One of those 'we are so lucky to be in such a beautiful city' type of days! http://t.co/pmkVhOHZ44
October 2, 2011
We headed out of Victoria this morning hoping the rain would hold off and it did! It turned out to be a fantastic morning on the water, with flat seas. We headed southwest of Victoria, out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was not a long ride when we first spotted black triangular fins in the distance. Because we only saw a few at first we suspected that they were mammal hunting or transient orcas, but once we got closer, we saw an open saddle patch, so we knew they had to be residents. Only residents can have a saddle patch with an open black area through it, all transients in the North Pacific have solid gray or white saddle patches. Mega or L-41 was the first whale we identified, with his tall dorsal fin and defining nick out of the trailing edge. Mega is part of the L-12 matriline, who always travel together. This family consists of grandmother Alexis (L-12), who was born in 1933, and her grandchildren and great-grand child. We saw Mega (L-41), the oldest male in the population born in 1977, Matia (L-77), born in 1987, and Calypso (L-94), born in 1995. Calypso had her first calf Cousteau (L-113), who is a little boy born in 2009. Cousteau was the star of the trip today, he breached 3 times within the first 5 minutes of us seeing the whales! His playful behaviour continued throughout the trip as the orcas traveled east. Young orcas are often very active, trying to encourage their mothers and other family members to play with them. Cousteau breached so many times this morning, I lost count, likely more than 20 times! It was wonderful!
After a great visit with the orcas, we decided to head further west to search for any other activity in the area. It was great that we found the orcas when we did, as a massive fog bank developed, making it difficult to see. We cruised around until we made our way over to Race Rocks Lighthouse. Here we met the California and Steller Sea Lions and many Harbour Seals. Race Rocks is the second oldest lighthouse on the Canadian Pacific, being built in 1860. The sea lions love the area, as they use it as their primary fishing grounds and hang out spot. The sea lions were lying out on the rocks, wrestling each other for the best spots on the islands. After we left the lighthouse, the excitement was not over! We found 2 humpbacks surfacing together in the middle of the Strait! The pair were likely a mother and her calf, who both had grown in size since their annual migration to the northern waters, where they eat and eat and eat, before heading back down to Hawaii, where the humpbacks calve, breed and socialize with others of their kind. The journey is long, and the whales lose up to 17 tons of weight while they are traveling to and spending the winter in warmer waters. So it was a jam-packed morning with so many amazing animals that make the North Pacific waters their home!
After a successful morning with whale sightings, we were eager to get back out on the water this afternoon to see if we could find them again! Guests boarded the Orca Spirit and we cruised to the east, as the orcas we saw this morning were headed in that direction. Would we find them again? Of course we did! Off San Juan Island, Washington, we were relieved to find orcas surfacing together in two different groups. All the orcas belonged to L-pod, the largest pod in the Southern Resident Killer Whale community, with 42 family members. J-pod has 27 whales and K-pod has 20 whales, including the newest member to the population, 3 month old K-44, a little male who will be named next summer. The first group we seen included L-41 or Mega, L-24 or Ocean Sun, L-94 or Calypso and her little son Cousteau or L-113. Ocean Sun is the second oldest orca in the community, born in 1924. Her and Alexis (L-12), are the matriarch leaders of L-pod. Ocean Sun has no immediate living family members, except for her daughter Lolita, who is a captive orca in the Miami Seaquarium, so she tends to hang out with the L-12 matrilne.
The second group of whales we visited had two mature males, Skana (L-79) and Solstice (-89) in the group, who happen to be brothers. It is very typical for orcas to travel very close to their family members, Skana and Solstice are rarely seen apart from each other! Awww! Even the apex predators of the world are very sweet and loving towards each other. In fact, the bonds between orca family members are said to be the strongest in the world. Not surprisingly, the two big boys were spending their Sunday afternoon with their Mom, Spirit (L-22). Spirit is 31 this year, and a great mother. She suffered a great loss in 1993 when she lost her only daughter, who was 7 at the time of her death. Even though female orcas can have calves into their early forties, Spirit has not had another calf since Solstice was born in 1993. Excitement erupted when one of the males breached out of the water! With cameras aimed at the spot where he jumped, along came another 2 breaches! It was fantastic! Imagine launching a 27-foot, 8 ton body out of the water! Many of our guests caught the playful behaviour on camera, and were very happy people indeed! After a perfect whale watching trip we headed back to Victoria, but not without a stop at Trial Island for a look at the Harbour Seals that were resting on the rocks, avoiding the cold waters. Thanks to everyone who joined us today, it was fun to share so many great moments with you!
Photos from today's tours: