, 2011
Victoria has been experiencing the nicest weather we have had all summer this week, with sunny skies and very warm temperatures. So when we left on this morning's whale watching trip, we looked forward to a great time watching some of the Pacific's most amazing animals. We headed west because we had reports that the resident orcas may be moving into the area, traveling east towards Victoria. We approached Race Rocks Lighthouse and decided to cash in on the sights that this area has to offer before we continued to scout for the orcas. Race Rocks Lighthouse initially turned its light on, on December 26th of 1860. For over 151 years it has guided sailors through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, through fog, darkness and rough weather. It is also home to three species of pinnipeds. Pinnipeds include sea lions and seals. Here we found the massive Steller Sea Lions, with their honey-brown coats, the chocolatey-brown California Sea Lions, and Harbour Seals who are silver with black spots. The sea lions are noisy, bickering with each other over space amongst the rocks, while the peaceful seals laid quietly on their end of the island, enjoying the sunshine.
We left Race Rocks and headed a short distance east when we came across ALOT of orcas! They were members of both J and K pods, with 27 and 20 members, respectively. The whales were traveling in tight groups, moving very slowly and gracefully through the water. J, K, and L pods make up the Southern Resident Killer Whale community. These pods all speak the same language, but each pod has its own distinct dialect. This population, like all orca populations across the world, is genetically distinct and segregated from the next, never interbreeding or socializing with any other orca community. We were very excited to see many spyhops from several different whales. Orcas spyhop to get a good look of what is around them above the surface. You can say we got checked out by a whale.....several whales actually! I bet not all your friends back home can say that! We followed alongside the orcas until it was time to head back to the harbour. It was a fantastic morning spent on the Salish Sea with the ocean's most distinct black and white inhabitants!
We set out this afternoon on the Orca Spirit, our aluminum vessel with its famous rooster tail. We turned towards the east to see if we could catch up with the orcas that we seen a couple of hours ago on our morning trip. It did not take us long before we caught up with the large group of Southern Residents, belonging to J and K pod. In total, the two pods contain 47 whales. The remaining 42 whales belong to L pod, though they were not in the area. The whales were getting close to their favourite fishing grounds off San Juan Island. And boy did their excitement show! The whales were displaying all types of behaviour, from tail slaps, to swimming belly up splashing with their tail flukes, spyhopping, and even breaching! It was wild! Everywhere we looked there was a whale doing something fantastic! We couldn't be more excited! Killer whales are not always active, as they have many behaviours from resting, traveling, foraging, and social behaviour. We stayed with the whales until they approached San Juan Island. We received a report that 4 humpback whales were near the harbour, so we turned around to go look for the 40 ton giants. As we neared Discovery Island, us along with another zodiac boat thought we saw something surface on our port side. We did see something-two more humpbacks, different from the ones that we had set out to find. What was even more exciting, was that one of the humpbacks was Split Fin! Split Fin is the son of a humpback named Heather. These two family members travel separately, but meet up in the fall in our waters to socialize. Split Fin is named after his dorsal fin that is split in two, how he injured it we will never know. We were only on scene for a few minutes when one of the whales launched itself completely out of the water in the most amazing breach! It is the first time I have seen an adult humpback breach off our coast. Humpbacks are considered the most acrobatic whales, but they tend to save their energy for Hawaii, where they go to calve and mate. The moment a whale breaches out of the water cannot be put into words. The sheer power it must take to perform such a behaviour is tremendous. We were all beyond excited on board, and it was the talk of the rest of the ride home. We even had a couple of guests catch the breach on their cameras! It was an unforgettable afternoon on the water, one of the best trips of the season!