Sunshine and zodiac tours watching transient Orcas - what a perfect start to this Sunday!
September 9, 2011
The weather continues to be the best we have had all summer. Sunny skies and calm waters set the stage for this morning’s whale watching adventure. We headed towards the southwest in the Juan de Fuca Strait to scan for animals surfacing above the water. We couldn't find anything southwest, so we continued our excursion further west towards Race Rocks Lighthouse. We coasted amongst the islands and were treated to the sights and sounds of both Steller and California Sea Lions. The Steller Sea Lions are the bigger of the two species, all the males reaching a whopping 2500 pounds, compared to 1500 pounds for the California Sea Lions. The animals roared and barked, claiming their spot on the rocks, often engaging in a battle to show who is boss. The Harbour Seals kept to the lower areas of the rocks where they are safe from the rowdy sea lions. The black and white lighthouse looked amazing against the Olympic Mountains towering in the background.
We eventually left Race Rocks and continued to search west. We passed Beachy Head when we spotted the unmistakable blow of a humpback whale! These are the largest species of whale that enter the Juan de Fuca Strait. With giant mouths (their throat pleats extending 30 feet), they feed on the bounty of krill, plankton and small herring in Northern BC and Alaskan waters from spring until fall. Then they head down to Hawaii to breed and calve, not eating during the entire journey south. The humpback surfaced several times in a row, followed by a rising tail fluke, signalling a longer dive. We stayed with the humpback until it was time to go back to Victoria. Another beautiful morning on the water was had by all!
This afternoon we turned towards the east to search for whales. The sun continued to shine and the water was like a mirror, the perfect conditions for spotting whales from a distance! As we approached San Juan Island, WA, guests spotted black dorsal fins slicing the water ahead! We had found resident orcas belonging to both J and K pods. The whales were spread out from near shore to more out in the open. This is typical of fishing behaviour. As fall sets in, the salmon runs can get thinner, so the whales need to cover a larger area to look for food using their sonar. One male with his 6-foot dorsal fin cruised around the area we were in. It was not hard to see that it was J-27 or Blackberry, with his unique swirl of black in his saddle patch. Blackberry was born in 1991, and is now an important part of the breeding population in this community. The population is endangered, so the more healthy babies that are born, the better. We were also able to identify J-8 or Spieden. Spieden has a nick at the base of her dorsal fin and she tends to make a wheezing noise when she surfaces from a longer dive. She is the only whale in the population who wheezes, so you could identify J-pod even in the dark if Spieden was in the area. It was a spectacular day with the Residents, and we headed back towards Victoria. Our boat had a bit of an engine problem so we cruised in a bit slower than normal, but this worked to our advantage. We saw a transient male orca on our way in! It was T-31, swimming around looking for an unlucky seal or porpoise to make his supper. We all gotta eat! What a great day with perfect weather, lots of resident orcas and the icing on the cake with a transient orca too!